• Wayne Manuel

This is 'The One': Dawang's

Extra rice is mandatory at Dawang's.

L-R. Dinardaraan, Paksiw, Rice, Tinuno.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/400 sec., ISO 100.

26th day of April 2018. As an Ilocano living away from my own province, the first thing I do everytime I get home is get an authentic Ilocano breakfast. This somehow refreshes my palate since it's mostly frequented by an unhealthy food group I frankly call "dorm food". I'm not saying that the local food are completely healthy as they seem to sound, because most really are not. As the Filipino saying goes: "Kakain ka na nga lang" (you're just about to eat the unhealthy), why not just go for the better kind right? No! Point is, unhealthy food is wrong for your body. Another one goes: "Masarap kainin ang bawal" (food bad for you is often delicious) - hmm true; but health is, should, and will always be the number one priority. So do yourself a favour by lessening the frequency of intake of the wrong kind.

Moving on, there are many restaurants in Ilocos Norte which graciously title their food "authentic", even when they add too much of the usual ingredients and do away from the known original recipe (scrap it, some of it don't really go well). In fact, the term 'restaurant' doesn't actually mean they're the best at serving the legit ones; for most of these are just found in small eateries or carinderias. Sure I have been to some, but almost all were disappointing or just as good as a stomach-filler after a fast.

One day, my dad told me about trying a great place along the National Highway in the urban areas of the Municipality of San Nicolas. He told me he was a regular ever since then and proved it to be the best (and probably the oldest) paksiwan place around. I just said "okay" and ignored his suggestion. Eventually after a few days, my friends kept blabbering about it during a night party. So as soon as I got bothered when they have put it to a point that I was far missing out, I immediately texted my dad to meet me there for lunch the next day as I was already driven in discovering what the fuss was all about the widely-popular Mama Aket Eatery Dawang's Place - or just Dawang's.

The storefront of Dawang's.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/800 secs., ISO125.

7:30AM at Dawang's. The best time to avoid the crowd.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/80 secs., ISO100.


I pass through this place everytime I go to Laoag City. All the time I ignored it together with the rumors about it. Until one day, I thought "man, I have got to try it". Upon arrival at Dawang's during lunchtime, I noticed a number of people standing, waiting for a seat. The place is not that big, so there are limited seats for a very high demand. Luckily, dad was already seated there and was ready to order. He ordered tinuno, dinardaraan, paksiw and 2 plates of rice - for the each of us. Somehow I was prepared because I didn't have breakfast. And it was just about a minute after we ordered when the food came in.

The menu, with Mama Aket's photo on a printed plate.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/25 secs., ISO125.

The food ready to be scooped out into saucers.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/60 secs., ISO1000.

Their sinigang is as great as the other orders on the menu.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/100 secs., ISO400.

As soon as I got the newly-cooked semi-sticky rice, I dove my spoon into the paksiw bowl to savor it. Of course, I never forgot to add sukang Iloko with sili (Ilocos vinegar with chili) to almost all that was served. Tinuno (grilled pork), dinardaraan (blood-stewed pork), dinakdakan (the Ilocano sisig) - all of what's on the menu deserves to be marinated with the suka. For me, it's just half an Ilocano cuisine if not paired with this special black vinegar (did I just make you salivate? Now imagine dipping a green mango in it). Call me nuts, but sometimes I even mix ketchup and sukang Iloko together then dip a longanisa or a hotdog in.

Black vinegar with chili - an Ilocano original.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/100 secs., ISO400.

Dawang's is noted to be the oldest paksiwan in Ilocos Norte.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/200 secs., ISO1000.


I never got disappointed with Dawang's the first time I went there. Their staff are friendly; in fact, as I was taking pictures of the place, they even paused from what they were doing just for me to get a good photo. Plus they mentally compute your bills based on the empty plates on your table; they do it even faster than a mathematician kid with the finger gestures. This kind of service leaves a delighted and full customer. Ever since then, I knew I was gonna frequent this small yet fulfilling place that is Dawang's, for this is where I tasted the best authentic Ilocano food in Ilocos Norte by far.

One order of paksiw will sometimes entitle you with soup refills.

Paksiw means "simmered in vinegar"

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/200 secs., ISO1000.


Dawang's can be enjoyed alone or with company. The best time to go there is during breakfast, since lunchtime is a struggle looking for a chair. Don't expect the place to be cool since it's not air-conditioned.

The paksiw is mandatory. The tinuno (with tomatoes), nateng (Ilocano-style mixed vegetables), and dinardaraan are the most demanded by customers. Come lunchtime, these orders are already off the menu. If you think there's a big difference in the ulam-rice ratio, order twice the rice already since they seem to have a small serving for just an order and the staff are sometimes too busy with other customers. If you're in for a gastronomic adventure; then the dinakdakan (grilled/boiled pig parts), imbaliktad (beef stir-fried for less than 2 mins.), and kilawen (raw/half-cooked meat denatured in vinegar) are the dishes for you. Don't forget to enjoy them with the sukang Iloko with sili! It's a sin not having to.

A customer enjoying his breakfast alone.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 lens. 1/200 secs., ISO1000.

My first time in the eatery was several years ago. As of today, I've already been to the place for about 20 times, and it always seems to be the first time. I'm going home again tomorrow, so come Saturday morning you already know where I'll be.

Dawang's has definitely changed the Ilocano food game for years. Thank you Mama Aket for bringing us Dawang's!

All photos were taken last April 11, 2018. Special thanks to my dad Marlon for bringing me here the first time; my brother Marlo and stepdad Allan for answering my demand to wake up early on the day I took the photos above.

Mama Aket Eatery Dawang's Place is located at National Rd., Brgy. 1 San Francisco, San Nicolas, Laoag City, 2901 Ilocos Norte.

The opening time is around 6AM, it closes in an undetermined time in the afternoon.