Lechon: It’s What I’m Thankful For

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Relax.

It’s just a roasted pig’s head on a platter. No need to cringe, or go ewww, or label me as a savage.  All it is is pork. It’s Lechon and it’s delicious.

As I’m sure all of my Pinoy readers already know, Lechon is a whole roasted pig that is usually served for big parties and special occasions.  For my family, we have Lechon on Thanksgiving (there’s turkey too, but who cares really?).  And as I mentioned in my last post, I only get to experience the awesomeness that is Lechon every other year since my wife and I alternate between families.  And my wife’s family does not eat Lechon (read: they be white).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get along famously (famously, I say!) with the in-laws.  But the years when I’m at their place for Thanksgiving, my mind is invariably elsewhere–all I can think about is how I’m missing out on Lechon. Glorious Lechon.

In fact, when spending Thanksgiving at the in-laws, I always sneak out to the front porch and give one of my brothers a call on my cell phone to see what’s going on at grandma’s house:

Bro: Hello?
Me: Hey man, how’s it going?
Bro: Good, everyone’s here and we’re all…
Me: Yeah, that’s cool. Is there Lechon?
Bro: Yup. Hey you wanna talk to…
Me: How’s it look? You eat yet?  It’s good right? Crispy? Tell me it’s crispy, dammit!
Bro: Yup. It’s the same as always. Hey you wanna say "Happy Thanksgiving" to anyone?
Me: Click.

I then crumple to the ground, curl into a ball and I quietly weep.  Then my father in-law steps outside and I mumble something about dropping my contact lens, watery eyes, and pork, and then I slink back inside to have some turkey.  Good times.

This year, however, it was time for my wife and I to go to my grandmother’s house!  Whoooo!  I said, Whooooooooooo! Yes, very exciting, I know.

I was intending to get a picture of the whole roast pig, but we got to grandma’s a little late and she was already in the midst of lopping off the wonderfully crisp skin and succulent meat of the Lechon:

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Grandma’s tools of choice.

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Mmmmm. Pork. Crispy, crispy skin and juicy meat.

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Grandma’s deft hands.

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Piggy style. Lots of meat left for seconds and thirds and leftovers.

For the uninitiated, the best thing about Lechon is the crispy skin.  It’s so crispy that alls you has to do is tap the roast pig and the skin shatters into shards of delicious.  The skin only stays crisp for a couple of hours, so Lechon is best eaten ASAP.  And also for the uninitiated, Lechon isn’t something you can make at home, you have to special order it from elsewhere.

I’m not exactly sure where my grandparents procure their piggy from, but perhaps after paying homage to the Lechon Fairy on every 3rd Tuesday, a crispy roast pig magically appears on my grandparent’s doorstep upon Thanksgiving morn.

Or maybe Lechon procurement involves cryptic phone calls, secret handshakes, and my grandfather plucking a toothpick from his mouth and flicking it at the feet of a cowering pig farmer.  My grandfather then shouts in no uncertain terms that the pig to be delivered better be good, and it better be on time. He then drags his thumb across his throat and then turns and walks away. Gangsta!

Or maybe my grandpa just knows a guy.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

Anyhoo, besides Lechon, there were plenty of other goodies on my grandmother’s table this past Thanksgiving:

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Copious amounts of lumpia, of course.

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Seaweed and tomato salad. I’m not sure what the Filipino name for this is.

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And Tamales. Tamales??! Yes, believe it or not, we have tamales for Thanksgiving. But these also are not made by my grandma.  Like I said, my grandpa knows a guy.

Here’s a look at my first plateful of food:

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1. Rice and pinakbet
2. Pancit (delectable Filipino noodles). Pancit por your pace, you pool!
3. A big ‘ol pile of Lechon
4. Mang Tomas lechon sauce. Or as I like to call it, "That Homeboy Tommy" sauce.
5. A single slice of turkey (saving room for more pork).
6. Something my grandma called "parda". Not sure what it was exactly, some kind of pickled vegetable, but it was tasty.

Don’t you just love the tri-compartment styrofoam plate?  Or as I like to call it, "The Filipino Coat of Arms". In fact, I think I’ll commission an artist straight away to design my crest of plated Pinoy goodies. Then I’ll have it embroidered on a Polo shirt that I will wear whilst on a fox hunt. Or maybe not.

