According to its website, Saramsam in Ilokano means constant and informal eating.
Which is exactly what characterizes my eating habits but then again, I always felt that I had some Ilocano in me since I am so drawn to Ilocos -- we have been going on our annual road trip to this northern most part of Luzon for the past 17 years.
However it was only in 2010 when we discovered Saramsam Ilocano Restaurant. Jun, a local guide, introduced us to this uniquely Ilocano place.
Saramsam does not look like your typical out-of-town eatery. It is a mini showpiece of Ilocano cuisine, culture and heritage. The walls showcase contemporary art from young and aspiring local artists.
Naturally, antiques are a major part of the furnishings. These old gaseras and this dark green
damajuana evoke bygone days.
Saramsam, true to its meaning, is an informal hodge podge - different kinds of chairs make up the mismatched dining table sets -- from heavy and carved wooden seats to light batibot chairs -- it all adds to the charm.
The crowd is relaxed and everyone, including out-of-towners like us, feel very much at home.
But aside from the vibe and the warmth of Saramsam, the main draw for me is the authentic and non pretentious Ilokano food.
While the owner does experiment with bringing the cuisine into a more contemporary and young setting, proof is this amazingly good pinakbet pizza -- he does not take undue liberties but keeps these new tastes as true and unabashedly real.
So pinakbet pizza tastes exactly as pinakbet would taste, albeit, baked on top of a pizza crust.
The owner of Saramsam is also a partner in another like-minded Ilocano restaurant called La Herencia, located right across the world heritage site of Paoay Church and which I wrote about in an older post. Thus, there are many similarities in their menus.
I no longer eat meat but everyone in the family still does. Since there are quite a number of us at lunch, we can order more items on the menu -- this is dinakdakan which is grilled chopped up pieces of pig head, blended with chili, green onions and for added creaminess -- mayonnaise or even sauteed pig brain.
This is adobong sili -- made with these only-in-Ilocos chilis that look scary hot but actually have no heat at all. This is also very good with pinakbet. I wish I could find this variety in Manila.
A cruet of fish bagoong stands on the table -- for sawsawan or for drizzling on rice. This is possibly the best fish bagoong I have tried, so malinamnam and not malansa at all. Unfortunately, it makes me eat more rice than I should.
My favorite is a side dish called (don't laugh) poque poque. This is chopped grilled eggplant sauteed with creamy scrambled eggs, tomatoes and onions. It's so melt-in-your-mouth good and happily vegetarian too.
Then, there is nalengta nga ikan -- a light fish stew with onions, lots of tomatoes and the aforementioned un-hot chili. This is like a drier and less sour version of our tagalog sinigang.
My son's favorite and mine too until I eschewed all meat is insarabasab. This is grilled and sliced pork shoulder, mixed with lots of ginger, chili, onions and lightly soured with calamansi.
Fortunately, I remember the taste only too well ....
After that very satisfying lunch and an introduction to the pleasures of Ilokano food that await us in the next few days, it's time to move on.
Here's to our next bout of informal and constant eating ... 365 days from now!
Agyaman ak kenka! Dios ti agngina, Saramsam!