During this long period of non-travel, I’ve found myself exploring the world differently… that is, through online shopping. Without stepping out of the house, I’ve had the opportunity to expose myself to diverse cultures through purchasing products lovingly crafted by artisans.
Lately, I’ve been hoping for a trip back to Ilocos Sur; but with the ongoing pandemic, I’ve been holding myself back from travelling unnecessarily. So in lieu of getting swabbed, travelling for seven hours, and staying quarantined for a couple of weeks, I’ve instead been enjoying Ilocos products at home!
Majorly an agricultural and agro-industrial region, Ilocos boasts countless commodities. So whether you’re looking for new food staples or more home decor, you should definitely check out their products.
Ilocos food products
A popular melt-in-your-mouth candy among Ilocanos, balikutsa is basically molten sugarcane curled into spirals. Many cafés in the North use this as a natural sweetener, but we sometimes also eat it with hot rice. Personally, I prefer it with tutong!
Also known as chichacorn, a portmanteau of chicharon and corn, cornick is a crunchy snack made of deep-fried corn kernels. In Ilocos, you can find different flavours of this: cheese, barbecue, spicy garlic, adobo, among others.
Across the Philippines, there are diverse varieties of kalamay. Traditionally wrapped in banana leaves, the Candon kalamay is now mostly sold wrapped in cellophane. Either brown or white, this variety is paper-thin, sticky, and chewy.
Insider’s tip: To open the wrapped kalamay easily, clap it inside your hands before unravelling it. This trick allows the kalamay to stick to itself instead of the cellophane!
Savoury, garlicky, and juicy all at the same time, the Vigan longganisa suits the quintessential Ilocano palate. Best paired with sukang Iloko, this viand is also a popular ingredient of the Ilocos empanada.
It’s easy to spot an Ilocos empanada, what with its bright colour, relatively larger size, and unyielding, appetising smell. Unlike your typical empanada, the Ilocos variant is wrapped in crunchy and thin crust, allowing the stuffings to conquer your taste buds.
Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte have their own empanada contenders: the Vigan and the Batac empanadas respectively. While with slight differences, both variants are undeniably delicious.
Unknown to most, Ilocos Sur has award-winning coffee-producing towns. Sigay coffee is one of the more popular types, but many other spots in the province produce high-quality Robusta beans.
If you want a piece of Ilocos in your home, you can’t go wrong with inabel. A proud product of Laoag, inabel is a handwoven fabric made by Ilocanos. It’s strong, durable, soft, and ornate, and it comes in different patterns, each symbolising a certain belief or ritual.
Not sure which inabel product to purchase first? Try an inabel blanket, which perfectly works for the Philippine climate — it’s cosy enough to keep you snug in bed, but light enough for the warmer nights.
Ilocos has long been known for its clay pottery; you’ll even find pottery workshops across some of its towns like Vigan. In Ilocano, their term for the clay pots is “burnay”. It’s traditionally used to store water or rice and ferment sauces and wine. Nowadays, burnay jars are also widely used for aesthetic purposes.
Buri palms naturally thrive in Ilocos; with this, locals maximise the material for weaving. Using dried buri leaves, Ilocano weavers create mats, bags, hats, planters, and other essential items.
Fun fact: In 2006, residents of San Juan, Ilocos Sur wove the world’s longest buri mat. It measured 2.4 kilometres long and over a metre wide!
Another plant that grows abundantly in Ilocos is the labtang. With its durability, locals typically use it to produce flower vases, placemats, trays, baskets, and other home decor items. As it only takes up to three years to grow, labtang is considered a sustainable material to use.
Hardworking, innovative, and strong-minded, Ilocanos can reasonably produce countless world-class crafts. And while we’re enjoying online shopping, we certainly shouldn’t overlook these excellent Ilocos products!