Are you a fan of pork dishes? When it comes to dishes made from pork, there is probably nothing else more popular in the Philippines than the lechon.
But, the lechon, despite being the national dish of the country, is not actually a native delicacy. In fact, the roasted pig can be found in several other regions around the world, especially in Spain and in places that have been its former colonies.
The name lechon itself is a Spanish word to refer to a ‘suckling pig’ that has been roasted. Aside from being extremely popular in the Philippines, lechon is also well-known in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Spain and other Latin American countries.
In the Philippines, the lechon is often the main dish being served during special occasions such as fiestas, reunions, birthdays, weddings, festivals, holidays and other gatherings.
During his visit to the Philippines, No Reservations host and American chef Anthony Bourdain announced that he was finally able to taste the ‘best pig ever’ when he was served lechon in Cebu.
How is Lechon Made?
Regardless of the varying tastes in the lechon from region to region, the way it is prepared and cooked is basically the same.
Although the commercial way of preparing lechon has become more and more popular in the market these days, nothing still beats the homecooked way that many roasted pigs are still prepared. Just think about your uncle, lolo, dad, kuya and male cousins gathering together while manually turning the pig in an open charcoal fire over a few bottles of beer. Neat, right?
So, if you are interested in cooking the world-class lechon right in your own backyard, here are the steps that you should follow:
1.) Prepare the pig.
On average, the best pig to roast should be around 8 to 9 weeks or around 15 to 18 kilos. For the lechon de leche, the pig should be around 3 to 6 weeks, or before they start eating solid food.
2.) Stick a bamboo pole through the body.
To ready a pig for roasting, everything should be cleaned thoroughly. Its skin is shaved to remove most of the hair and its internal organs are also removed. In the Philippines, the internal organs are cooked into various dishes that are best paired with cold beer.
After the pig’s belly has been cut open and cleaned, the bamboo pole or steel rod is placed inside. The hands and feet are then tied around the pole to prevent it from coming apart during the roasting process.
3.) Prepare the ingredients for the stuffing.
In the Philippines, the most basic ingredients needed to make the tastiest lechon include salt, lemongrass, onions and chili, if needed.
The salt is spread around the pig, specifically into its stomach cavity, by hand. The lemongrass (or tanglad, in Filipino) is bundled, folded and stuffed into the belly.
4.) Add in the rest of your ingredients and sew up.
Depending on who is cooking, the lechon could be added in with coconut water, milk or soy sauce. You will then have to sew up the belly using an oversized needle wire and kitchen twine to prevent the stuffing from coming out.
5.) Roast for a few hours.
Lechon usually takes around 3 to 4 hours to cook. You need to make sure that your open charcoal fire is not too high or else you will end up having a crispy skin but an uncooked meat inside. The reason for putting a pole or rod through the pig is to allow you to effortlessly turn it around to make sure it cooks evenly.
A lechon is best served whole, on a banana leaf or a lechon tray, after the rod or pole has been removed. This becomes the centerpiece of the buffet table. You can then leave it up to the guests to get their meat servings.
7.) Or chop up the head, remove the stuffing and cut up the lechon.
You can also make things a little easier for your guests by chopping up the meat on their behalf. Ribs are best served with the meat still on the bone.
The head is usually served as a pulutan, or cooked into sisig, for guests who love beer or other alcoholic beverages.
The Coming of Lechon to the Philippines
It is unknown when the lechon was first cooked in the Philippines. It could have been anytime within the 333 years that the Spaniards ruled over the country.
The Famous Lechon de Cebu: What Makes it Stand Out
Although the entire Philippines is well known for its crispy and juicy lechon, it is actually the Cebu that is best remembered as the lechon capital of the country.
A visit to the Queen City of the South, Cebu, is not complete without tasting the roasted pig but, if you just cannot fly yourself to the province, you can make the pig fly to you instead.
The Lechon de Cebu is characterized by the slightly salty flavor through its tender, juicy meat and crispy red skin. In the entire Cebu, Carcar is considered to be the best place to get lechon but there are also a lot of brands available in the city proper.
Most of the roasted pigs available in Cebu are already packed with so many flavors in the meat that you do not really need sawsawan (or a dipping sauce) to make it more flavorful. If you do want to have your meat dipped, you can opt to go for a slightly spicy vinegar sauce or you can choose thick gravy with a salty-sweet taste.
The best way to enjoy Lechon de Cebu is to pair it with puso (or hanging rice) and a bottle of softdrinks. In fiestas, you can add it to your cup of steaming hot rice and usual viand plus perhaps a bottle, or more, of beer.
For guests who enjoy a beer, the lechon also makes the perfect pulutan.
Other Ways to Enjoy the World-Famous Lechon
Typically, the first part of the lechon that gets eaten up is the belly area. Since all the stuffing and seasoning are packed in the pig’s stomach cavity, it gets the most (and the best) flavor compared to the other parts in the lechon.
