I do not intentionally court controversy. But I do seem to get more than my normally expected share of it, hence “Toping” of Leyte referring to me as a “jerk magnet” in an amusing sense, a moniker that has stuck with regular readers. So here we go yet again. Skip this post if rants are not your thing, there are 2,500 other food related posts on this blog so that should be enough to keep you otherwise occupied. So it started off a few weeks ago when someone mentioned the dish “balamban liempo” at a meeting and intrigued by the description, I immediately rushed to the grocery, purchased a large piece of fatty pork belly and cooked this Marketman version of “Liempo on Bamboo” that elicited quite a bit of porky reader interest at the time. It was a typical Marketman experimental approach to a dish. I described exactly how I prepared it, cooked it, along with comments on how to possibly improve it and flaming disasters along the way. Several marketmanila.com readers tried that dish, with results ranging from highly enthusiastic, to good but could be better. No one cooked it and wrote in that it was an ugly disaster leading to inedible poisonous pork. But because I had mentioned “Balamban Liempo” in that post, several comments from folks purporting to either be connected to the store in Cebu, owners, satisfied customers, etc. all started posting comments, attaching links to commercial pages, websites, facebook pages, twitter, etc. I allowed many of those through until it became clear to me there was a bit of suspected “vote padding” going on. I stopped further comments from that post, but retained all earlier comments both for and against the product marketed under “Balamban Liempo” in the city of Cebu.
When do I suspect “vote padding”? When comments from predominantly first time posters/commenters come in rapid succession in support of one product or cause or controversial topic, usually received not immediately AFTER a post is aired, but later, and with similar or questionable IP addresses, sometimes that don’t provide real email addresses, I consider those to be events of potential or suspected “vote padding.” Having run this blog for over 5 years and after some 81,000 approved comments on the blog (yes, read EIGHTY ONE THOUSAND COMMENTS), I can tell these attempts almost with the instinct and sense of smell of a hyena near a bleeding gazelle. It happens most when I write about a restaurant or food source, and that is NOT very often at all. It also happens when I write a political post. I DO SCREEN comments, but I DO NOT remove comments simply because they express a negative opinion. Folks are more than welcome to disagree with what I write, but do it in a manner you would do at a dinner table when invited as a guest to my home, that is the growing standard on this blog. To me, the situations of vote padding are OBVIOUS, and I don’t appreciate such attempts to sway public opinion using the comments section of this blog. In such cases, I usually check email addresses and if bogus or nonexistent, all the comments are immediately deleted. But in cases where there are just too many comments, rather than wasting time on email addresses, I simply shut down further comments, as was the case in the previous post on “Liempo on Bamboo” when several comments in support of “Balamban Liempo” were posted. Another 3-5 such comments were attempted along a similar vein, by folks with similar IP addresses, but those were sent to the junk folders and the comments section closed.
So several weeks later, I find myself in Cebu, and for a crew lunch at the office, I send out for several portions of Balamban Liempo, after checking out their multiply webpage and it is clear that they encourage pick-up orders and/or deliveries in addition to the obvious ideal preference of eating the liempo right at the source, the store, where it would be freshest and at its absolute best incarnation. We bought two portions, and I wrote this (INNOCUOUS, I thought) post the other day. I didn’t think the post was harsh in any way, and in fact, clearly stated I would have to give the liempo another chance, but based on the portions we had tasted, the post seemed to accurately reflect my own and the crew’s opinions. I said the meat was pinkish red, and the photos show interior (not JUST the outer rind) pieces of pork that are clearly pink rather than beige or brown in color. I wondered about preservatives that might provide the pinkish tinge, but did not have a conclusive opinion on the use of preservatives. I noted the wonderful caramelized color of the skin, but accurately described that it had gone soft, and DID NOT find that unusual as I KNOW the same thing happens with lechon skin. Oh, and we hold office about 5 minutes by car from the Balamban Liempo outlet we purchased this from, so the transit time was about as minimal as you can get in Cebu. I mentioned that I thought the meat was quite fatty, and the photos show whole chunks of fat as part of the portion we received, and I didn’t even think that was all bad, specifically writing “But then I suppose some folks like that fattiness and might consider those to be choice pieces. :)” I also mentioned