dinengdeng, glorious dinengdeng!

I'm a typical Ilokano who can't live without dinengdeng, come share my passion...

various authentic, exotic, ilokano pinakbets

Concoction or variations of this kind of exotic Ilokano dish, of this ever ubiquitous vegetable stew...

sinanglaw? paksiw? which?

What do you prefer, Vigan-sinanglaw or Laoag-paksiw? What about pinapaitan and singkutsar?

unnok/ginukan, freshwater shellfish

Want some unnok soup or ginukan bugguong?

baradibud a tugi, lesser yam vegetable stew

Tugi, for some, is only meant to be boiled and eaten simply as is. But for me, it's an indispensable ingredient for yet another hearty Ilokano dish...


inabraw nga alukon/alukon leaves stew

Alukon or alokon (allaeanthus glaber; also called bungon and baeg [in Pangasinan]) is more known for its flowers or flowerettes as a popular "mix" in some vegetable dishes, notably buridibod or in the simple dinengdeng, and in the quintessential pinakbet.

But besides its more popular flower, the leaves of the alukon tree is also edible and is equally great for that perfect dinengdeng of leafy veggie medley, or as a solo inabraw nga alukon (I used "inabraw" here because, usually, it is the term used when the dinengdeng is comprised mostly, or wholly, of leaves). I have yet to see alukon leaves being sold in the market, though. Maybe because some folks are not used to it or don't know that the leaves are edible and palatable as well. The leaves, of course, is abundant even when the tree is not in flowering/blooming season. As the tree is usually have its branches cut to gather the flowers, after a few days, fresh sprouts will bud that promise beautiful tender leaves for alukon lovers to consume. A small alukon tree grown in your backyard can supply you bountiful leaves all year round. Just cut the branches when all its leaves are matured to enable new branches to bud. Needless to say, I might swear I even love the leaves more than the flowers because it represent a true green leafy veggie for a truly hearty dinengdeng or inabraw. I just love the alukonness of it, the sweet sabeng or pas-eng--that distinct aroma that veggie lovers adore, and the unique tartness of it that caters to a genuinely Ilokano fondness for leafy green vegetable stews.

So, I cooked my inabraw nga alukon just as simply as boiling it in bugguong. I just took care of it not to overcook the tender leaves. And few moments before it is done, I placed atop the boiling stew a grilled paltat (catfish) as a sagpaw (add-on). Let the steam engulf the sagpaw for some more moments and then put off the fire and serve the inabraw immediately.

What comes next is a lovely sight and a heavenly scent is wafting--the yellow soup (the leaves turn the broth yellowish as is with other vegetable leaves like utong [sitaw, cowpea] leaves) tantalizing your palate.

It's so good with your steamed rice, the broth makes a perfect labay that turns your rice like a java rice!

Ahh, the simplicity of Ilokano gastronomy!

(Originally blogged January 30, 2010)


patani ken sabong-karabasa, lima beans and squash flowers stew

Yet another dinengdeng!  Yes, and this is a part of what would be a series of posts dedicated to the venerable Ilokano vegetable dish dinengdeng.

And this time, it's a medley of my favorite dinengdeng goods: sabong ti karabasa (squash flower) and patani (lima bean, also called java and burma bean), and with the ever-crisp pallang (winged bean).

The patani here is the white "flat bean" variety and not the rounded or "fragrant" ones. This is my favorite patani as its immature seeds are so sweet and its young pods is also good.

The beans are yet young and tender and so I don't need to peel off the seed's skin.

I boiled the beans first (in the bugguong broth) as it takes time for them to soften. When it's cooked or partially cooked, I added in the pallang. And then, a few minutes afterwards, the squash flower. The pallang and the sabong-karabasa should not be overcooked to retain sweetness, crispness and succulence.


pokpoklo salad

Pokpoklo (also pukpuklo). A traditional Ilokano summer seaweed delicacy (pokpoklo is abundant during summers; also popular throughout the Philippines, and in Hawaii and Japan). Best as an appetizer.


