Lechon or charcoal roasted pig stuffed with garlic, lemongrass, onions, Rosemary, spices and herbs is The Philippines' national dish. Lechón originates from Spain which ruled pre-independence Philippines for over 300 years. Spanish Lechón uses suckling pig, whereas the Philippines version uses young, medium sized pigs.
Cebu is reputed to have the best Lechón in the whole country. Filipinos from all over The Philippines go to Cebu to get the best Lechón.
My first taste of Lechón was at the CnT outlet near SM Mall in Cebu City, Philippines. I flew into Cebu City on Cebu Pacific's red eye flight from Singapore. Landed at 4:00am and was at Golden Prince Hotel and Suites by 5:00am. After freshening up, we took a taxi to the CnT outlet at around 8:00am.
1/4 kilo of Lechón at 120 pesos (SGD3.40)
CnT's Lechón lived up to it's reputation, actually exceeding my expectations which was already inflated by anticipation - this was my first taste of Lechón. The warm meat was smooth, tender, juicy and robustly savoury with some saltiness.
The density and texture of CnT's Lechón meat is fine and tender like poached chicken. It is less fibrous than the pork available in Malaysia and Singapore. The skin was thin and roasted golden brown till it became a chewy savoury greasy biscuit.
After enjoying CnT's Lechón, I set my sights on the other famous name in Lechón, Zubuchon. This is the Zubuchon outlet at Escario Central, Cebu City.
I snapped this picture of a whole Lechón at the Zubuchon outlet at Escario Central during their evening delivery time, around 6:00pm. This Lechón is relatively large. The Zubuchon staff told me that the best time to eat Lechón is at delivery time when the meat and skin are the freshest, most flavourful and aromatic.
These were the simple condiments provided at Zubuchon. From right to left - vinegar, soya sauce, chili oil, pepper and salt. Chili padi and calamansi are available on request.
The waiter asked me where I am from. After I told him that I am from Singapore, he brought me a dish of cut chili padi at his own initiative :D Good customer service!
Personally, I like to eat the best Lechón without any additional condiments.
Zubuchon Lechón set at 160 pesos (SGD4.55)
My Lechón set at Zubuchon with rice and a small clump of papaya pickle. In terms of taste and flavour, Zubuchon's Lechón is milder than the CnT version. Zubuchon's Lechón meat was also firmer and drier than CnT's (but still finer than pork in Malaysia and Singapore). Most of the skin was rather chewy except for one piece.
That one piece of skin was like a buttery cream cracker with juices that burst and flood my mouth with a savoury wet gush of lovely flavour and aroma. Perhaps, this was what triggered Anthony Bourdain to proclaim this the "Best pig, ever"? But it was just that one piece out of the whole set meal that was special.....
(Filipinos all have their own favourite Lechón and many felt that Anthony Bourdain was too hasty in pronouncing Zubuchon's Lechón "The best pig, ever" without trying other Lechón in The Philippines.)
Besides CnT and Zubuchon which are big names, lesser known Lechón is found in many places throughout The Philippines. This is the Lechón stall at the food court in SM Mall in Cebu City.
During my stay in Cebu, I also had the chance to visit "Lechón alley" at the Carcar City Public Market where the best Lechón in the country is reputedly found. Carcar City is about 2 hours by car or bus heading south from Cebu City.
In Carcar City Public Market's "Lechón alley", there are about 10 Lechón stalls. Competition is stiff among the Lechón sellers at the Carcar City Public Market.
Inside Carcar City's "Lechón alley" you will hear the familiar dull thump of chopper blades slamming on wooden chop boards as women sellers hacked at the roasted pigs. Some of the tasty juices and bits of meat flew and spluttered on to my clothes and camera :D
Most of the stalls display their prices prominently. Whole roasted pigs are sold at between pesos 3,000 (SGD85) to pesos 5,000 (SGD140) each, depending on the size. Of course, we can also buy smaller portions sold by weight.
In The Philippines, locals like to buy a whole Lechón and eat it together on special occasions like weddings, birthday celebrations and as a treat for guests visiting from overseas.
Whole Lechón is delivered wrapped in banana leaf and banana tree trunk covered with brown paper. We either carve the roasted pig up ourselves or with the help of the staff at restaurants and hotels.
The crackly skin is considered a choice part similar to the way Chinese prized roasted suckling pig skin and Peking duck skin.
Other choice parts are the ribs, meat and skin around the mid section of the roast pig.
We had our second whole Lechón from our hosts Taipan Toastmasters Club of Cebu City which we enjoyed at the Kawasan Falls (3 hours drive south from Cebu City).
This whole Lechón was purchased at 4,500 pesos from Talisay City (another place renown for it's Lechón just 12 km south of Cebu City). When we cut through that golden brown crispy skin, we can hear it crackle like snapping biscuits. Puffs of warm vapour escaped through the cracks of the broken skin from the moist meat below, filling the air with whiffs of that lovely porcine aroma.
Standing in line with my paper plate in hand, I could feel myself salivating and couldn't wait for my turn.
In my opinion, if you are a pork loving foodie who has not tried Lechón, it is worth visiting Cebu just for this. What's more, Cebu has lots more to offer foodies, which I shall share in future posts.
When you visit Cebu, don't leave The Philippines without tasting Lechón.
Click on photo for review of Iskina Cebu stall in Singapore
If you cannot be in Cebu, you can also get a taste of Lechón at Iskina Cebu stall located at a coffee shop in Paya Lebar just beside the Paya Lebar MRT station in Singapore.
Needless to say, the best Lechón is in Cebu, but here in Singapore, Iskina Cebu Lechón is the
I travelled to Cebu City on Cebu Pacific Airlines. It was my first time travelling with this budget airline.
I had a good experience with Cebu Pacific. Both inbound and outbound trips were on schedule (actually we landed slightly ahead of schedule, both times). The aircraft looked well kept and the cabin crew were friendly and helpful.
(Disclosure: I have no affiliation with Cebu Pacific or Golden Prince Hotel and Suites. My trip to Cebu City is fully self funded.)
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