In the Philippines, no celebration is complete without a whole lechon sitting at the center of the main table. The lechon is one of the most popular Filipino dishes in the Philippines, besides the traditional chicken and pork adobo and sinigang.
But what is lechon and why is it so popular?
The lechon, locally spelled litson, is a pork dish that is not only popular in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well, especially in Spain and Latin countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. In Asia, the lechon is quite popular in the North Sulawesi province of Indonesia.
The word lechon originates from the Spanish term lechón, which refers to a roasted suckling pig, although here in the Philippines it generally refers to a slightly more mature pig that is roasted over open flame and charcoal.
The techniques and methods involved with preparing this tasty dish is essentially the same throughout the Philippines, although there are slight variations in the herbs and spices used to enhance the flavor of the pig, depending on the location and province.
The most common ingredients and items used in conventional lechon preparation:
• Local spices and rubs found in the region
• Salt and pepper
• Bundles of lemongrass a.k.a. tanglad
• Locally grown onions
• Soy sauce
• Firewood and charcoal
• Bamboo spit
So, which is the best lechon in the country?
More often than not, the answer to this question is subjective, depending on who you ask and which province they are from. If you ask someone from the NCR (National Capital Region) or Metro Manila, they will probably say that the La Loma district in Quezon City has the best tasting lechon in the country.
However, the Cebuanos might have something to say about that, especially when you consider world renowned American chef Anthony Bourdain’s stamp of approval acknowledging Cebu’s lechon as the best he has ever tasted.
However, a lot of Filipinos, not just Kagay-anons, would argue that Cagayan de Oro has one of the best and most delicious lechon in the country. In fact, there are stories that some people would spend extra money just to have the lechon from Cagayan de Oro shipped over to wherever they are in the country.
But that’s not the remarkable part.
They say that even after several hours, once the lechon arrives at its final destination, the skin still retains its freshness and crispiness. That’s how good Cagayan de Oro’s lechon is! The argument that Cebu must have the best lechon because Anthony Bourdain gave it his stamp of approval is really not that definitive, considering he hasn’t tried Cagayan de Oro’s lechon yet.
But despite the debates and the arguments as to which province has the best lechon, every Filipino can agree that no celebration is ever complete without the lechon, as it is the centerpiece of any buffet or food table in every Filipino party, from weddings to Noche Buenas.
The Difference between Native Lechon and Non-Native Lechon
Albeit the conventional lechon is extremely popular in this part of the world, a recent trend has been gaining significant momentum in the recent years, in terms of the quality and taste of the dish. These days, many lechon businesses (lechoneros) and establishments use free-range native pigs instead of the domestically grown pigs in local piggeries.
The native lechon is an increasingly popular term being thrown around when it comes to great quality lechon. As free-range native pigs have a more organic diet, and is not exposed to chemically designed feeds, their meat is leaner and tastier compared to pigs raised in pens, which often have too much fat in their meat.
Although fat is one of the main components that make the lechon so delectable, too much of it can sometimes make the dish undesirable to some people. The native lechon has just the right amount of fat to keep you wanting more.
When in Cagayan de Oro.
Whenever you find yourself in the City of Golden Friendship, there is one place where you can try great quality and delicious lechon, prepared the traditional Kagay-anon way. The House of Native Lechon, located along Buena Oro Road in Upper Macasandig, serves one of the best lechon dishes in the city.