College basketball star Eric Farinas’s Java Hotel in Laoag is why you should go on a trip to Ilocos now, if you can
Last week, we arrived from a 10-day culinary tour of Northern Luzon. It was the longest yet most fun work I had done ever for our food show “Foodprints.” The surprises of new food discoveries just didn’t stop, from La Union to Ilocos Sur and finally to Ilocos Norte.
I lived in Ilocos Norte in the mid-’80s, Sarrat to be more specific. We put together a tomato paste plant called Northern Foods. We convinced many of the farmers from the various towns to plant tomatoes from their usual tobacco and all they needed to contribute was their land and labor. That’s what was used for the paste. Even before the high-quality paste was produced, they had already been bought by a fast food chain and many sardine manufacturers. On this trip to the North, we visited the tomato plant and I am proud to say it is still operational after over 45 years.
It was also this time I got exposed to Ilokano food. The empanada was very new to me then. I remember I would take my 400cc motorcycle and drive to Laoag and feast on this delicacy at the road junction of Laoag and Bacarra.
In our rented place in Sarrat, we had a good cook named Lando who would go to the market every day and prepare great food. I remember the vegetable dishes the most because produce was always fresh, which meant it tasted much better. Talbos ng bawang was my favorite.
Ilokano food was good but it never really made an impact on me, except when we had meals at the Farinas home. Their food was so good, you’d remember it. I know the mom was as great cook and loved to feed her brood of eight kids. I’m sure this great Ilokano food was passed on to her kids because everytime Manong Rudy Farinas (he was mayor of Laoag then) served food, it was always memorable and delicious. One dish I still remember was called dinakdakan. I remember the charred aroma and the sourness and the tenderness of the grilled pork. Later, I served that in my restaurants. It is still one of my best sellers.
Eric is the youngest boy and a low-key member of the family who I know also was exposed to great food. During his college years, he was a basketball star of the Ateneo Blue Eagles. I would watch the basketball leagues in Laoag and admire how good he and his older brother were at this game.
Today, Eagle’s Nest serves some of the most delicious, authentic Ilokano food in Ilokandia. On a visit to Ilocos Norte, this place is a must. The Ilokano food is to die for. I love the sinaglaw, the healthy dinengdeng, and my favorite, the dinakdakan.
Today, together with his kids, Eric has put up a hotel called Java in Laoag. We stay here every time we join shooting competitions in the province. One of the attractions of the hotel is its exceptional restaurant called Eagle’s Nest. Eagle’s Nest was the name of a famous hangout of the Ateneans in the Katipunan area in the ’70s. One could see the heart of the owner in the name of his restaurant. But even our arch rivals were welcome there.
Today, Eagle’s Nest serves some of the most delicious, authentic Ilokano food in Ilokandia. On a visit to Ilocos Norte, this place is a must. The Ilokano food is to die for. Clean tasting, authentic, loaded with fresh ingredients from the market not too far from the hotel. I love the sinaglaw, the healthy dinengdeng, and my favorite, the dinakdakan. These are charcoal grilled tender morsels of pork with fat in a sour and spicy sauce, an Ilokano specialty that when made well will make you hum. Eric also has a dish called bagbet. This is a combination of bagnet and pinakbet. Pinakbet, I am told, means wilted. That’s why this Ilokano dish is served with the veggies looking overcooked. It uses fish bagoong and the deliciousness of the dish relies on the drippings from the fresh vegetables combined with the other ingredients. So so good! I also love Eric’s crispy dinuguan. The dinuguan here is different from what we are used to. The sauce is thick and dry and the meat is crispy. The bagnet, always have KBL or kamatis, bagoong (fish), and lasona or shallots. It is the most delicious combination. Get a slice of bagnet, some tomatoes and lasona dipped in bagoong, put all that in a spoon. and have this with plain white rice. Heaven!
Another new dish I tried here was the pares. Reddish in color, these are tender chunks of meat that are so so delicious. One that I also tried the first time was Eagles Nest dinuguan pancit. Oh my gosh! It was the most delicious combination ever. What an idea! This was well made bihon topped with the dry Ilokano dinuguan and topped with chicharon. Wow! I dream about the food here. You have to come to Ilokos to try their food!
My trip was tiring but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun. I had a grand time! It was nice to see old friends and see they’re doing well in spite of our many challenges. Highly recommended!
Check out Eagle’s Nest on Bacarra Road at the Java Hotel in Laoag.