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Lechon for Pinoys: Not just a meal, but a mouth-watering tradition

Whether it's a whole suckling pig with an apple in its mouth or bite-sized pieces wrapped in soft pita wedges, lechon is the star at almost every Filipino celebration, including Christmas and New Year feasts. As Pinoys can tell you, there's more than one way to roast a pig—from famous businesses like Lydia's Lechon to DIY lechon in your own backyard. Every summer, a lechon parade is held at the La Loma district in Quezon City, known for its many stalls selling the popular Filipino dish. But the holidays are the busiest time for stores like Lydia's, where the pigs are roasted over live hot coals for hours. In Calasiao, Pangasinan, Manong Seling's homemade lechon is a bestseller, Katrina Son reported on 24 Oras on December 21. His lechon business is more than 30 years old, and always attracts customers in time for Christmas. A lechon costs from P6,000 to P8,000. Customers can also bring their own pigs to be roasted for P2,000. For those on a tight budget, lechon pieces can be bought for as low as P100 in places like Vigan, Ilocos Sur, the report said. There are also places where lechon gets a special twist, with different flavors to choose from. At Pepita's Lechon, the pigs are roasted in a customized oven for three hours. Diners can choose from different stuffings. "Nag-umpisa ako sa binagoongan rice, tapos inintroduce ko yung sisig rice na medyo maanghang, tapos yung newest ko is laing rice and Bicol express rice," owner Dedet Santos said in a 24 Oras report last September. In Cebu, Zubuchon is home to what celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain declared "the best pig ever." At Zubuchon, the pig's skin has a chicharon-like crunch, thanks to a "secret" technique. To achieve the perfect crunch, the lechon is washed and massaged in coconut water, then acupunctured before cooking, as explained in an episode of Pop Talk on December 18. If you can't get enough of Cebu lechon, Zubuchon also makes adobong puti, sinigang, and dinuguan. "Yung kakaiba talaga ng lechon dito sa Cebu, marami siyang laman sa loob ng tiyan. Sa ibang mga lugar sa Pilipinas, nakabukas lang ito pag lechon nila ng baboy. So dito talagang sinasarado yan, we sew it up, to make sure lahat ng lasa galing sa stuffing nandito sa loob. Kaya sinasabi nila yung lehon yung ribs sa Cebu masarap kasi nandoon lahat ng lasa," Zubuchon owner Joel Binamira explained on Eats More Fun in the Philippines on December 23. The lechon is stuffed with spices and vegetables, including fresh tanglad. The secret to tasty lechon is tying the pig's stomach tightly to keep all the juices from the stuffing inside, Binamira explained. According to Binamira, Cebuanos already had lechon even before Magellan arrived on Philippine shores. "Kapag tiningnan mo yung chronicles ng mga tao na kasama ni Magellan, nakalagay doon na pagdating nila yung pinakain sa kanila inihaw na baboy. Sa palagay ko mas matanda yung lechon kay sa sa mga Espanyol na dumating na nagbigay ng pangalan sa lechon. So yung pangalan na lechon galing sa mga Spaniards pero yung inihaw na baboy ilang daang taon nang nakalipas," he said. For those who want their lechon to be a bit healthier, Dagupan has organic lechon, which is said to be tastier than the regular lechon. Organic lechon can also be found in Cebu. "Tinatawag silang organic kasi ang kinakain nila ay gulay, mga dahon sa mga kahoy, mga balat ng kahoy," explained Rico Dionson, who also makes lechon, on the episode. "Iba ang native na baboy mas masarap siya dahil iba ang kinakain. Siyempre pure diba," he said. According to the report, another secret to delicious lechon is turning the pig by hand. There are many different ways to prepare and cook lechon, but for most Pinoy diners, it's always a treat to have this on the table. As a 2008 survey from Social Weather Stations showed, lechon is the most preferred dish for Noche Buena. So while you could actually have an entire Noche Buena without the lechon, many Pinoys will agree that it's not Christmas without the dangerous yet irresistibly delicious dish. — Carmela G. Lapeña/BM, GMA News