that I found the chopped green onions used as stuffing to be a bit raw in taste, and if you look at the photos, the onions remain relatively bright green, which is common in undercooked green onions (they turn an olive green when fully cooked). But I might add, not as bright green as the photo on the company’s multiply site, that appears to use RAW chopped green onions in their photo of the liempo. Overall, I summed up my brief post on the liempo writing “Itâ€™s possible this was just an off day, and maybe the Balamban liempo deserves another try, preferably at the store itself so it as fresh as possible, but I didnâ€™t see what all the fuss was about. I wonder if the version in the town of Balamban is significantly different from this version we tasted in Cebu Cityâ€¦”
So, I was a bit surprised today when quickly perusing my junk mail folder and I found five emails with an increasing degree of irritation at my previous post on Balamban Liempo. I will now address them individually, but first, a few words of blog wisdom:
1. When you leave a comment, you also leave a unique IP address. I may not be able to trace you to your specific computer, without asking your IP to identify you, but you leave a basic code. And when several comments come from SEVERAL DIFFERENT names, but using the same IP address, you send up WARNING FLAGS in a big way. If you work in call center, it isn’t unusual to get friends sitting near each other commenting and the only differentiating factor is a SINGLE digit on their IP address. Also, if you are in a company that uses ONE DISTINCT IP address, you will only be able to vote ONCE on the polls on this blog, as they do not allow repeat votes from the same address.
2. Diction, language, tone, word use or misuse are very good indicators of individuals behind messages, so many times folks try to sign on under different names, but it becomes apparent that they are probably one and the same.
3. Using harsh language, in any of your comments, particularly words that you would NOT use face to face with someone you were having a discussion with, is risky, for the sole reason that a comment left on this blog will be permanently on the net, and as such, your brash and “in the heat of the typing moment BLURT out” will be attributed to you forever or what seems like forever, so write only that you feel strongly about and can certainly defend.
4. When folks search a term such as “dalandan” or “leche flan” or “Balamban Liempo” or many things related to Filipino food, marketmanila.com posts, simply because of longevity and the number of posts over the years, and the readers who click on them, come out reasonably well on google and yahoo searches. So when you link a business name and accompany it with an expletive, it will only probably backfire on you and the business. That’s just the way the net works. It is transparent in more ways than you can iimagine, and it works both ways for readers and for me as the writer on this blog.
Okay, to the specific comments that caused me to write this post, received on the previous post on “Balamban Liempo”:
Comment #1: IP address 220.127.116.11 located in Cebu Philippines, comment received on April 26, 6:31p.m.
“John – US and Philippines, Philippines says:
With all due respect, I would imagine that a â€œfood criticâ€ would not actually go ask someone to pick up â€œLiempoâ€ and have them brought back. Driving from 2 locations as described takes far too much time for the hardened skin to get moist and lose its texture. I suggest if you want to be critical of food, especially one of something like Liempo, you should know not to have someone go and deliver it if you want the best flavor.
Off Days Happen for Every Location! But its hard to judge food you do not get fresh. I think most people would agree. Being a food critic myself, I have to say that this article might just be an â€œoff articleâ€.
As for fatty? I am a bit curious, the pictures you show above are certainly not that fatty. I am starting to wonder exactly how much Liempo you have tried. Most Liempo stands, similar to the one in Balamban, are loaded with far more fat than Balamban Liempo.
Yes, I am a fan of Balamban Liempo as I think they do have the best Liempo I have tried to date. Yes, I am a published critic as well on a major radio station in the US. No, I do not think anyone who goes out and has food delivered has the right to call themselves a food critic. That a joke to the profession.”
– Balamban Liempo’s own website encourages pick-up and delivery of their liempo. It is NOT only a restaurant with eat-in tables. And I do acknowledge that eating it away from source will affect the experience.
– I did NOT drive to 2 locations, we drove directly to ONE location and purchased it and returned straight to our office, 5 minutes away from the outlet. You need to check your ability to comprehend written english and I quote the relevant sentence: “Then just before lunch, we decided to send someone to buy two orders of Balamban Liempo from an outlet near Coco Mall, and the receipt reads Gitano Grill & Restaurant.” At what point in that sentence does it say we purchased liempo from two different locations?
