Underrated and offbeat adventures aren’t the only reason to make visitors come and visit Cagayan Valley.
The food locals love to eat and share are just as inviting as the region’s many attractions.
Here are all the dishes and snacks you should sample when in Cagayan Valley.
At Bannawag Norte in Santiago, Isabela, a humble roadside shop called Bretania Organic Food Products sells a merienda favorite among locals—patupat.
Its owner, Jocelyn Bretania, wraps the glutinous rice in buri leaves, soaks it in water overnight, and cooks it in sugarcane juice to produce a naturally-sweetened snack.
Though the kakanin delicacy has different iterations in the northern region of the country, Bretania’s take on the rice-based delicacy guarantees the use of fresh sugarcane juice as the store is situated near a plantation.
“I, myself, used to plant sugarcane before,” Bretania says. “In 2006, however, I learned how to make patupat and began selling it.”
A bundle of 13 pieces of patupat retails for Php110.
Pancit Batil Patung
“You’ve never really traveled to Tuguegarao if you’ve never had pancit batil patung,” says Eric Lim, owner of Lokal Kanan + Pasalubong, a restaurant serving local dishes. “It’s easily the most iconic dish of the city.”
A spin on a Filipino food favorite, pancit batil patung features miki noodles with ground carabao beef or cara-beef, fried egg and other toppings, as well as a serving of beaten egg dropped in beef broth called kaldo, hence the words patung (topping) and batil (to beat) in its name.
Both components of the dish should be present for optimal flavor, along with a side of chopped onions, soy sauce, chili, and vinegar sauce or calamansi to taste.
Panciterias often get experimental with the toppings to distinguish their version from others. They put any topping imaginable in what locals consume as a daily staple: balut or fertilized duck egg, chicharon bulaklak or crispy pork intestine, carajay or deep-fried pork belly slices, among many others.
Depending on the panciteria and choice of toppings, prices range from Php60 to Php150.
As the unofficial pancit capital of Cagayan, it’s no surprise that Tuguegarao cooks more variety of the dish than anywhere in the province. Apart from pancit batil patung, they also have what is called sinanta.
The first to offer it on a daily basis, serving it just like any other local dish is, according to Lim, is Lokal Kanan + Pasalubong’s claim to fame.
“Its origins go way back, probably even before pancit batil patung but they don’t serve it at restaurants,” he says. “It’s because it’s typically eaten during wakes or funerals.”
The noodle soup dish features flat noodles, rice vermicelli noodles, dried shrimps, clams, and atsuete or annatto. According to Lim, it’s important that the two types of noodle be present in the dish because if not, “it’s not sinanta.”
“I would liken it to laksa,” he says. “It looks like laksa but instead of the soup being coconut milk-based, this one gets its flavor from seafood and its color from atsuete [or annatto].”
A bowl good for one person costs Php100.
The municipality of Piat in Cagayan may be famous among pilgrims for the century-old church and holy image of Our Lady of Piat, but it’s also home to an equally popular snack called pawa.
Its origins are unknown, but the root word of pawa is pau or bao in Chinese, which means “to wrap.”
True enough, the coin-sized sticky rice delicacy—typically consumed as a dessert or snack—hides sweetened peanuts inside. Its softness can be likened to mochi when still warm. To prepare, it is rolled into a ball, filled with sweet ground peanuts then steamed.
Pawa retails for Php 50 per 9-10 pieces and is taken home as pasalubong after a pilgrimage visit.
It’s called numerous names like bunog, talimuska, bukto, palileng, mori, udinga, or ipusan, but birut, as Tuguegarao locals call the goby fish, is another must-try when in Cagayan.
The small freshwater fish is black in color and can be cooked in a variety of ways: stewed in tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and some vinegar; wrapped in banana leaves and steamed; or dipped in spiced flour and deep fried to a crunchy treat.
This dish is served for a limited time only, though. The best chance to try this is when it’s in season during the summer.
A serving good for two retails for Php 250.
LSB Buko Pie
While buko pie is not necessarily unique to Cagayan Valley, there’s a Nueva Vizcaya-based maker of this merienda favorite that’s worth trying.
LSB Restaurant and Buko Pie, located in Tuao North in the municipality of Bagabag, has a special take on the delicacy courtesy of a secret ingredient.
“The clue is in the milk,” says Menchie Dacanay, the restaurant’s owner. “There are different types of milk but there’s one that’s best for buko pie.”
Much of the coconut they use is also harvested in the provincial capital, Bayombong.
Each box containing a 400-gram buko pie retails for Php 100.
“This is an iconic Vizcayano dish,” says Jehan Damasco, head chef and co-owner of Nueva Vizcaya-based restaurant, Mrs. Baker’s, on inabraw. “Everybody here knows it and eats it.”
Also called dinengdeng or bulanglang in other parts of the country, inabraw is a vegetable soup dish with string beans, eggplant, okra, jute leaves and bitter gourd, flavored with fermented fish sauce then served with fried fish.
But ingredients for inabraw can be whatever vegetable is available.
“Whatever they want to put in the soup dish, they can. Locals have their own versions,” Damasco says. “Whatever was bought from the market or harvested from their backyard can be included.”
For every inabraw, bagoong or fermented fish sauce is key. At Mrs. Baker’s, Damasco and the rest of the kitchen staff make it more special than usual.
“What made our version special is we simmer our bagoong in fish bones, either fried or grilled, to give it a depth of flavor,” she explains. “It’s like when you eat it in our restaurant, you will think that it’s your mom’s cooking.”
Each serving good for two to three diners cost Php190.
Bennek and Bildat
Though Mrs. Baker’s offers a variety of food, from pizzas to cakes, the Nueva Vizcaya-based restaurant still serves food locals love to enjoy.
“There’s always a touch of Vizcaya in everything we serve,” Damasco says.
Native clams like bennek and bildat, for instance, are available when both are in season. Damasco and the rest of the team cooks the clams in two ways: kinilaw or raw with vinegar-based dressing, much like a Latin American ceviche, and inuram or cooked over fire.
These freshwater clams are part of what the restaurant calls the Chef’s Table, a fine dining service featuring a custom menu. The rates differ for every Chef’s Table, so it’s best to ask the staff ahead of time through their Facebook page or landline at (078) 805 3500.
Who would’ve thought that combining three native delicacies is a good idea? Apparently, the people of Diffun in Quirino did.
Putting together tupig, bibingka, and tikoy, the result is tubikoy. It’s made out of flour, ground glutinous rice, brown sugar, margarine, coconut, milk, and cheese. The result is a unique rice cake that’s just as delightful as the three delicacies individually.
A box of tubikoy retails for Php 65.
Believe it or not, carabao skin, just like pork skin, can be fried into chicharon goodness. Instead of curling into crunchy morsels, fried carabao skin puffs into crisp and airy balls.
It’s enjoyable enough seasoned with salt and pepper. However, Lighthouse Cooperative, a local maker and seller of the snack, began offering it in three different flavors: garlic, onion and vinegar, and hot and spicy. It even gave its now well-known name, chicharabao, which is a portmanteau of chicharon and carabao.
Abundant in Tuguegarao and pasalubong centers all over the region, an 80-gram pack of any flavor retails for Php 40.
Outsource the Planning
For a seamless trip, you may leave the planning to DOT’s accredited tour operator in Region 2:
Pink Diamond International Travel and Tours
Explore Quirino Travel and Tours
0916 635 9978; http://www.explorequirino.com/
- Nueva Vizcaya
All tourist destinations in Cagayan Valley have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regular handwashing, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.