Lots of people visit Vigan, the World Heritage Site in Ilocos Sur, every year. Vigan exudes a completely different vibe with its cobblestoned roads, horse-driven carriages, and well-preserved 19th-century heritage homes that now serve as shop houses, hotels, and restaurants.

In Vigan, visitors get a glimpse of the Ilocano culture, heritage, and traditions. They also get to taste the unique cuisine of the Ilocos region. Vigan empanada, Royal bibingka, Vigan longganisa—they’re everywhere! But there is a house among the heritage houses in the Calle Crisologo area that serves a not-so-common but equally important Ilocano dish. It is the Singsons’ ancestral house, Casa Caridad, where businessman and Hotel Felicidad consultant Jose “Bonito” Singson resides, and his trusted family cook, Manang Tita, whips up a mean Chicken Pipian. This Ilocano dish is similar to Kare-Kare, except that it uses chicken instead of oxtail and ox tripe, ground rice in place of ground peanuts, and pasotes leaves as souring agent. Incidentally, pasotes leaves can only be found in Ilocos.

Since the Singsons always have plenty of guests in the house, Manang Tita is used to cooking for big groups of about 15. When cooking for smaller groups, the measurements simply have to be scaled down accordingly.

CHICKEN ‘PIPIAN’

3 kg whole chicken, cut up

1/2 kg rice, toasted, cooled and then ground

5 cups achuete (annatto) water*

2 big pcs ginger, peeled, roughly cut up and crushed

8 Tbsp patis (fish sauce)

6 liters water

4 c fresh kamias, washed and sliced

5 packs sinigang mix, 20 grams per pack

Pasotes leaves, picked from stem and washed

*Prepared by soaking achuete or annatto seeds in water until water takes on the orange color of the seeds; then, strain and discard seeds.

  1. Heat a large vat or wok. Add chicken pieces and cook until browned.
  2. In a bowl, place ground rice and pour in achuete water.
  3. Mix achuete water into ground rice, then pour in more achuete water.
  4. Add crushed ginger into the chicken in the wok. Mix in and cook for a few minutes to allow the flavors of the ginger to come out.
  5. Season with fish sauce.
  6. Pour in water. Let boil.
  7. Add kamias, then season with sinigang mix to enhance the flavor.
  8. Add in the achuete and toasted rice mixture. Mix well. Cook until slightly thickened. Add pasotes leaves just before serving.

Serves 15 to 18.

Photographs by Rafael R. Zulueta

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