Let me take you on a journey through the captivating corners of Ilocos Norte, where every sight is a story and every bite is an adventure. I’ve been a wanderer in this region for as long as I can remember, and let me tell you, it never fails to amaze me. Join me as we explore the vibrant culture, rich history, and mouthwatering cuisine of May-Kan Ilocos Norte!
May-Kan Ilocos Norte: A Gastronomic Adventure
The term “May-Kan” is a beautiful fusion of Ilocano and Pangasinan words, meaning “to travel from one place to another” and “food.” Essentially, May-Kan is an invitation to embark on a gastronomic journey, hopping from one delightful food experience to another across Region 1. In April 2023, our May-Kan Fam Trip, organized by DOT Region 1, led us through the charming towns of La Union and Pangasinan. In this leg, we explored the upper reaches of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, unearthing hidden culinary gems and immersing ourselves in the local way of life.
Bacarra’s Heritage and Crispy Thin Okoy
Our adventure began in Bacarra, a town that proudly preserves its heritage despite the diaspora of its residents. The St Andrew the Apostle Parish also known as Bacarra Church, standing tall since 1706, warmly welcomed us with songs and dance from local student performers. The church, a testament to Spanish colonial architecture, is a living museum with tunnels leading to the altar, the river, and the nearby bell tower – fondly known as the “Beheaded Bell Tower.”
We sampled local delicacies next to this historic site, with Bacarra’s specialty stealing the show: thin, crunchy Okoy, a delightful concoction of deep-fried shrimp and vegetables on glutinous rice batter fritters.
The Bacarra Church was declared a National Cultural Center in 1973.
Burgos Megastructures and Gamet
Burgos, a popular area famed for the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse (Burgos Lighthouse) and Kapurpurawan Rock Formations, was our next stop. The all-familiar Burgos lighthouse now has a commercial complex with eateries, souvenirs, and a tourist center. Tricycles await to take passengers up the lighthouse but walking is still an option. Visitors are no longer allowed to climb the lighthouse.
We savored Gamet-infused empanadas, where this rare seaweed added a unique touch to the traditional snack, showcasing the creativity of the local culinary scene. Gamet can be harvested on the rocky coast and cliffs of Burgos from September to February. They are considered the Black Gold of Burgos as a quality gamet (the darker ones) that can fetch from P800–1000 per dangkal (or at least 6 inches). They are exported to Japan and made into different products like nori. Story on harvesting the game on this post.
The Bangui Wind Farm used to be the only place in Ilocos Norte where tourists can enjoy the sight of wind turbines. In 2014, a second wind farm was built in Ilocos Norte spanning an area of 600 hectares under three barangays, Saoit, Poblacion, and Nagsurot. The Burgos Wind Farm and Eco Park is now the largest wind farm not only in the Philippines but also in Southeast Asia. The hilly landscape near Kapurpurawan has around 57 wind turbines generating at least 370 GWh of electricity annually.
The sight of the majestic wind turbines against the azure sky was awe-inspiring, reminding us of nature’s immense power harnessed for our benefit.
Laoag’s Crispy Dinuguan
Returning to Laoag, we treated our taste buds to a surprising twist on a Filipino classic at Eagle’s Nest: Crispy Dinuguan. Imagine deep-fried innards bathed in sauce – a delightful, crunchy variation.
We took a breather in the afternoon back at Plaza del Norte where we were billeted before our next escapade.
Paoay Lake, Loom Weavers, Sand Dunes, and Pinakbet Pizza
The afternoon was a whirlwind of excitement, culture, and natural beauty. In Paoay, with its picturesque lake, we visited the Malacañang Ti Amianan or Malacañang of the North, a lavish mansion by the Marcoses overlooking Lake Paoay. Nearby, we marveled at the skill of loom weavers of Nagbacalan, whose hands wove intricate patterns into inabel fabric.
As the sun dipped low, we embarked on a thrilling 4×4 ride and sandboarding adventure in the vast Paoay Sand Dunes, the golden sands glowing in the twilight. The dunes in Suba, Paoay are one of the widest in Asia.
Our culinary journey culminated in a satisfying dinner at Kusina Valentin (formerly Herencia de Paoay), where we indulged in Ilocano favorites like bagnet and sinigang. However, the star of the night was their innovative creation: Pinakbet Pizza. Imagine the flavors of pinakbet – a local vegetable dish – harmonizing with cheese and sauce on a crispy pizza crust. It was a delightful fusion of tradition and modernity, capturing the essence of our May-Kan experience.
In a nutshell, May-Kan Ilocos Norte is a symphony of flavors, colors, and history. From heritage sites to innovative culinary creations, this journey is an ode to the richness of Ilocano culture.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.