The difference between lechon Cebu and other types is that the pig is seasoned with fresh herbs, spices, and flavorings throughout the cooking process. The pig is also roasted over charcoal made from a local wood, giving it the impression of smoked meat. The result is a pig that no longer needs the sauce to give it taste.
Lechon is cooked in different ways all over the Philippines. One of the most popular types of lechon, aside from La Loma, is the Cebu-style lechon or simply lechon Cebu.
Nowadays, mention “lechon” and Cebu quickly comes to mind. Lechon Cebu is so sought after, some even have it delivered directly from Cebu, never mind the shipping fees. Eating lechon is also a must-do in Cebu. Which begs the question: How good is lechon Cebu?
And why not? The meat is tender, and bursting with fat and flavor with an herby aftertaste. The skin is sweet and as crispy as chicharon. The whole pig is perfumed with an overload of scents. This is the lechon that made Anthony Bourdain say “I got the best pig ever.”
Lechon Cebu’s claim to culinary fame started a long time ago. According to the records of Antonio Pigafetta (the historian who chronicled Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to Cebu in 1521), the locals dined on roasted “black pigs” with rice wrapped in leaves (locally called “puso”), roast fish, vinegar dip and rice wine. So lechon has been enjoyed by foreigners over 400 years ago!
Some lechon enthusiasts would refer you to Talisay City to get your lechon fix. Talisay is best known as the home of the “inasal baboy”, and most residents say this is where everything about the lechon industry in Cebu started.
Teresa Mancia Olo or “Nana Ising” owns the credit for starting the first lechon business in 1945. Legend has it that she single-handedly prepares her lechon and supervises the whole process. Mostly Americans and rich locals were fans of her pork. By the time Nang Ising retired in 1975, others in Talisay have opened similar lechon businesses.
Things changed for lechon Cebu’s reputation when Anthony Bourdain visited Cebu as part of an episode of “No Reservations” in the Philippines. Here Tony praised the lechon he tasted in the province, thus proving the claim (in extension) that “the Filipino lechon, a whole roasted piggy, is the best in the world.”
Cebu has no particular brand that stands out among the lechon businesses in the province. In fact, there are so many lechon brands in Cebu, one won’t be able to pinpoint which is the best.
One example is CNT Lechon House, probably the most popular among Manilenos. Then there’s Rico’s Lechon with their spicy roast pig (a favorite of former president Joseph Estrada and other celebrities), Alejo’s, Ayer’s Lechon Restaurant, and others more that are not well-known but whose pigs are just as good.
And then there’s Zubuchon. Now why the special mention? The lechon sold here is the same that Tony ate during his stay in the Philippines!
Zubuchon is the brainchild of food blogger Marketman, who joined Tony in the Cebu segment of the “No Reservations” episode in the Philippines. Marketman demonstrated to Tony the traditional way of cooking lechon, along with his own improvements to the process.
The Zubuchon pig is cooked naturally without any MSG, artificial mixes, and artificial painting of the skin. The lechon skin is also “acupunctured,” meaning, it is punctured during the cooking process to make it crisp.
“We use only the freshest and often home grown organic lemongrass, green onions, siling labuyo or peppers, local sea salt, and other herbs and spices. We use good olive oil,” Marketman said in his blog.
Needless to say, lechon remains the best dish to top a Filipino feast. Whether it’s Cebu-style, La Loma-style, a whole roasted pig (or even a few kilos of it) is the kind of stuff one will always love to dine on. Everything from the skin to the meat gives a taste of heaven. Nothing can be more exquisite than the lechon.