Meet Mang Mauro, producer of Narvacan's famous bagnet
ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – A decision to shift from selling broiler chicken to pork in the public market of Narvacan town in 1999 proved to be a wise move for 55-year-old Mauro Morales. It not only allowed him to raise a family of professionals, it also helped make his hometown famous for bagnet.
Narvacan, which marked its 441st founding anniversary in December 2017, is considered as among the first producers of bagnet in Ilocos. Mang Mauro is among the proud and hardworking Narvacaneos behind its fame and success.
For the 8th year, the bagnet – deep fried pork belly – was again the centerpiece of the municipality’s foundation anniversary celebration through the Bagnet Festival.
A day in the life of a Narvacan bagnet producer
In the bagnet business for almost 20 years, Mang Mauro is one of the biggest and most dependable suppliers of bagnet to nearby towns. He is also the go-to businessman for regional tourism events showcasing the best products of Ilocos Sur municipalities.
Mang Mauro gets up as early as 1 am to supervise the entire bagnet-making process, starting from the slaughter and butchering of the pigs, which takes about two hours. Starting 3 am, the fresh meat would be cooked for 3 straight hours. The finished product should be hanging in market stalls as early as 6 am, ready for bulk buyers from near and far.
On ordinary days, Mang Mauro sells at least 100 kilos of bagnet, and from 200 to 250 kilos on weekends, holidays, and the tourist season. The bagnet section in the Narvacan market where Mang Mauro's stall can be found is among the busiest in the market, as tourists would often prefer to buy bagnet direct from the producers. He and his wife would tend to the store in the morning, the busiest part of the day. His brother-in-law helps in the afternoon until closing time.
'It’s in the cooking'
Mang Mauro said there are no secret ingredients used in cooking the Narvacan bagnet, which they ordinarily call tsitsaron. It all depends on how the pork is cooked in a kawa (big wok) over a wood-fed fire. One kawa could cook at least 50 kilos of bagnet at a time.
As much as possible, Manong Mauro chooses only backyard-raised pigs, and most of them come from Narvacan and nearby towns. This practice reveals the reason why Narvacan’s bagnet is said to be the best tasting, as fresh meat is used.
“There lies the difference of bagnet from Narvacan from the others. In our town, we do not use frozen meat. Every day, we can assure [customers] that the meat we use is fresh. You can check this by its looks, and ultimately, by its taste,” Mang Mauro said.
No frozen meat
“Kapag frozen, wala nang lasa ang karne (If it's frozen, the meat will have no taste)....Kami, pagkakatay, salang kaagad. Walang vetsin, walang asin (In our case, after slaughtering, you cook it immediately. No MSG, no salt),” he added.
The municipality of Narvacan, through the leadership of Mayor Zuriel Zaragoza, has banned the use of frozen meat in making bagnet. Zaragoza said this is a way of preserving the freshness and taste of bagnet the town produces, which would help make buyers choose the Narvacan bagnet when in Ilocos Sur.
The mayor also made it a policy not to let frozen meat enter Narvacan. Those found selling frozen meat in the markets face cancelation of their business licenses.
Family’s bread and butter
By selling bagnet for 19 years now, Mang Mauro, who majored in marketing in college, and his wife supported their family’s needs and the education of their 3 children. They bought a lot, and then built a home, from their bagnet business. Two of his children are now nurses, one in a government hospital in Dubai, UAE, and the other in Narvacan under the Nurse Deployment Program. His youngest is studying accountancy.
The municipal government used to ask Mang Mauro to represent Narvacan in Ilocos Sur’s Kannawidan Festival, which highlights the province’s best agricultural and industrial products. He participates in the Bagnet Festival since it started as an annual event of Narvacan in December 2010.
When featuring the best of the town, Mang Mauro’s bagnet is always at the forefront. Many residents from other provinces, including nearby towns of San Quintin and Pidigan in Abra, come to Narvacan for its bagnet and at the same time to buy fresh seafood.
Buyers would always prefer Mang Mauro and other bagnet vendors in the Narvacan market which, the bagnet producer said, was the reason why they worked hard in maintaining the quality of Narvacan bagnet.
“Kapag bagnet ang hanap nila, sa Narvacan sila pumunta para matikman nila ‘yung the best talaga (If they're look for bagnet, they should go to Narvacan so they can taste the best)," Mang Mauro said.
Bagnet as heirloom
It has been said that when Spanish conquistador Captain Juan de Salcedo discovered Narvacan in 1576, the very first dish that the natives served him and his group was the bagnet.
Described as a versatile product, bagnet can be eaten as is, with or without any condiment. It can be prepared in a variety of ways – bagnet with ampalaya (bitter gourd), bagnet adobo, bagnet pakbet, and siopao bagnet, among others.
Bagnet has become synonymous to Narvacan; the pride of the town. Narvacaneos consider the production of first class bagnet as an heirloom, passed from generation to generation.
When Narvacan, under Mayor Zaragoza, celebrated the first Bagnet Festival during the town’s 434th founding anniversary in 2010, the townsfolk aimed to showcase the culture and tradition of the Narvacaneos as a resilient people with proud roots and a glorious past, who also boast of many natural wonders, beautiful beaches, and historical spots of their town.
The Bagnet Festival has promoted the town’s rich heritage, and opened bigger opportunities in terms of business activities that helped propel the economic growth of Narvacan. – Rappler.com