Nicole Ortega’s Bahay Kubo Kitchen: La Union

Nicole Ortega
About Mesa ni Misis’ Bahay Kubo Kitchen: Bahay Kubo Kitchens is a series highlighting different cuisines from the different regions of the Philippines. It will showcase their local cuisines and cultures through their unique perspectives in the kitchen to encourage localized plant-based diets among more misis and their families. Each month, we will be featuring a region and highlighting certain aspects such as their local ingredients and cuisine. Alongside we will be featuring a prominent chef from their respective regions to talk about the local cuisine and share with us some insight on the possibilities of plant-based recipes!
Nicole Ortega has become a household name, thanks to the success of everything she sets her mind on accomplishing. Her blog is a huge success as she reviewed and wrote about her authentic experiences with places and products. The voice of her blog resonated with people as she became someone who you could trust when it came to recommendations especially with food! Eventually, her blog turned into a series of collaborations and finally, her own line of food and homeware.
“It’s always been my vision to create and offer what people want but to remain authentic as overused as that may sound,” Nicole says. Her voice is probably one of the first authentic ones out there and it extends to everything she does from her wildly successful line of spreads (it’s a toss up between her cheese pimiento or chicken spread on what is more delicious) to her home line which has beautiful pieces that won’t break the bank. The gin she brought in with partner Tippi Tambunting, Ironballs, has a unique Asian twist through the botanicals in the gin.

Ironballs gin

The pandemic has had Nicole in La Union since March 2020, save for a few trips to Manila for haircuts. Through her Instagram account, we are transported to the beautiful town of San Juan, La Union, where Nicole shares its bounty and beauty.

The author with Nicole in the kitchen checking out lemons and hummus.

What do you love about La Union?

I particularly love San Juan (where her husband is a government official) because of its old world charm yet its happening vibe. One part is the beach that is deemed the surf capital of the north, and the other side is mountainous and rich in foliage and crops. There are beautiful bike paths and river farms. Lots of boho cafes and the community is really into the perseveration of the town and its beauty.

Please tell us about some exciting developments around your area. LU is known for surfing but can you share other things to do?

Now that it’s the pandemic, there’s really not much going on. Restaurant owners are more creative with their offerings and keeping [businesses] afloat. New establishments with great quality are opening. But in as far as infrastructure is concerned, it’s been put to rest for the meantime. The best news though would be the almost constructed TPLEX that goes straight to San Juan from Rosario, cutting travel time to another 30 to 40 minutes coming from Manila!

What is a typical LU meal like? Are there a lot of vegetables? Please describe the typical cuisine.

Ilocano food ranges from vegetables to innards. But yes, there’s a lot of produce, root crops, and honey that the province boasts of. San Juan, La Union is known for their corn, rice, and kamote.

What are local delicacies that people can look forward to when visiting LU?

Ilocano restaurants have their dinengdeng and typical Ilocano food, but the dining scene here in San Juan has become so diverse, from Asian to American, Middle Eastern and European. Me, I like to go to the market, and cook the vegetables here at home. I learned that newly picked vegetables taste best when they’re cooked right away. It’s fascinating.

What are your favorite veggie dishes to cook at home for your family?

I am a laswa girl. So are my husband and kids. We love all versions of it. Pinakbet is something that’s also a staple. Or just plain steamed vegetables that are available. I add an Asian flair to it with garlic, soy, teriyaki, or oyster sauce and sesame seeds or make it continental with just salt, pepper, and good butter. Truffle butter sometimes.

This article first appeared in Manila Bulletin’s Lifestyle section.

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