An empanada is classic Filipino merienda fare. There are many variations to this humble hand pie and just like the adobo, every region has its own recipe.
However, there is a debate between the empanadas of the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Let’s compare the north’s Batac empanada to the south’s Vigan empanada.
On the outside, both are undoubtedly empanadas, deep fried in oil, until crisp. The dough is made from rice flour, which, when fried, gives it a hard, crisp crunch. This means rolling it out thinly is important in how crispy the crust becomes. Both are served with the local vinegar or the sukang Iloko as its main dipping sauce. This vinegar is a sugarcane vinegar made from an Ilocano wine called basi. On the inside, each is made of grated vegetables, longganisa chunks, and an egg.
A few things are certain no matter where you get your empanada: it’s delicious, it’s got a crunchy crust, and the filling is a combo of succulent meat and tender bite-sized vegetables.
What makes these two seemingly similar Ilocos empanadas different?
1 The crust of the Batac empanada is the original orange-tinted version.
According to Joza’s Empanada as well as Vigan City’s official website, the original Batac empanada uses atsuete or annatto seeds to color its dough that brilliant bright orange when fried. The Vigan version uses no food coloring, so it’s a paler, more naturally golden brown in hue when cooked.
This, however, seems to be just for aesthetics as the brilliant orange is more eye-catching, especially to tourists on the go looking for a quick snack.
2 The Vigan empanada uses only green papaya.
If you have visited Vigan and watched the empanaderas make their empanadas, you might have noticed that there is only one kind of vegetable used: green papaya. There are even some who may encounter Vigan empanadas which use cabbage instead of the green papaya. A look at those from Batac, and you’ll find some togue or mung bean sprouts with the green papaya.
3 Each version uses its local longganisa.
Depending on which version you are eating, the type of longganisa used in the empanada differs. If you’re in Batac, you may find that you’re having an empanada with Laoag longganisa. Laoag is the capital of Ilocos Norte, and in one of its public market stalls is where you can find this version of the longganisa. Its meat mixture is made of ground pork, Ilocos garlic, Ilocos vinegar, salt, pepper, and MSG or monosodium glutamate.
The Vigan longganisa recipe uses more or less the same ingredients. However, the Vigan version uses more garlic and more vinegar in its meat mix, which makes it taste more garlicky and has more tang when cooked. You can also add atsuete to the meat to give it color if desired.
This difference is important because the longganisa changes the entire flavor profile of each empanada since this is the dominant flavor.
4 The Vigan empanada is all about the yolk.
The Batac version uses the whole egg in its empanada. The Vigan version, however, has a historical reason not to.
Supposedly, the Vigan empanada does contain the whole egg according to its city website, but there are some who claim that only the egg yolk is placed in its empanada. This belief and practice are allegedly rooted in the fact that churches and buildings built during the Spanish colonial times used egg whites in the mortar, thus leaving the yolk to be used for other purposes.
Whether or not this is in fact true, some Vigan empanadas do only use the egg yolk and reserve the egg whites for another use.
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