– You first argue that distance and time are the source of the softened skin, and I DID NOT take anyone to task for this, in fact, I said it was a likely result of transport. But in your next sentence, you argue that I shouldn’t have something take out to get the best flavor. Well, the travel time will affect the skin, but the five minute trip will NOT affect flavor dramatically. So which is your problem, my comments on skin quality or flavor? You aren’t making logical sense. And if you don’t think the product will stand up to a take-out or delivery, then DON’T encourage those options in the company website! Duh.
– You are more than welcome to IGNORE the article on Balamban Liempo. I never once indicated to readers NOT to patronize the provedore. I never said I wouldn’t buy it again. In fact, I leave open the chance it was an off day and say I will probably try it again at the STORE. Most readers of marketmanila.com have brains of their own and ONLY THEY can decide if the product is something they enjoy or not.
– If you don’t think it’s fatty, I completely understand your opinion. But I found it FATTY. And THAT is my opinion. If you bothered to go through this blog, you would have seen this post on “Binagoongang Barbecue”, made with liempo, not visibly as fatty as the portion of Balamban Liempo we tried. Or maybe you would have seen this post on organically raised “Adobong Baboy Ramo” made with wild boar belly and ribs, that was visibly FATTY. Or maybe you would have seen this “Porchetta a la Marketman” made with a large piece of pork belly, and notice the end-piece, nowhere NEAR as fatty as the Balamban Liempo portion we got. Or maybe this post on “Fat+Fire” or grilled liempo, with a medium degree of visible fattiness. Or maybe you missed these posts on lechon kawali and bagnet, here and here, and several other closely related posts in that same vein. Or maybe you missed this post on humba or umba, also with liempo. Or homemade chicharon made with pork belly. You might have also missed a recent post on Momofuku style pork buns made with liempo or pork belly. Or these organic free range teriyaki style waton pork belly slices. Or perhaps you missed this post on homemade bacon, of course using liempo or pork belly. Or a fatty pork belly a la Gordon Ramsay. So I have tried liempo more times than most humans alive, and cooked it myself to boot. So please do not even try to suggest I don’t have a basis for my opinion that the liempo I tried that day was fatty. IT WAS FATTY. And if I may be so bold as to assert this, I have probably tried liempo in more volume and variety than you have, especially if you really are based in America.
-And good for you if you are a published critic in the U.S. Good for you. But maybe we should ask the 10,000+ marketmanila.com readers which critique they are most likely to believe given that your IP address is mysteriously based in Cebu, and is practically the same as the next three comments.
Comment #2: IP address 18.104.22.168 located in Cebu Philippines, comment received on April 26, 6:34p.m.
“Daniel, Philippines says:
Starting to think that Market Manila has an alternate agenda. Why would he allow people to call Balamban Liempo a â€œsecond rateâ€ restaurant. Your an idiot Market Man.”
– notice the exact same IP address, different name, notice it is 3 minutes after the last comment.
– what alternate agenda could I possibly have? And why shouldn’t I allow REGULAR readers to express their negative opinions of Balamban Liempo when worded properly and sincerely, when I ALSO allowed even NON-REGULAR readers to post glaringly positive reviews of the same product?
– as for using the word “idiot” I hope you looked it up on your favorite Wikipedia source as it is defined as being “mentally deficient” and I would happily pit my scores on the NCEE, SAT, GMAT and college and graduate school records against yours. Let’s just say I am confident my mental capacity is probably comfortably sufficient. Particularly when you misspelled “You’re” as “Your”. But then again, that might not be a sign of mental deficiciency, just a typograhical error. As even I am often prone to typographical errors, and I, according to you, am an “idiot”. :)
Comment #3: IP address 22.214.171.124 located in Cebu Philippines, comment received on April 26, 11:19p.m.