If you want to have a great experience during your first, or your Nth, taste of the lechon, be sure to pick the meat from the belly. You can also take apart the ribs and enjoy consuming the meat until there is nothing left but the bone.
Of course, you cannot get to the meaty parts unless you taste the crispy skin. The best lechon skin is one that has a golden red color and is extremely crunchy. Unless the other guests beat you to it, you can usually get that experience right after the lechon is taken out of the fire.
A lot of guests also take apart the pig’s ears and tail as it is extremely crunchy especially if it has just been served.
Late guests can take part in eating the feet and the head of the pig, which are often the best parts to turn into pulutan.
Now, unless you have quite a number of guests coming to your gathering, it is unlikely that you can finish off a whole lechon, especially the head. So, Filipinos have come up with many ingenious ways to turn lechon into an entirely different menu.
However, you do not need to wait until you have extra lechon parts to get a taste of other pork dishes. Some restaurants, such as Rico’s Lechon, can serve you these dishes right from their menu.
Are you ready to go on a gastronomic adventure?
Below are some pork dishes that you can try from the lechon:
Aside from lechon, Cebu, particularly Carcar City, is also well-known for its crunchy pork rinds or chicharon. It is a sinful delicacy – certainly something you cannot recommend to friends who have problems with high blood pressure – but if you are quite healthy, you can always give in to these treats once in a while.
You can have the best of both worlds by trying out the lechon chicharon which is made from bite-sized lechon bits that have been soaked in a strong vinegar sauce with spices. You can also choose to dip the lechon chicharon in vinegar for better flavor.
Sometimes, when you cannot finish off your whole lechon, you can turn your lechon meat into a whole new dish for the next day.
In households, lechon meat leftovers are seasoned and then deep fried until they become crispy to the bite. However, this deep fried version does not become as dry as a chicharon would.
In some restaurants, the pritchon is created from bits of meat chopped off from a suckling pig. These are then added as stuffing to pita wedges and then served with cucumber and onion leaves. Diners are even given the option to use any of their sauces which include honey lemon, mustard and liver sauce flavors.
Sisig, although a common pulutan for the alcohol lovers, is also a common viand that is paired with rice and fried egg. The sisig is a traditional dish from Luzon which is added with seasoning and lots of strong and flavorful spices. Sisig is best enjoyed spicy and with softdrinks, if eaten as a meal, or with beer, if eaten as pulutan.
Paksiw is among the most common dishes that the lechon leftovers turn into. The paksiw is basically any part of the roasted pig that has been soaked in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and onions.
The best way to enjoy paksiw is to soak your cup of steaming hot rice in its sauce.
If you want to become a little more adventurous in your lechon dishes, you can also try out the salpicao. This is basically diced lechon meat that has been tossed in a combination of garlic and red wine sauce. To make it look fancy, the salpicao is served with fresh parsely.
Sinigang na Lechon
You probably did not think that the lechon could be served with soup, but it is actually possible.
This pork dish is basically lechon bits simmered in sour broth of sampalok and tomato then added in with some fresh vegetables, to make you feel less guilty about eating so much pork meat.
Lechon Chili Rice
To make you feel less guilty about eating lechon, you can try to take control of how much lechon meat you are eating by mixing it with your rice beforehand. That way, you will no longer have to look for additional lechon since you could already taste it.
The lechon chili rice is basically fried rice that have been mixed with bits of lechon and then added with some bagoong, garlic, chili, green pechay and coriander. This lechon chili rice is just the perfect mix of sweet and spice!
Anyone who does not know the dinuguan probably is not a Filipino.
You actually do not need lechon leftovers to cook dinuguan but you do need pig’s blood and some internal organs to make this Filipino dish. The dinuguan usually has chopped liver, intestines and what-have-you so you will need to have a strong stomach to be able to swallow this. You can complement your lechon and rice meal with a bowl of dinuguan but this pork dish is also a popular pulutan among beer-loving diners.
Where to Get Your Lechon Fix
Rico’s Lechon started out in 1997 but it was not until its founder, Enrico ‘Rico’ Dionson, was ordered by former President Joseph Estrada to cook dozens of lechon in Malacañang that his business got a big break.
Rico’s Lechon is considered as the pioneer of spicy lechon in Cebu and in the entire country. However, its loyal customers also love the classic lechon since it is packed with so much flavor that you do not need to dip it in any sauce or gravy.
You can order your favorite classic and spicy lechon through Rico’s Lechon’s website or mobile lines. Or, you can also dine in their restaurants in Mabolo or Mactan Promenade.
Many people consider Alejo’s as the tasties and crunchiest lechon in the entire Cebu province. Their recipe, which includes stuffing lemongrass as well as other trade secrets, is among the most famous in the whole province. Its Cebuano customers also know Alejo’s lechons as having a slightly salty taste, just the way they like it.
Alejo’s Lechon can be tasted through their branch in El Salvador in Labangon.
When it comes to roasted pig’s skins, CnT Lechon is known for having the tastiest and crunchiest. Their slightly salty flavors are also what its customers love about CnT.
