“Sikat kami talaga pagdating sa suka at basi,” Deliarina Rafael, barangay captain of Bacsil South, Laoag City proudly told ANCX during our recent trip there organized by Travel Warehouse Inc (TWI), Cebu Pacific, and the Laoag Tourism Office (LTO). “Pag sinabing galing ng Bacsil [ang basi at suka], talagang mabebenta. Masarap, matapang, at natural. Walang kemikal.”
The dark brown vinegar has a complex flavor, with hints of sweetness, fruitiness, and acidity, which makes it a versatile ingredient for different dishes. It is a popular condiment for fried or grilled foods, and it’s fabulous with longganisa and bagnet. It is also used in making soups, stews, marinades and dipping sauces.
During our visit to the barangay, the community folk showed us the traditional way of extracting the sugarcane juice using an apparatus called dadapilan, which is pulled by a carabao. Today, a small tractor is more commonly used to pull the dadapilan so it can run the whole day without overexerting the carabaos.
The dadapilan is part of the culture and identity of Laoag, according to the city tourism office. Out of the over 500 households in Brgy. Bacsil South, 59 still own the wooden sugar mill. “Some of them are over a century old already, passed on from one generation to another,” said Laoag City tourism officer Angel Lao.
According to Rafael, sugarcane farming is a main source of livelihood in their barangay. “Halos lahat ng mga farmers dito ang ginagawa ay nagtatanim ng tubo,” she told us. But this crop is also seasonal. Farmers only get to harvest it once a year—from January to May. “Sa panahong iyan pinakamatamis ang tubo,” Rafael added.
The barangay folks showed us the process of making sukang Iloko. After the sugarcane is extracted, the juice is heated up in a large pot. They also use the sugarcane pulp as firewood, making the process sustainable. Once the impurities settle at the top, these are removed and the juice is allowed to cool down and poured in a jar they called burnay. Then, the fruit, bark and dried leaves of the samak plant are added to the mix. “Lahat organic talaga, walang preservatives,” Rafael said. It takes about three months before the sukang Iloko is fermented, and the basi six months. “Mas tumatagal, mas sumasarap,” one manong told us.
The process of making basi is similar to making sukang Iloko. The only difference is the way the burnay is sealed. “Kapag basi, dapat mahigpit ang pagkatakip ng burnay. Pag suka, hindi gaanong mahigpit ang pagkatakip,” offered Rafael.
Currently, a liter of sukang Iloko only goes only for P50, 1.5L at P80 and 20L at P1,000. The price of the basi is only P10 highter.
Says a material sent to us by the city tourism office, the manufacturing of Ilocos vinegar and wine predates the Spanish colonization of the islands. “Although the two products were already a part of vigorous trading among the islands and with neighboring countries, basi in particular reached prominence when it became one of the island’s exports for nearly two centuries through the Galleon Trade to Europe by way of Acapulco, Mexico.”
However, the Commonwealth era saw the decline in the production of sukang Iloko with the influx of imported products in the market. The local industry suffered seriously during the second World War and has never recovered since.
Thus, the office is currently working on a project that aims to revive the sukang Iloko. It will be providing training and seminars to help communities develop their sugarcane products. Brgy. Bacsil South has also been identified as a potential tourist destination of the City of Laoag because of its efforts to continuously preserve the culture of using dadapilan.
Photos taken using Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra