The renowned author Gilda Cordero-Fernando famously stated that the food of the Philippines’ northern provinces (specifically the Ilocos Region) is either incredibly healthy or seriously unhealthy.
It is from the frugal Ilocanos that we get healthy vegetable dishes like pinakbet (vegetable-fruits cooked with a hint of bagoong [shrimp/fish paste]), bulanglang (leafy vegetables cooked in a light fish and ginger broth), and an assortment of lightly-grilled vegetables dressed with a bit of the dark local vinegar and a touch of bagoong.
But it is from these same people that we get decadent treats like the [in]famous empanadang Vigan (taco-like pasties filled with seasoned ground pork and shredded green papaya), the seductively garlic-ridden pork sausages known as longganizang Vigan, and that dangerously delicious slab of deep-fried pork belly known quite simply as bagnet.
Essentially, bagnet is a slab of fatty pork – usually the belly – which is first sun-dried, then boiled, and finally deep-fried till the skin is all blistered and crunchy. Prime bagnet is presented as layered chunks of meat, fat, and crisp skin as shown at the top of this post. These are then chopped up and sold by weight. Curled up chunks are referred to as bagnet knots and are sold by the piece. Even the crispy crumbs are not spared as these are placed in plastic bags and sold, usually to panciteria (noodle stall) owners who use these to top dishes like pancit palabok or luglog.
As shown in the picture in the middle, bagnet may simply be refried (Oh, the calories! The cholesterol!) and served as a main course. Prepared this way, all you need is a dish of vinegar spiked with chilies and cloves of garlic to sprinkle over the indulgent fatty, crunchy bits and you’re set for quite a meal. (Don’t forget the rice!)
If, however, you’re the squeamish or frugal sort, you can use the bagnet to add rich flavors and interesting textures to a pot of pinakbet or a steaming stockpot full of monggo guisado (green mung beans sauteed with garlic and onions and stewed down with chunks of fatty pork). It goes all soft, but is nevertheless immensely flavorful and incredibly savory.