CnT Lechon can be found in numerous places in the city but you can visit their main branch along V. Rama Avenue in Guadalupe or at their restaurant in North Reclamation Area, across SM City Cebu.
A lot of people love Chona’s Lechon because of the flavor in its roasted pigs. The lechon is not just famous in Talisay City, where their brand comes from, but also in the neighboring provinces and even in foreign countries.
Chona’s Lechon branches are usually found around Talisay City.
Want a more unique and a fancier way of eating your lechon? Try Zubuchon!
It was Zubuchon’s founder, Joel Binamira, who prepared and served the roasted pig that American chef Anthony Bourdain declared to be the ‘best pig ever’ when he visited the Philippines. Although this happened before the company was put up, Binamira said that the lechon recipe that was served to Bourdain is exactly the same with what Zubuchon uses.
Zubuchon uses a combination of herbs, lemongrass, onions, other spices, sea salt, peppers and other secret ingredients to create their unique taste.
Zubuchon has several branches around Cebu including one in Escario Central, another in Marina Mall near the Mactan-Cebu International Airport and another one at The Walk in Cebu IT Park.
Cebu’s Original Lechon Belly
You do not exactly need to purchase a whole pig to be able to enjoy roasted pig. Many lechon lovers only delight in eating the belly meat and the ribs which is why Cebu’s Original Lechon Belly was put up.
The lechon belly, which is also popularly known as the boneless lechon, is roasted pork belly that has been deboned. The same process is used in roasting this pork dish, which is includes adding the stuffing into the deboned belly, sewing it up and then roasting it in open charcoal fire.
You can get your classic or spicy boneless lechon fix at the main branch of Cebu’s Original Lechon Belly at the Al-Fresco in Parkmall.
Another top lechon brand is Ayer’s Lechon, which has been serving Cebuano customers for some time now. Ayer’s is best known for its online ordering system, making it easy for lechon lovers outside of Cebu to get their roasted pig cravings satisfied.
Ayer’s get their native pigs from Negros, which, according to them, eat only fresh grass instead of commercial feeds. This is what makes their lechons a cut above the rest.
Ayer’s Lechon can be ordered through their website or you can dine at their branch located along Banilad Road, which also serves Korean side dishes as well as common Filipino dishes such as bopis and paksiw.
The Carcar lechon is perhaps the oldest and most well-known types of lechon in the entire Cebu. A visit to the Carcar Public Market will immediately let you see just exactly why the city is called the lechon capital of Cebu.
Their lechon can be considered as the Queen of all Lechons in that it has a unique recipe. Lechons in Carcar is basically the same as the usual roasted pig but it is also bathed in pig broth and roasted pig drippings.
It obviously sounds extremely sinful but its golden red skin, thin layer of fat, tender meat and delicious pig drippings are what make lechons in Carcar super popular. You can think of the drippings as the sauce to the paksiw.
You can get your Carcar lechon fix from their public market, which is usually available for take-away. Dining in is also available: you can do so by eatingat one of the nearby carenderias and pairing the lechon meat with puso and softdrinks.
What People Say about Cebu’s Lechon
“The lechon has full flavor in itself, with no need for any sauce.” ~ Anton Diaz, Blogger from Our Awesome Planet (of Zubuchon’s lechon)
“It is the saltiness from the rock salt, the delicate texture, the pungent flavor plus the aroma of Visayan spring onions and native peppercorns that set the Cebuano lechon apart.” ~Babes Austria, Executive Chef of Taal Vista Hotel
“I don’t like/enjoy lechon but Cebu lechon is a whole other story. You don’t need sauce because you could really taste the flavor of the meat and they are really soft – even with a guy with false teeth won’t have a problem eating it.”~Moogler, Foodie from Metro Manila, via Zomato.com (of Jun-Jun’s Cebu Lechon)
“The lechon was so flavored and the chili spice brought it to a whole new level. The meat was tender and the skin was crispy.”~Hannah Do, Blogger from The Adventures of Hannah (of Cebu’s Best Original Lechon Belly)
“Hit all the right spots in terms of the skin’s candy-like brittleness, the meat’s tenderness and tasty dressing of herbs and spices, and the intense pork flavor on both.” ~Paul, Blogger from Walk Fly Pinoy (of CnT Lechon)
“It’s already spicy, no need for a dip!”~Carlo Olano, Food Blogger from Kalami Cebu (of Rico’s Lechon)
“Crispy skin with just the right flavors!”~Janine Anongos, Blogger from Wandering Ella
“The meat is packed with flavors and the skin is really crispy. Their spicy variety might be one that can put you in tears but it is also one that will make you get unlimited servings of rice!” ~Pam Baroro, Blogger from Hey, Miss Adventures! (of Rico’s Lechon)
“What is distinctly Cebu lechon is when you can savor the full flavor of the lechon without the need for a sawsawan (dip/sauce). Rico’s Lechon offers this!” ~Ruben Licera Jr., Digital Marketing Strategist from eStrat Media (of Rico’s Lechon)