Humble ‘talong’ gets high-end treatment in Pangasinan cook fest

Humble ‘talong’ gets high-end treatment in Pangasinan cook fest

By: - Correspondent / @yzsoteloINQ
/ 05:02 AM February 04, 2024

street dancing competition

Featuring an eggplant-themed street dancing competition as shown in the 2023 staging of the celebration. —PHOTOS BY WILLIE LOMIBAO

VILLASIS, PANGASINAN—The vegetable “talong” (eggplant) is commonly used as an ingredient in ordinary household dishes, but it has been elevated to restaurant-level fare by townsfolk of this agricultural town in western Pangasinan at a recent cooking festival.

During the 16th edition of the Talong Festival on Jan. 19, a total of 24 dishes with eggplant as the main ingredient were prepared into appetizers, finger food, main courses and snacks, all plated to match how dishes are served in fine dining restaurants.


The cook fest, held at the town’s gymnasium, was a cooking contest among the 21 barangays and local schools.


After the judging, the Java rice cake eggplant from cooks in Unzad village won the first prize. This dish was followed by the fried stuffed eggplant glazed with yakiniku, or Japanese barbeque sauce, of Lipay village (second prize) and the royal bibingkang (rice cake) talong of Amamperez village (third prize).

Java rice cake eggplant

Java rice cake eggplant

The Java rice cake eggplant is a complete meal in itself. Its main ingredients are eggplant, ground pork and cooked rice, and is garnished with parsley, bell pepper, carrots and tomatoes.

For bagging the first prize, the Unzad team won P7,000 from the local government.

The fried stuffed eggplant glazed with yakiniku sauce won the judges’ nod for its unique blend of the eggplant with pork, shrimp and other vegetables, then coated with eggs, flour, breadcrumbs and then fried into golden brown perfection.

The team from Lipay village, which brought home P4,000, created their own yakiniku sauce.

A snack called “royal bibingka with a twist“ took third prize. It is the usual glutinous rice flour-cum-coconut cream and milk snack that just got healthier with eggplants.

Eggplant parmesan nacho chips

Eggplant parmesan nacho chips

According to former Mayor Dita Abrenica, an average of 18 recipes are presented every year during the festival, so around 300 eggplant dishes have been concocted already since the cook fest began 16 years ago.

A book on 100 ways to cook eggplant was published by the local government to feature the recipes in the festival’s early years.

The festival is a part of the town’s annual fiesta celebration, during which a day is dedicated to the eggplant through the cook fest and crowd-drawing street dancing.

During the street dancing, high school students, garbed in costumes, mostly in purple and green to mimic the eggplant, performed around the town’s major streets. Elementary school children also participated in the “retro dances” accompanied by 1970s to 1980s music.

tuna-stuffed eggplant

Tuna-stuffed eggplant

Quality produce

Villasis has around 400 hectares devoted solely to eggplant production, and local officials saw it fit to hold the Talong Festival as a strategy to market the town’s top produce and carve a name in the agricultural tourism industry.

The town, according to Mayor Nonato Abrenica, prides itself as the “Vegetable Basket of the North” as it also produces rice, okra, sili (chili pepper), tomatoes and ampalaya (bitter gourd).

“But we have achieved the branding of being the one producer of quality eggplant [in northern Luzon],” Abrenica said. “We will keep on improving the festival and will continue helping the farmers as agriculture is one of the town’s economic backbones.”

He said the municipal agriculture office was still consolidating the vegetable production data and how much it contributed to the town’s coffers in 2023.

Councilor Chrisanto Balila, agriculture chair committee, said the town’s agricultural villages along the Agno River are suitable for eggplant farming as the vegetable grows well in sandy soil.

Farmers harvestthe long hybrid eggplant

LOCAL HARVEST Farmers harvest the long hybrid eggplant variety which grows year round
in Villasis, Pangasinan.

Data from recent years showed that Villasis produced an average of 20,000 metric tons of eggplants every year, contributing to the entire production of the Ilocos region, which is the country’s top producer of the vegetable.

In the second quarter of 2023, the region produced 60,000 MT of eggplants, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Municipal Agriculture Officer Diony Carino said vegetable farmers in the town get a 20-percent to 30-percent discount per bag of fertilizer, and are given seeds assistance both by the Department of Agriculture and the local government.

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Prices also do not dramatically drop because eggplant is not simultaneously harvested but successively (as the vegetable matures), unlike other produce like tomatoes, which easily rot because these are harvested all at the same time.

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Farmers, Balila added, have no problem marketing their produce because Villasis has its own “bagsakan” (wholesale) market and is a neighbor of Urdaneta City, which hosts another popular wholesale market and trading center.

TAGS: cook, eggplant, Festival, Pangasinan

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