I’m a morning person by nature, and my early days call for breakfast being my most important meal. Just as eggs are breakfast staples for me, I also consider a standard, meat-based protein source as a vital part of my morning meal. Thus, began my love affair with the longganisa.
While I’m an avowed fan of coldcuts or processed meats, I will gladly exchange the Western-styled hotdogs and sausages for local longganisa come breakfast time. Here in Manila, the more popular version is the Kapangpangan-styled longganisa made commercially-available by such brand names as “Pampanga’s Best” or “Tita’s”. About two inches in length and really stout even when cooked, this Central Luzon longganisa is sweet with large chunks of fat inside. It’s reddish color is also because of its extensive use of salitre that acts both as a sweetener and preservative.
I’ve always been partial to the garlicky and vinegary longganisas of the North. I grew up with relatives from Ilocos bringing with them pasalubongs of Vigan longganisa whenever they visited us. But the problem with this Ilocano longganisa is that it quickly shrinks up when cooked, so one would need at least three or four pieces before one feels completely satisfied. The same goes for the Laoag variety; after initially cooking them in a small amount of water and waiting for its own oil to come out, the longganisa shrivels up to about an inch-long, bite-size only. Meanwhile, the Baguio version is slightly more fatty and rounded in shape, but the unique garlic and vinegar taste still remains.
There’s a reason why our Ilocos longganisa is processed differently. Up North, we have an abundance of the small, Ilocano garlics and the sukang Iloko available to us. In preparing the concoction for Vigan longganisa, besides equal portions of lean and fatty ground pork, great, big portions of chopped garlic and sukang Iloko are mixed together with some salt and black pepper. Occasionally, some soy sauce is added for extra flavor and color. After being inserted into pork intestines lining and duly stringed-apart, they must be dried well under the heat of the sun. This step is quite important in ensuring the longganisa will last and not spoil prematurely. Improper drying results in bad-smelling and odd-tasting longganisa. As such, this procedure is strictly followed in the Ilocos region and the adjoining areas of the Cordillera, including Abra.
Without the supply of native Ilocano garlics or sukang Iloko, adjustments have been made using the large garlics of the Taiwan variety and any generic, commercially-available vinegar. Unfortunately, the taste just wouldn’t be quite the same. It has also been said that the secret to longganisa-making is that the meat should come from a freshly-butchered pig. With the pork’s juices and essential enzymes still present, the ground meat reacts well with the spices and natural preservatives.
Meanwhile, Longganisang Lukban from Quezon is by far the closest thing to the Vigan longganisa. Based on its taste, garlic and vinegar are the same preservatives used in this Southern Tagalog version. But instead of strings to tie up its ends, they divide up the pieces using either toothpicks or some other wood-based material. Hence, each piece also becomes about an inch long after being cooked. As for the taste, it’s the salty, garlic flavor that dominates the tastebuds.
Cebu’s longganisa, on the other hand, is quite fatty and rounded just like the Baguio version. But the use of atsuete as natural food coloring makes it prone to staining clothing. One little splash of oil from the cooking longganisa will ruin one’s clothes forever. On my visits to Cebu, I noticed this type of longganisa is quite spicy because of the black peppers used in its meat mix.
There are known “lean-meat” variations of the longganisa. During one of my trips to Tuguegarao, Cagayan, I was able to try their own local version which was full of lean ground pork. Without much fatty pieces, the longganisa seems a little tougher and harder to chew. Also, because there is not much fat to dissolve, it keeps it’s inch and a half length even when fully cooked. Just like it’s Ilocano cousins, it’s processed using garlic and vinegar instead of salitre.
In Nueva Ecija, there are “beef-based” longganisas which are actually called “batutays”. Batutays are less garlicky and vinegary, but it’s salty taste gives one a clue to its processing techniques. It’s also not advisable to fry batutays; they are best served after being grilled over charcoal.
Once cooked, longganisa is still best served with rice, whether fried or plain. Eggs in whatever form are also considered a perfect combination for longganisa meals. And to counteract its salty, vinegary or garlicky taste, tomatoes are an ideal contrast that rounds out the overall eating experience.
Hot and fresh from the frying pan, or cold for being out for a whole day, longganisa makes for a tasty all-day breakfast viand.