By Sol Vanzi
Images by Noel Pabalate
For years, we have envied lucky birthday celebrants who serve whole Cebu lechon sent via air freight by relatives and close friends from the Visayas. Those of us who had no such contacts feasted on the special roast pig, which we all admit is worlds apart from those ordered from Baclaran or La Loma. We could only pray that Cebu’s lechon could be available for us Manila residents without the hassles of air freight and airport pickups.
Here at last
Last week, our prayers were answered. Rico’s Lechon, pride of the Queen City of the South, opened a branch at Bonifacio Global City. And more good news: Eight more branches are coming up very soon at Tiendesitas and Portico in Pasig City, Glorietta in Makati, Cloverleaf Mall and UP Town Center in Quezon City, Ayala Feliz in Marikina, Ayala Macapagal and Blue Bay Walk in Pasay City.
Rico’s has been a Cebu favorite since its founding in 1995. It became immensely popular after then President Joseph Estrada became a regular customer. It opens in Manila after its acquisition by Meat Concepts Corp., the company behind brands like Ogawa Traditional Japanese Restaurant, KPub BBQ, Thai BBQ, Oppa Chicken, Modern China, and Tony Roma’s.
Throughout the afternoon, one heard platitudes in several dialects, all of them culminating in endless praises for the arrival in the metropolis of the much sought after Cebu lechon by Rico’s.
Not wanting to appear “lechon-greedy” we tried almost all the items on the food tasting menu. Our Tagalog taste buds had to adjust to the Visayan versions of familiar dishes. We missed the shrimps in ginisang monggo, wished more ground peanuts in the Seafood kare-kare, we wanted the Trio Fried Rice less soggy. But when I ate those dishes with big bites of Rico’s lechon, the flavors blended fabulously.
A real standout was lechon sisig, composed of manually-chopped lechon ears, snout, and jowl instead of boiled and ground pork parts. One word that entered my mind while savoring the dish was “linamnam,” which has no English translation. The lechon flavor lingered in my mouth during the meal and long after the dish was consumed. Spiking the sisig with Rico’s spicy vinegar livened up the dish even more.
Lechon as ingredient
Lechon reappeared as the main component of Rico’s humba, a dish that’s perfect for the roast pig’s front legs and feet. Simmered gently for hours with a secret combination of brown sugar, herbs, and spices, the humba is served with the requisite hardboiled egg.
Another much-ordered dish was dinuguan, which features all the choice organs of the pigs butchered for roasting. The Visayan version we tasted was not as dry as the Ilocanos’ but not as soupy as Pampanga’s tidtad.
What stood out was the sourness from natural vinegar, as well as generous proportions of choice organ meats such as spleen, kidney, and liver. For more spiciness, some diners crushed chili peppers in patis, which they used to season the blood stew. Others poured dinuguan over sliced spicy lechon for a customized treat.
Because it was opening day, the air was very festive. Strangers shared tables and dishes, old acquaintances caught up with what was new. Throughout the afternoon, one heard platitudes in several dialects, all of them culminating in endless praises for the arrival in the metropolis of the much sought after Cebu lechon by Rico’s.
The curious who tried to find out the secret that sets Rico’s lechon apart were given the answer: “several hours of marinating.” But marinating in what, they never learned.