By Kara Santos
Unique reads and eats in the bustling Ilocos Norte city
MANILA, Philippines — Two new establishments in Laoag City are celebrating Ilocano culture with a twist. Johnny Moon Cafe and Samtoy Books, which opened last December at the La Tabacalera Ilocano Lifestyle Center in Laoag City, are putting a fresh spin on Ilocano favorites.
Johnny Moon Café
“Ilocano flavor meets Western style” in Johnny Moon Café, which pays tribute to Ilocano hero and artist Juan Luna. But as its name suggests — a hip Filipino translation of the hero’s name (Johnny = Juan, Moon = Luna) — the café blends old-world elegance with a modern flair.
The restaurant’s walls are paved with old Spanish-style bricks, while showcasing large pop-art murals of Juan Luna and other heroes. A variety of native Ilocos wines are also displayed on shelves and meals are served by mustached waiters in top hats.
Some of its signature dishes are the bagnet sandwich (which contains layers of crispy bagnet, lettuce, tomato and cheese, served with kamote fries); poque-poque lasagna (layers of Ilocano meat sauce and poque- poque); and Laureana’s pasta verde (malunggay pesto pasta topped with tinapa and dried fish flakes).
Other must-tries include the dragonfruit rolls, crispy dinuguan and higado, bagnet salad and tupig con chocolate (native rice cake served with warm chocolate dip). Johnny Moon’s stylized take on traditional Ilocano fare makes for a fun dining experience.
Just above Johnny Moon Café is Samtoy Books, a cozy bookstore where you can get Ilocano classics and then some. Samtoy Books, owned by Atty. Eric Garvida and managed by Jane Gaspar, is being supported by the Ilocos Norte provincial government.
“Samtoy seeks to strengthen Ilocano literature and promote homegrown writers,” Gaspar said, adding that the bookstore got its name from the Ilocano word “samtoy,” a contraction of “Sao mi ditoy” (which means “our language here”).
Jun Arvin Gudoy of the provincial government said that since its launch, the bookstore has encouraged Ilocano writers from GUMIL and Timpuyog, the two biggest Ilocano writers associations, to consign books, artwork and use Samtoy as a venue for their activities like poetry reading, book launchings and lectures.
“We have received donations and consignments from Ilocano writers and artists from all over. We hope to be one of the few places in the North where the vibrancy, the richness of the Ilocano culture and language is celebrated,” Gudoy said.
A couple of cozy chairs invite readers to sit back and leaf through the heaps of books on display. Prominently displayed is a large poster of the cover of “The Lam-ang Experiment,” a graphic novel inspired by Pedro Bukaneg’s “Biag ni Lam-Ang (The Life of Lam-Ang),” which is considered as the greatest Ilocano epic of the pre-colonial literature of the country.
“We have a lot of interesting stuff including a surprise discovery of an Ilocano music vinyl record from the early 70’s, old photos of Ilocos Norte and its people from the turn of the century to rare books — from the obscure to what’s currently popular,” Gudoy added.
Aside from providing a venue for Ilocano literature, Samtoy also sponsors events that are free of charge and encourages local artists to display and exhibit their works at the bookstore.
Samtoy offers a wide range of books, including Filipiniana, scholarly, literature, children’s books, and books from the University of the Philippines Press. It also has a section dedicated to Marcosiana from the Ferdinand E. Marcos Presidential Center. It continues to scour independent bookstores and outlets to look for books from the ’70s related to Ferdinand Marcos, his writings and his life.
Samtoy is open to individual authors and independent publishers and is actively seeking suitable titles for distribution. Store hours are from Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.