The problem with “word of mouth” is that things can get overhyped before you actually experience it firsthand. And that’s exactly what happened during my Ilocos Norte trip last week.
“You have to try the pinakbet pizza!” people—from my friends to the tour guides—would keep telling me. Local food blogs raved about it as well.
A Filipino vegetable stew, pinakbet originated from the north and has become a popular dish throughout the Philippines. Chopped vegetables such as ampalaya (bitter melon), okra, eggplant, pumpkin, and string beans are stewed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, ginger, pork fat, shrimps, and bagoong (shrimp paste). The overall flavor is strong, salty, and meaty. As with most Filipino dishes, the pinakbet goes well with heaps of white rice.
For a modern variety, a number of restaurants in Ilocos Norte have come up with the pinakbet pizza. My travel buddies and I went to the original source, Herencia Café in Paoay, home of the first pinakbet pizza.
My gut told me to order only half of the pinakbet pizza and half a cheese pizza for safety.
My gut was right. The pinakbet pizza came with a thin base of tomato paste and cheese topped with vegetables that you’d usually find in pinakbet. In our case, we got tomatoes, string beans, and okra with no garnishes, seasoning, or flavoring. “That’s it?” That’s it. It was bland.
I ate a slice of pinakbet pizza and devoured three slices of cheese pizza, which had far better flavor. Unless I came at a bad day at the restaurant, my verdict is a thumb down. If this were packaged as vegetarian pizza, it still wouldn’t have rivaled other veggie pizzas I’ve tried before.
On a lighter note, my travel companions ordered other Ilocos favorites at Herencia Café, such as the bagnet (crispy pork belly), which thankfully filled their tummies well.
So if you’re booking a trip to Ilocos soon and you’d like to ask my opinion on some good eats, I’d tell you to just go straight for the good ol’ pinakbet entrée with rice.