Preparing it as a salad is simple. Just wash, rinse, to get rid of any bit of dirt or sand clinging in the morsel-like weed. Then toss it with fresh tomato slices. No need to put salt as this is already salty courtesy of saltwater (seawater). You can opt to sour it more with a squeeze of calamansi, or some vinegar (some folks love to just dip it in vinegar).


You'll love this slimy, salty, worm-like longish morsels (lots of Ilokanos just love it, though many prefer the ar-arosip [lato], this is so because loving pokpoklo is a kind of labor to acquire a distinct taste of its unusual sliminess and gumminess). Perfect with steaming rice and fried/grilled fish or meat.

(Originally blogged December 2, 2009)


ballaiba/balleba, eel grass, tape grass, ribbon grass (Vallisneria) salad

There are some websites on and about the Ilokano (people) that feature the supposed traits and characteristics of a true, genuine Ilokano, ala-"You're a Filipino if....," and one goes that "maysaka a pudno nga Ilokano no nakasida wenno nakaramankan (wenno ammom ti maipapan)  iti ballaiba." You're a truly G.I. (genuine Ilokano) if you know ballaiba, especially if you've eaten it.

But what the heck is this ballaiba (also balleba, ballayba)? First, I'll show you here a photo of a ballaiba salad, courtesy of a friend, Ms. Leilanie, to prove, even if it's only in a photograph, that it's indeed edible and being prepared best as a salad:

Let me then quote Dr. Abercio V. Rotor, a famous Ilokano professor and scientist and writer, on what's a ballaiba: "Balleba (Vallisneria) is an aquatic plant growing in clear streams, ponds and lakes, whose leaves appear like ribbon, hence it is also called ribbon grass. The leaves are gathered and served fresh with tomato, onion and salt."

Here are some photos of the ballaiba. It is commonly propagated and used as an aquarium plant. Its Wikipedia entry simply says it's an aquarium plant, period, and not mentioned (even in numerous websites that feature it) that it's also edible and prepared as food or viand. I want to believe that probably, only we Ilokanos are the ones eating it! Although I'm not that sure if it's also eaten by other Filipinos.

(Photo from http://www.moje-akvarium.net/en-plants-vallisneria-gigantea.php.
You can see a lot of ballaiba photos by googling it.)

I surely and sorely miss ballaiba. It's been decades that I didn't see or have eaten this Ilokano delicacy. I think it's becoming rare (one reported cause of its becoming extinct in ponds and rivers is that ballaiba was a favorite snack by the voracious golden kuhol). As a boy in a farming village or barrio in Nueva Vizcaya, I am used to eat ballaiba because there are ponds and lagoons (called "kulos") in our place then where ballaiba grows abundantly. In hot summer days, when we children go and swim in these ponds, we also gather snails, wild balangeg, young lotus stalks, and ballaiba so we could have some food to bring home to appease the anger of our parents who discourage us to frequent the ponds for fear that we might got drowned, the sirena (mermaid) living there might pull us into the deep because we are gathering her hair. Yes, ballaiba is also called "buok ti sirena" (mermaid's hair). And yes, it's also called "I shall return" by some because of the fact that it's a kind of WYSIWIG--what you see is what you get--what you ingest is what you "undigest" is what you get! Get it?

Preparing ballaiba salad is simple. It's a kinilaw, in fact, because you don't have to cook it. Clean the tender leaves throughly in tap water. Then cut it into about a half-inch pieces. Then lapayen iti asin or squeeze it with rock salt to get rid of some of its galis or slipperiness. Rinse well. Then flavor it with a squeeze of calamansi and salt (and some MSG, if you like). Garnish it with tomato and onion slices. You can use bugguong instead of salt, if you prefer. Just add a little because the ballaiba would then be salty as it was first squeezed with salt.


more squash dinengdeng

Here are some more dinengdeng a karabasa (squash/calabash) from past cooking escapades. I am re-posting these photographs from my old blog and certain web forums (that explains the watermarks). I want you to take note of the "buto-buto" (that's the stamen, that resembles something, hence, the obvious name) in the flowers which I don't take out in the muri process (read my previous post on dinengdeng a karabasa). I took these shots with the seemingly ignored squash flower buto in prominence.

