Try This: Zubuchon’s Lechon and Other Filipino Specialties Pack Flavor the Real and Natural WayOctober 18, 2017
Manila-dwellers in need of a good pork fix, rejoice: Cebuano favorite Zubuchon can now be had within the city, open seven days a week and ready to serve up their signature lechon and other specialties. The relatively new Makati branch welcomes solo diners and big groups alike with its roomy space of bright walls, wooden tables, and glass windows that allow the natural light into its premises—plus its very own room for roasting the lechon, right outside the restaurant.
It was in 2011 that Joel Binamira (known to the online food community as Marketman of the Market Manila blog) first opened Zubuchon along One Mango Mall in Cebu, giving the public a taste of the famed roasted suckling pig—the culmination of multiple experiments that had been chronicled on the blog and which had famously earned the praise of no less than Anthony Bourdain.
“What triggered the desire to experiment with cooking our own lechon was the incredible rise in [the] use of MSG as the PRIMARY ingredient [in most commercial iterations of lechon], which was most definitely NOT the case some 2-3 decades ago,” shares Binamira. While he clarifies that there is nothing inherently wrong with the use of the controversial ingredient, he laments its overuse for the purpose of “[masking] poor ingredients, shortcut methods, [and] time”. Zubuchon’s lechon pays homage to the old-fashioned way of things, taking the time to cook pigs low and slow, and focusing on quality ingredients: backyard-raised pigs, almost all of which are sourced from Cebu; fresh and dried herbs and spices that go into the pig’s bellies; natural sea salt; and coconut water, with which the pigs are basted for its medium-brown hue on the exterior.
We live in a world of increasing instant gratification. But the honesty, integrity, joy, flavor, and substance that comes from using good ingredients, treating them with respect, using technique and attention to extract natural flavor and yield a delicious, natural dish, is the reward in and of itself.”
The resulting roasted pig boasts of succulent meat that tastes clean but nonetheless flavorful, redolent with herbs and with just the right amount of saltiness that it’s plenty tasty, even on its own. The best part however is the skin, which comes out thin and crisp with an audible, cracker-like crunch—the result of an ingenious “hand-pricking” method which allows air to get in between the skin and its underlying fat.
Though you should definitely come over for the lechon, Zubuchon also offers a slew of other dishes that are great in their own respect. Some of these dishes feature their lechon as incorporated in other Filipino classics (Sinigang, Monggo, and Sisig, just to name a few) or in other contemporary creations (one of our favorites of which is their lechon-topped Mustasa salad). Other Filipino dishes and Cebuano favorites are available, following the same philosophy of “real, natural, slow-cooked, [and] old-fashioned methods and flavor extraction”.
It’s hard to choose, but here are two we’d make sure to always add to our list of orders:
Fish Skin Tacos
Should you wish to start your feast on a lighter note, this fun appetizer is the way to go. You get twice the fishy goodness with fish skin chicharon that play the role of tortilla chips, and a small platter of kinilaw (made with tanigue fish or tuna) that packs on the piquancy and a welcome heat. Create your own mini-”tacos” by piling on the kinilaw mixture onto the fish skins, and enjoy the multiple contrasts of flavors and textures in each bite: an airy crispness and natural umami from the skins, plus the tart-spicy profile and crisp-chewy textures of the kinilaw.
The classic Filipino pork blood stew already carries so rich and heavy a reputation in itself that the addition of lechon might sound a tad over-the-top, but Zubuchon does a surprisingly balanced take on the dish while staying true to traditional flavors. Thick but still on the soupy side, this version replaces the more conventional pig innards with chunks of their lechon, simmered until they melt into the stew’s hearty base. Picky diners need not fret; the blood does not overpower, with its mineral undernote beautifully evened out by the creaminess of gata, a hint of a vinegar-y tang, and a mild spiciness that warrants extra helpings of rice. Finishing off the dish are crumbles of their own chicharon for a crisp, salty contrast that enlivens the stick-to-your-ribs dish.
A Cebu-hailing Filipino restaurant best known for their all-natural take on lechon.