The inasal of Cebu is known far and wide as the best tasting slow roasted pig in the Philippines and because of Anthony Bourdain, it is possibly “the best pig ever”.
Why is Cebu lechon a cut above the rest? In the book Hikay The Culinary Heritage of Cebu, the author says it is because of the care Cebuano lechoneros put in preparing the pig, from the careful cleaning of the stomach cavity to the close shave of the skin. Cebuanos have long had a tradition of inasal as chronicled by Pigafetta. Magellan may have been in killed in Mactan, but Pigafetta lived to tell the tale of the “last supper” so to speak. Guess what was served? Lechon of course.
Modern day Cebu is a lechon lover’s paradise. There are many well known restaurants like Zubochon, CnT, Rico’s and Ayer’s alongside many roadside vendors.
If you are in Cebu on a Sunday morning and feel like lechon for breakfast, head to Talisay City which is about 30 minutes from the center of Cebu. There is a whole street here that sells freshly roasted lechon. Talisay caters to the Sunday mass crowd and beach goers. The atmosphere is festive with everyone excited for a lechon meal. Carmen’s came highly recommended and this is where we enjoyed lechon ribs which you have to have with the iconic Cebuano puso or hanging rice wrapped in woven palm leaves. With many cuts of lechon to chose from, go for the ribs because the meat closest to the bone is the most tender and has the most flavor. Now what about the skin? Perfectly crisp as all good lechon should be. Talisay lechon according to Carmen uses fire and not coal and this she says is the secret to crispy skin. Also she says proudly, most Manila lechoneros are originally from Talisay.
Rico’s Lechon is another brand made famous by celebrities like Erap and Kris Aquino. Filming for FoodPrints gave us access to Rico’s commissary and Rico Dinson himself showed us his step-by-step recipe. It begins with a pig that’s maybe 5 weeks old. He rubs rock salt generously inside and out. Then,he stuffs the cavity with lots of red onion or what they call bumbay, onion leeks, garlic and tomatoes and sews the cavity shut with abaca twine.
Before roasting, he rubs the pig with Camel soy sauce. A brand of soy sauce only found in Cebu. The pig is roasted over red hot coal for about an hour and a half. Then it is taken from the spit and served to us. There are few culinary experiences that can compare to eating a roast pig fresh off the spit. The meat is melt in your mouth tender while the skin is crackling crispy. In a word, divine! I attribute this again to Rico’s secret recipe but more importantly to the amount of time between the spit and our mouths which is a matter of minutes!
Sadly, back in Manila, I ordered Rico’s Lechon which was flown in from Cebu. It was far from my lechon experience in Rico’s commissary. The skin had lost all its crispiness and the meat was too oily. The lesson is lechon does not travel well and if you are in Manila, order a lechon roasted in Manila!
So if you’re headed home and still haven’t had enough of Cebu lechon, Zubuchon sells frozen lechon at the airport. Zubuchon is incidentally the lechon Anthony Bourdain named “the best pig ever” and if you follow the heating instructions properly you will get a very tasty lechon and even a bit of crispy skin!
Though some would prefer CnT or Ayer’s we can all agree that a trip to Cebu is not complete without having a lip-smacking, cholesterol inducing plate of lechon.