Anyhoo, no Thanksgiving at my grandma’s is complete without having to bring home leftovers (well, that and my dad passing gas at an inappropriate time). Not only is my grandmother’s kitchen fully stocked with styrofoam plates, she is also equipped with styrofoam take-home boxes. I’m serious.

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I’ve been living off of this box o’ pork for the last few days now. Traditionally, leftover lechon is made into a dish called "Lechon Paksiw" in which the leftover lechon is stewed in vinegar, sugar, and spices (kinda like an adobo, I assume). I’ve never had lechon paksiw before, so I didn’t want to try and make it.  But whenver I get lechon leftovers, I just drizzle a bit of olive oil on them, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then grill over high heat for just a couple of minutes on each side.

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The meat gets beautiful grill marks, but still remains juicy and tender.  The skin crisps up again and becomes the most bestest pork rinds of all time.

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Oh, Lechon! I am so thankful for your porky existence! Until we meet again, in two years, my tasty friend.

  • Ed November 28, 2007, 6:30 pm

    Woohoo – lechon! The seaweed is called “lato” in most areas of the Philippines, but the Ilokano term is “ar-arusep”.
    On the other side of the coin, old lechon skin is like rubber boot – not too pleasant…

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  • Chad Rowdy November 28, 2007, 7:56 pm

    I like to pig roast.

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  • Matt Hurst November 28, 2007, 7:59 pm

    My step-father roasted a whole damn pig for my high school graduation party. Yeah, that’s right. And, while I have never had Lechon, this pig was delicious and he didn’t have to know someone else who cooked the thing. He went out and killed the pig his damn self (read: bought at the butcher store) and then shoved a spit through it (this is true) and then made a bed of coals and roasted the whole delicious hog (true). It was so wonderful and delicious and homemade and wonderful. So, us whities can do pig up real good, too.
    Or, at least Bob can.

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  • Ruy November 28, 2007, 8:52 pm

    Wahaha! Filipino coat of arms with lechon and pansit! I think I’ll have mine with Kare-Kare.=)
    Damn, that lechon skin looks soooo crisp!

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  • Jen Tan November 29, 2007, 2:43 am

    What a great lechon post! I am in the Philippines and I haven’t tried some of the dishes you guys have over your thanks giving spread…i.e. Tamales…that salad… lucky you have a gangsta granpa! ;P hahaha
    I love the way you write!!! Sooo funny…and that well defined plate! hahaha =D

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  • Manggy November 29, 2007, 7:56 am

    Argh! Great plate you’ve made for yourself, Marvin! LOL at your conversation with your brother :)
    I’m not sure of the etymology of “lechon.” Lechon de leche = roast suckling pig. What does it have to do with milk?
    Lechon paksiw is awesome and keeps forever (don’t tell the food safety nazi though). Here at home we use bottles and bottles of Mang Tomas to make it, plus vinegar and lots of peppercorns. In the end it looks like a pork-y, sweet brisket.
    Since I’m a sweet tooth and not a fataholic, my joy is not in the skin, but in the glorious liver sauce. Yumyumyum

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  • brilynn November 29, 2007, 8:06 am

    We used to do a whole pig on a spit once a year when I was younger, the crispy skin was always the best part…

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  • elmomonster November 29, 2007, 8:16 am

    Niiiiice. The Chinese do the lechon too…had this a few weeks ago at a wedding. Tough to be a pig in Asia: everytime a human is born, gets married, celebrates a birthday, you die.
    Awesome, funny, evocative post Marvin. Bravo.

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  • oggi November 29, 2007, 8:31 am

    Marvin, I’m drooling at the photos of the lechon and now tempted to go and buy a tiny suckling pig at the Vietnamese market.
    As usual, I’m grinning the whole time I’m reading your post.:)

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  • Julie November 29, 2007, 9:10 am

    You’re killing me!!! We didn’t have lechon at the relatives’ house this year, but they have, indeed, cooked one at their house before. I’ll be posting my plate this weekend sometime. No sections, alas. *sigh* I may have to start bringing my own, but on a good note, no ridges meant more room “por pood.” Dang. I wonder what lucky relative of yours got the tail!