Squash flowers, stalks, shoots, fruit with utong pods.

And this one squash concoction show with confidence the versatility of this incredible veggie: that you can make a wholesome dinengdeng by combining one and/or all of its flower, tops, leaves, tendrils, stalks--young and tender ones, of course--and fruit, into one complete sumptuous Ilokano delicacy.

Squash flowers, stalks, shoots, and fruit with grilled bangus (milkfish).

And here's my favorite squash dish (photograph below), the pure and simple squash flower solo. No stalks/shoots/leaves, no fruit, nothing but the most edible of them all: the flower, just the flower picked fresh in the morning, sweating yet in cool dew droplets, no hot and harsh sunlight has glimpsed on it, not a bee or a butterfly has yet betrayed its sweetness, it's yours alone to pick and to cook with its pollen and nectar intact, and wallowing in its own honeyed juice, it's yours alone to devour and relish with pleasing gusto.

(Originally blogged May 21, 2008)


bugguong, made in oman

(This was written and blogged when I was in the Sultanate of Oman, of which during my brief stay, I craved for bugguong (fermented fish/fish paste) like no other. In that particular place, Sohar City, where we used to stay, no bugguong was in sight. At that particular time. But nowadays, I was duly informed that a newly built big supermarket/mall has rows of bottled bugguong paste in its "Asian" section, to the relief of the many homesick Ilokanos in the area.)

Been problematic a week after arriving here in Oman. Know what, I've been craving for bugguong more than a preggy woman craves for twin bananas or young coconuts or whitey jicamas and out-of-season santol and lomboy, anything edible, "mouthable," "stomachable," palatable with even a hint of bugguong in it. I can't stand it any more, any longer, any sooner, I want my dinengdeng and my pinakbet complete and compleat, I want my bugguong, I want my precious, precious, I badly want a bugguong-laced and bugguong-graced veggie, I want my sliced fresh tomatoes and young onions swimming in so-oh delicately goldenbrownish oh-so luscious bugguong sauce for my treasured dips!

We tried scouring the hypermarkets and stores, but not a sign of the elusive bugguong. Not even those fabled Vietnamese nước mắm or fermented fish sauce or paste. What's readily available are those patis, fish sauce, from the Philippines and some imported from Thailand. And of course those bottled pseudo-bugguongs called bagoong alamang or shrimp paste which are not even the freshest you can get but already sauteed and putrefying in additives.

And you'll wonder why don't some enterprising Pinoys try to legally export quantities of export-quality halal bugguong (monamon or tirong) in the Middle East? So that you'll not content yourself "smuggling" in a plane a pity jarful of it wrapped and sealed like a stinking mummy and surreptitiously concealed in your luggage. I've read somewhere in a certain magazine before that somebody has invented a way to solidify bugguong into cooking cubes ala-Knorr and Maggi broth cubes. I wish this method is popularized and commercialized so you can freely fill in a bagful of bugguong cubes in your hand carry suitcase and cradle it in your lap as if it's your precious child, without fear that its heavenly fragrance may irritate some infidel nostrils, or may threaten to emit a smell as sinister as a malodorous biological weapon of mass destruction.

But enough of those silly protestations. Be sensible. Those cravings are just a normal condiment of the exilic life, the OFW life. Of missing something, terribly missing something treasured and precious to the palate. And to your heart. But let alone missing terribly someone, some ones, loved ones. Bear with your foolish gastronomic cravings and try and learn to live without a goddamn foul-smelling bugguong!