“hoopster, Philippines says:
Hi Everyone The pink color can be due to a reaction between the heat of the grill and myoglobin, which causes a red or pink color. It can also occur when vegetables containing nitrites are cooked along with the meat. it is totally safe and natural
Hereâ€™s an excerpt from â€œhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myoglobin
â€œMyoglobin forms pigments responsible for making meat red. The color that meat takes is partly determined by the charge of the iron atom in myoglobin and the oxygen attached to it. When meat is in its raw state, the iron atom is in the +2 oxidation state, and is bound to a dioxygen molecule (O2). Meat cooked well done is brown because the iron atom is now in the +3 oxidation state, having lost an electron, and is now coordinated by a water molecule. Under some conditions, meat can also remain pink all through cooking, despite being heated to high temperatures. If meat has been exposed to nitrites, it will remain pink because the iron atom is bound to NO, nitric oxide (true of, e.g., corned beef or cured hams). Grilled meats can also take on a pinkâ€smoke ringâ€ that comes from the iron binding a molecule of carbon monoxide to give metmyoglobin. Raw meat packed in a carbon monoxide atmosphere also shows this same pink â€œsmoke ringâ€ due to the same coordination chemistry. Notably, the surface of the raw meat also displays the pink color, which is usually associated in consumersâ€™ minds with fresh meat. This artificially-induced pink color can persist in the meat for a very long time, reportedly up to one year.  Hormel and Cargill are both reported to use this meat-packing process, and meat treated this way has been in the consumer market since 2003. Myoglobin is found in Type I muscle, Type II A and Type II B, but most texts consider myoglobin not to be found in smooth muscle.â€ “
– notice the very similar or close IP address, different name, but still at the same source location
– Ah, Wikipedia, that wonderful(?) source of accurate information that many rely on more than they probably should… I don’t usually rely heavily on Wikipedia, but you seem to, so let me make a few comments:
– Since you quote extensively from the site, you obviously did a quick search to try and explain/justify pink meat, or at least provide a plausible explanation, but if you go to the original Wikipedia entry, you quote but seem to ignore these important sentences:
” If meat has been exposed to nitrites, it will remain pink because the iron atom is bound to NO, nitric oxide (true of, e.g., corned beef or cured hams). Grilled meats can also take on a pinkâ€smoke ringâ€ that comes from the iron binding a molecule of carbon monoxide to give metmyoglobin.”
– If you had bothered to read deeper, you would have looked up nitrites and they are typically used for curing meat, or to be blunter, meat could turn pink or red as a result of the use of salitre, salt peter or similar types of preservatives. I didn’t know if that was true for sure, but it is ONE POSSIBLE CAUSE of pink meat. And this can be addressed directly if owners of Balamban Liempo disclose whether or not they use nitrites in any form whatsoever. It is not wrong or illegal to use preservatives at all (think hotdogs, bacon etc.) but I am NOW curious if nitrites caused the pink tinge of the meat.
– If you had bothered to read deeper on ‘grilled meats taking on a “smoke ring”‘ or pink tinge, then you would have read that, and I quote again from Wikipedia, your preferred source: “A smoke ring is also the name for the pink ring that forms around the edges of meat prepared by smoking, caused by myoglobin in the meat reacting with carbon monoxide to form a heat stable pigment.” What that suggests to me is that the pink tinge on the outer part of a piece of grilled pork could be explained by myoglobin. BUT THAT DOES NOT EXPLAIN THE VERY PINK MEAT IN THE INTERIOR CUTS OF THE LIEMPO IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS. So the way I look at it, given your sources cited, the two most likely explanations for pink interior meat is that it is undercooked or it was treated to some form of nitrites. And YES, it is possible that some other reason caused the pinkness.
– If the owners of Balamban liempo categorically confirm or deny whether they use nitrites, then the mystery would be easily solved. If not, the meat would have to be tested by a pretty good laboratory to reach the same conclusions.
Comment #4: IP address 126.96.36.199 located in Cebu Philippines, comment received on April 27, 3:42p.m.
“balamban liempo, Philippines, says:
mr marketman be neutralâ€¦i can sense that ur not being fair with balamban liempo publish those post that are in favor of balamban liempoâ€¦u just lost my respect! tnx!”
– notice similar IP address, just one number off the first two comments above
– I believe that I wrote an accurate description of the liempo which we ate that day. I did not say it was awful, I did not say it was brilliant. I did say there were several reasons why it might not have been at it’s best, and that I would probably have to give it another chance. I hardly think it was a biased review.