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  • Pat November 29, 2007, 9:11 am

    omg, the lechon looks absolutely delish! i wonder what different cultures served at thanksgiving in addition to turkey. My mum made ayam kodok, deboned whole chicken stuffed with pork, vegetables and hard boiled eggs.

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  • Julie November 29, 2007, 9:14 am

    Oh yeah, I think we might’ve done a little lechon in our oven when I was really little. I remember a brother’s girlfriend freaking out when she looked in and saw it. My relatives who did it one Thanksgiving just dug a big hole in their backyard, lined it with coals, and buried the pig.

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  • raissa November 29, 2007, 9:39 am

    Though we didnt have lechon on Thanksgiving, I had some that weekend for an association party. It was so good with all the herbs, peppercorns and lemongrass inside the pig’s belly. Mang Tomas might be the most well known sauce for lechon but for us from Leyte, our lechon is paired with vinegar and tons of garlic. Since the way we make lechon is already flavorful (the herbs in its belly), we find no reason to mask that with lechon sauce. Okay, my mouth is watering just describing it. I love the part just right after the skin.
    Manggy: “lechon de leche” just means its a younger pig or piglet. It is smaller hence no fat, all skin and meat. Its best for a small group of people.

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  • raissa November 29, 2007, 9:43 am

    oh just to add the Filipino way of cooking lechon is rotating it above very hot coals. The skin is evenly roasted and evenly-colored but very tiring and time consuming because it is constantly rotated and basted. The Hawaiian way is burying it.

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  • TeddyKim November 29, 2007, 10:19 am

    I’m dying from the description of your “gangsta” grandfather! Hilarious post as usual. Did your wife eat any of the lechon?

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  • Burnt Lumpia November 29, 2007, 11:24 am

    You’re right about the skin, Ed. It’s definitely like rubber after a while. But grilling it re-crisps it and it’s as good as new!
    Chad, roasting pig is delicious.
    Relax, Hurst. Didn’t mean to offend whitey. We can discuss further over beers. Unless, of course, I am rushed out of the bar before I get to finish. And Bob is a man among boys. Praise him.
    Ruy, good thing there are so many different Pinoy foods! That way we can tell each other’s crests apart;)
    Thanks Jen! Yes, tamales may perhaps be an unexpected sight since they are a Latin food, but my family loves tamales.
    Hello Manggy. I think the Lechon/milk relation has to do with what the suckling pigs are suckling on;)
    Hi brilynn! Yes, roasted pig skin is the best!
    Hi elmo. Yes, being a pig in Asia would be a terrible fate;)
    Thanks oggi! If you do prepare a suckling pig, I would love to read about it.
    Hi Julie. Yeah, I guess I didn’t realize that one could make lechon at home if they had a small enough pig or if they had enough time.
    Hello Pat. Everything about ayam kodok sounds awesome! Pork-stuffed chicken? Nice!
    Raissa, the leyte version of lechon you describe sound soooo good. And you’re right about the hawaiian method of cooking the pig as that is the usual fare at a luau.
    Thanks TK! And yes, my wife does eat lechon, although she stays away from the skin. She seems to eat more and more of it every year we have it.

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  • Ed November 29, 2007, 11:30 am

    Doesn’t Pat’s ayam kodok (“frog-chicken”? Is that right, Pat?) remind you of rellenong manok?

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  • Cynthia November 29, 2007, 7:51 pm

    Sooooooo, can we carefully plan for me to have an invitation in two years time when you visit your grandma for Thanksgiving?

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  • caninecologne November 29, 2007, 8:56 pm

    great post! looks like an awesome thanksgiving spread!
    my parents splurged on a lechon for my college graduation party way back when. the head was separate on a platter and freaked out the few non-Filipinos who were there. my dad even had a nice red apple in it’s mouth and decorated the severed neck with parsley and carrots.
    i was at a party recently and they had a lechon. it was demolished within hours by the older folks. the best part was the crispy skin with the fat and meat connected.

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  • Julie November 29, 2007, 10:56 pm

    And also again, I’ve selected you to do a meme, as posted on my blog. Don’t feel obligated to do it, but I thought you’d give great answers!