But why not remedy this silly need? Fortunately, Sohar, the city where we were, is a coastal area (in fact, almost all Oman cities and towns lie along the coast) facing the Gulf of Oman (Iran is just almost a stone's throw away in the other side of the sea). And there are some fishing communities here, with lots of Omanis fishing for a living. Mind you, even a "small time" Omani fisherman is a "big time" compared with say, most Pinoy fishers. Their fishing gears and vessels are too modern or "high tech" compared to what our ordinary fishermen are using. Omani fishing boats are those stylish big and speedy ones with expensive outboard motors similar to vessels used by wealthy sportsmen who gamefish for sheer fun. There are fish ports in Sohar where you can buy the freshest catch for a pittance (although, prized fish like yellowfin tuna and king fish are still priced, expensive, costing an Omani rial or two a kilogram). There are bountiful catch of anchovy, mackerel, sardine, herring, ponyfish, scad fish, squid, cuttle fish and even baby sharks and other smaller fish so fresh some are still wiggling and wriggling. Yes, monamon, bilis, sapsap and other small fishes which are fodders for the kumikilaw or mangngilaw monster in you. And yes, the bugguong gourmand in you, why not? Eureka! With lots of monamons and bilis and abundant rock salt around, you can make your own D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) bugguong!

So, there. We bought some kilos of the freshest bilis or herring (monamons were not available that one Thursday day when we went out "fishing") and we stuffed some in a plastic garapon, jar, with ample amount of rock salt, with hopes that in a week or two, we can satisfy our earthly urges with a promising bugguong. A gracious bugguong no matter what the outcome will be it would still be the same luxurious bugguong.

And look, the blessed fermenting fish in its lovely concoction of pure and simple bugguong juice, the sacred juice of Ilokanistic life and lives, the divine liquid of ambrosial proportions! What a blessing, what a bliss, indeed!

(Originally blogged May 15, 2008)


bitter is better: papait salad appetizer

The papait (mollugo oppositifolia) is popular among bitter-loving Ilokanos who has the distinct and rather unique taste preference for something bitter--the more bitter, the better, which translates to the Ilokano's fondness for the "native" paria (the "Ilocos" variety: round [or oblongish] and smallish) or for the more exotic wild bittermelons or balang a paria or paria ti bakir/bantay. And yes, to our love of the authentic Ilokano goat/cow/carabao pinapaitan, or kappukan and imbaliktad, flavored with the animal intestinal bile called "pespes" (literally squeezed undigested weed in the beast's stomach; also "papait" in some places). Bitterness defines authentic Ilokano meat dishes as well as vegetable preparation, notably pinakbet with the Ilocos paria. Or dinengdeng with paria tops. Or freshly picked paria fruit simply roasted over hot embers, sliced thin and tossed in bugguong and kamatis slices and young lasona. Or even the kilawen a paria, raw and deliciously bitter.


And comes the even bitter papait that stands to its name of its bittery appeal and simpleness. Papait is great with pinablad (boiled ) balatong or other beans. And papait is even greater as it is, as a salad, simply blanched, and garnished with bugguong and kamatis.


I prepared my papait almost expressly (quickie). I blanched it in boiling water for a minute or less. You should never overcook it. One way of blanching leafy greens is to wash and soak and partially rinse the leaves in tap water then put it in an empty kaserola or pan over high fire. Let just the water that clinged to the leaves blanch the whole thing. Then after a few seconds, put off fire/flame and immediately transfer the blanched leaves in a bowl and toss it with your garnishes. This is also perfect for camote tops to avoid the darkening of the leaves/stems.

And here's my simple papait salad with bugguong and tomato slices:


This is heavenly, sweetishly bitter, so delicious, so appetizing with steaming rice, especially if you partner it with grilled or fried fish or meat:


(Originally blogged June 5, 2009)