In almost any occasion in the country, lechon is a must. I remember it was a staple in my grandparents’ house during Christmas and other major celebrations.
My lolo Gabriel, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, loved this Pinoy specialty even when he was already in his 90s. It crossed my mind a few times if lechon was partly responsible for his longevity—he lived till 99.
There are others like him; no matter what they eat, no cause for worry, everything’s fine. Kainggit.
But, as a kid, I was not too crazy about lechon. I loved the crunchy skin, but I thought the meat was lacking in taste.
However, all that changed when I discovered Cebu lechon.
Introduced to me by twins Henry and Edward Chiongbian, this cochinillo combined crunchy skin with flavorful meat, with no need for liver sauce.
With a very thin fat layer, this became my preference over the lechon I grew up with.
In one of our shoot fests in Cebu, I was told by a friend that the new emerging lechon on the island was Rico’s. I took home to Manila one whole lechon, its skin still crisp and the meat still very tasty. Rico delivers to Manila (tel. 0917-4072033).
Just last year, I met up with Rico again and was so happy to see this kind man with humble beginnings doing so well. He now has two restaurants with a flourishing lechon business. His story is very inspiring.
And then fellow foodie Maricris Encarnacion tipped me off about a new craze in Cebu— boneless lechon roll stuffed with herbs and spices.
Roasted until the skin is bright-gold and very crisp, it has an aroma that fills the air and makes one gulp in hunger and anticipation. I love it when food has this effect.
Underneath the crispy skin is a roll of fatless liempo: a chunk of lean pork, and mashed herbs and spices—lemongrass, garlic, spring onions and the aroma of star anise. Just describing it makes me hungry.
Apparently, the fat layer between the skin and the meat is removed. You seem to be feasting on lean meat. No sauce needed.
Maricris gave me a tip when I took home a 3-kilogram fresh roast. My plan was to freeze it and bake it for about 45 minutes in my friend Jerry Yu’s ceramic charcoal oven (tel. 0920-5760256).
Maricris’ tip: “Take a slice before putting it in the oven. Iba pa rin ’yung bagong luto.”
Even if you store the lechon for weeks, when you bake it, the skin remains crispy.
I sampled it at night, after my noon flight from Cebu. The skin was still very crispy. Nothing like it.
Last week, I got two versions of Tatang’s extra-crispy boneless Cebu lechon. Regular or spicy, I love them both. I got the order in the morning and served it at dinner when it was still crispy, very flavorful and delicious. With steaming-hot rice drizzled with drops of Maggi Savor, it’s a winner!
A few weeks ago, I learned from Maricris that Tatang’s has opened in Manila. Thus began my exciting search. I found it in Gilmore, Quezon City.
You may call for delivery, or you may pick up; it’s got the same taste as the one in Cebu.
Lately, I’ve been organizing kamayan dinners over banana leaves. They’re called boodle fight—we put halabos na hipon, inihaw na baboy, manggang hilaw with bagoong, pako salad, kangkong, inasal na manok, and now I include Tatang’s extra-crispy boneless Cebu lechon.