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  • dhanggit November 30, 2007, 4:06 am

    that pig is really photogenic!!it reminded me of my hubby when we celebrated christmas at home for the first time ..he was shock when he saw that roasted head on the table ha ha ha..he took a photo and send it immediately to his family..anyhow staring at all those goodies made me gain 2 kilos already..they look virtually darn good.;really grandma knows best!!lucky you the last time i had my lechon was 7 years ago, snif snif

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  • Krizia November 30, 2007, 11:47 am

    AHAHAHAHA I AM ROLLING ON THE FLOOR. Check out OUR Thanksgiving lechon this year (and me being the man of the house, cutting the turkey): http://beautyisonly.blogspot.com/2007/11/day-after-thanksgiving.html It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving for me to call the family and ask them what they had/are having for dinner, and then crying in a ball after comparing it to whatever frozen Salisbury steak dinner I had that night. It’s funny that you mention your Lola’s Styrofoam containers, because when I got back to LA, the first thing we did was go to Costco. My mom asks, “Sha, should we get some containers for the guests?” And naturally, I respond with, “No way! That’ll only encourage them to take even MORE food.” Alas, your grandma has a bigger heart than I do haha. Hope you had a happy celebration!

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  • Janice November 30, 2007, 12:27 pm

    lol i agree with styrofoam plates on the Filipino coat of arms…we love our polystyrene…the ozone hole is due to visiting relatives taking home leftovers.
    man, i love lechon…the meat is perfectly juicy and flavorful…i think we got some Homeboy Tommy’s in the fridge right now.

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  • desie the maybahay December 1, 2007, 5:52 am

    ha ha. what filipino get-together is complete without lechon?
    i had some ‘lost years’ when i tried to eat healthy and avoided things like lechon. now i rediscovered pig big time. gimme pork on my fork.
    marvin, you must try making the ‘real lechon sauce’. homeboy tommy is good but real lechon sauce is made from liver. the same sauce is used for stewing left-over lechon in paksiw. lechon and real lechon sauce=unreal.

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  • veron December 3, 2007, 1:46 pm

    Where have I been and I missed this post. Lechon is one of my utmost favorite food to eat! The crispy skin, the tender fat …ooh wow…drooling over here. Lucky you!

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  • Burnt Lumpia December 4, 2007, 8:41 am

    Ed, you’re right. I can’t believe I couldn’t see the similarities to our own version of stuffed chicken.
    Of course you’re invited Cynthia. Just be sure to bring some of your tasty Caribbean goodies!
    Hi caninecologne! Yes, the head on a platter thing can be disconcerting if it’s something you’re not used to.
    Julie, done and done;)
    It’s been 7 years dhanggit? That’s a long lechon drought.
    Nice pics Krizia. I’m assuming that’s your sister’s blog? Looks like you guys had quite the spread yourselves.
    Hi Janice. Yes, my grandmother has no regard for nature. I should talk to her about paper products and recycling;)
    Hello desie! I have had real lechon sauce before and I agree with you that it is sooo good. For some reason though, we didn’t have the real stuff this year.
    Veron, it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve had lechon now, but I’m still drooling over it too.

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  • Maricar December 6, 2007, 8:09 pm

    Oh, you had the best Thanksgiving feast ever! That lechon looks GOOOOOD! Why do you have to post such good photos of such good food? I’m craving for lechon now!

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  • A scientist in the kitchen December 17, 2007, 7:17 am

    Great description of lechon! I always have lechon each time I graduate. Come to think of it, so many graduations already. Hopefully, the last one will be April next year.
    I’m also craving for lechon right now…

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  • Paul santiago January 12, 2009, 9:50 pm

    I am so hungry right now
    I am Mexican but I a lot of Filipino cooking
    and Tamales
    My wife is from Bicol
    she likes my cooking
    and SHE IS VERY PICKY PINAY!
    I always make plenty for everyone
    thanks for putting all that Delicious food out there

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  • Nataraki June 17, 2010, 9:24 am

    Wow this made me super hungry

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  • Marichu November 28, 2010, 9:42 pm

    That seaweed in the salad is pokpoklo in Ilokano. Different from ar-arusep.

    Reply

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