While I was in the Philippines, I did get one day off. My coworker and I decided to head over to the island of Bohol, and get a tour of the various local “things”. This started off with lunch on the Loboc River Floating Restaurant. It’s essentially a big boat with a Japanese guy with a guitar singing John Denver and Elvis songs while you slowly meander down a giant river eating local food. It was all pretty good, but the green mango with shrimp paste stole the show for me. Mangoes in the Philippines are nothing like mangoes in the United States. It’s like they’re not even the same fruit. They are *SO* much sweeter and so much better in the Philippines. In fact, Cebu is known for their dried mangoes (I brought some home for my wife. They were *gone* quicker than I could blink. They didn’t stand a chance.). The green mangoes are the very tart unripe mangoes. To contrast the tartness, they’re served with a very salty shrimp paste. The shrimp paste is… well, it’s pretty terrible.. but only if you use too much. If you use too little, you just get the mango taste – which is good – but if you get just the right amount of the shrimp paste and green mango, you’ve got something really special going. Mmmmm.
So… here’s the culinary highlight of my trip to the Philippines… Cebu Lechon. Lechon is a whole pig, slow roasted over charcoal. Every area of the Philippines has their unique take on it (and, of course, thinks that their version is the best), but among neutral outsiders, Cebu Lechon is ususally quite high up the list. If you’re a fan of Anothony Bourdain’s show ‘No Reservations’, you may remember that in his Philippines episode, he referred to Cebu Lechon as “The best pig ever”. He is not incorrect.
I was in Cebu in early / mid December, and in IT Park, they had a Christmas Bazaar set up. There were several Lechon stands there, but my colleagues told me not to worry – they would pick out the best one, and they did not disappoint. This is an entire pig, slow roasted, and hacked to pieces. The skin is very crispy, and everything just falls apart. At least in the Christmas Bazaar, they serve you a heaping portion on a paper plate, and give you a plastic bag and some dipping sauce. You put the plastic bag over your hand like a glove, and just tear in. The dipping sauce is part soy sauce, part vinegar, and has some *very* spicy tiny little peppers floating around in it. A single portion with a Coca Cola in a glass bottle is about 53 Pesos – which is about $1.25 or so.
Now.. if you’re in Delaware, you can stop by the Philippine Bread House near Prices Corner and get a taste for yourself. It’s not Cebu Lechon (and also not Cebu prices), and it’s served a bit differently, but it does hit the spot when you’re in need of a pork fix. I’m pretty sure they don’t use an entire pig, and oven roast it instead of over charcoal, but the Philippines are literally on the other side of the world, so I’ll take what I can get. Oh – if you are planning on stopping in to PBH, you’ll need to come on a Saturday, and COME EARLY. They sell out around noon. Seriously. People come in and order pounds upon pounds of it. It’s that good.
I had a jonesing for some Filipino food, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to find around here! There apparently used to be a place around 2nd and Chestnut in Philadelphia called “Cebu Philadelphia”, but it seems to have gone out of business. It looks like there’s one up in the Northeast, but that’s a pretty long hike. After a bit more digging, I found that there’s actually a Filipino restaurant not far from my house in Delaware. Who knew?