At noon on Maundy Thursday, we left Baguio for Vigan in Ilocos Sur. I took photos along the way of whatever looked interesting which weren’t many. Mostly, tobacco and corn fields. Probably the most notable were the eagle statue before exiting La Union and the wide expanse of the South China Sea all the way from Agoo in La Union to the first few towns of locos Sur.
Vigan is an old city. Not ancient the way Athens is. But even before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, Vigan was already a buzzing coastal trading port where migrants from Southern China had settled. Story has it that its name was derived from the Chinese term bee gan or “beautiful shore”. To this day, colonial houses still exist and many have been converted into commercial establishments.
We reached Vigan at around 4.00 p.m., checked in at a tourist inn then drove to the center of the city, the famed Calle Crisologo with its cobbled stone and the ever buzzing Plaza Burgos where street food is sold day and night.
Calle Crisologo was teeming with tourists. The restaurants, al fresco or otherwise, were all full. We tried to find somewhere to eat, found a small restaurant (Tummy something, can’t remember the exact name), managed to get a table and had dinner.
The girls both ordered bagsilog, short for bagnet, sinangag (fried rice) and itlog (egg). Bagnet is boiled and deep fried pork belly, an icon of Ilocano cuisine, similar but not exactly the same as lechon kawali.
Speedy and I shared an order of adobado which turned out to be much like lechon macau but with bagnet instead of lechon kawali.
The dinner was okay but unspectacular; quite filling though so that we really couldn’t indulge in the array of street food sold by hawkers at Plaza Burgos.
There was Vigan empanada with its light-colored crust which distinguishes it from the orange-y (annatto tinted) empanada of Batac in the neighboring province of Ilocos Norte. I was full but I couldn’t, in conscience, not try Vigan empanada while in Vigan. We bought one which Speedy and I shared, and I loved the super thin and flaky crust, and the filling of vegetables, garlicky longganisa (sausage) and whole egg.
After that, it was mostly about taking in the scene, immersing ourselves in the cadence of Vigan City, marveling at the restored houses that were built over a hundred years ago amid the sound of horses’ hoofs as they hit the cobbled stone.
You feel Vigan’s age when walking on those cobbled stones. You pause and wonder what stories hide in each piece of brick and mortar. You wonder what horrors and happiness the houses have witnessed. And, if you’re prone to fantasy and superstition, you wonder too if some essence of the former inhabitants of those houses have somehow remained. Eerie and romantic at the same time.
But Vigan is also very much new, and that newness was evident in the humor of modern culture and today’s generation. For instance, a stall selling squid prepared in many different ways was called Push It Baby, a play on pusit, the Filipino name for squid.
Then, there was a drinks stall called Juice Ko Day! (literally, my juice, girl!), a play on Dios ko, ‘Day!, a common expression that translates to My God, girl! (‘Day being a contraction of Inday, a feminine name that’s often used in a generic sense — just like Jane).
Plaza Burgos was a never ending parade of aromas and colors.
I was especially smitten with the grilled Vigan longganisa which, on another day when I didn’t feel too full, I would have tried without hesitation. But, you know, I only have one stomach and it was already full. Next time, perhaps.