– as for the comments on balamban liempo, if you go back to the original post on “Liempo on Bamboo” I allowed you and you and you and maybe your friends to post repeated glowing reviews of the product, I even allowed you to put purely COMMERCIAL links to your websites to encourage my readers to check it out when I typically avoid most commercial links. And ONLY ONE or TWO readers on that post suggested that I try other liempo provedores, and NONE of them outright described your product as unsatisfactory. So who is being unbalanced now? Several repeated comments from your group with positive reviews, up against a couple of other regular readers who felt a broader net cast for other liempo sellers should also be considered?
– NEUTRAL is defined as “not supporting or assisting either side in a dispute or conflict” according to the Oxford American Dictionary. So I allowed comments from both sides in. I stopped comments from your camp when I thought they were tending towards vote padding. And now that I notice you are using the same IP addresses, I am pretty darned sure you are NOT being as transparent and honest with your comments about your own products. It is you that is looking more and more absurd in this situation.
– I may have lost your “respect”, but given the more than 10,000 regular foodie readers on this blog, whose respect I have mostly earned and for a majority my posts, are mostly trusted or they wouldn’t keep coming back for more, I think comments like yours and responses like this can only AUGMENT/SUPPORT/BOLSTER my blog credibility further, rather than HARM it.
Comment #5: IP address 188.8.131.52 located in Cebu Philippines, comment received on April 27, 3:58p.m.
“balamban liempo, Philippines says:
your zubu chon sucks bigtime! if mr bourdain tasted CNTâ€™s Lechon first then he would have said this same line too â€œThe Best PIG Ever!â€
Whatâ€™s the fuss all about? itâ€™s called MARKETING dude!”
– notice same IP address as previous comment, one number off the first two comments above
– I am sorry you think Zubuchon sucks, and how that relates to the posts on Balamban Liempo defies logic. But since you raise it, then let’s deal with it. You are definitely entitled to your opinion.
– We understand Zubuchon will not be liked by all and sundry, and I suspect we will never get more than 2-3% of the total market for lechons in Cebu. But we are proud of our product. We use the finest quality ingredients. We have all the required licenses. Our premises are as hygeinic as we can manage and they exceed regulatory requirements. We make our lechons with passion. The business benefits the staff and employees directly. And we TOO HAVE OFF-DAYS, but when customers raise issues, we don’t attack them, we try and make sure we can remedy the situation and address the criticism. And while we cannot put words into Mr. Bourdain’s mouth, we are indeed happy for what he said about his lechon experience, but why let that one statement bother you at all???
– We will never know if Mr. Bourdain would have preferred another brand of lechon, but I can tell you that before we cooked our own lechons, we ate at CNT several times, and the major issue I have with them is the likely use of lots of MSG, otherwise, they were likewise delicious when hot off the flames. I have also tried several other commercial lechons in Cebu, and as I have stated several times before, a well made lechon (with NO MSG) fresh off the flames is ALMOST ALWAYS a good lechon, regardless of brand.
-As for the ‘fuss” I take it to mean fuss about Balamban liempo being a result of your marketing, is that right? Yes, I did notice after some basic googling that you invited several food bloggers from Cebu and treated them to your products and some of them wrote positive reviews as a result. Well, all my regular readers know I don’t typically take freebies in exchange for reviews, I DON”T DO THAT SORT OF THING.
-Zubuchon wasn’t even a commercial product when Mr. Bourdain tasted it. And we didn’t rush out to sell it. In fact, it took a year before our staff spearheaded an effort to sell it on a retail basis. And they got coverage in every major Cebu newspaper without any effort on their part. National television programs CAME to us, we DIDN’T seek them out.
I think that the final comment is a nice way to end this post. Readers who have managed to read all the way through can draw their own intelligent conclusions. As for balamban liempo, if you wanted attention, you just got it. Over 10,000 people will read this post before the next two or three days are over. And when googled, this post will come up fairly high on the results list, I suspect. And these comments from these interrelated IP addresses, will be there for all to see.
Now I will definitely have to go and try the original Balamban liempo in the town of Balamban, as well as other liempo places in Cebu and write a post on how they all seem compare with each other. Off to get more lipitor. :)
P.S. For the owner of Balamban Liempo, it seems we have mutual friends. A classmate of yours who recently ate at your restaurant happens to be a lawyer I am acquainted with. And who is a regular reader of this blog. If you ask her, I am sure she will give you a candid description of my background, integrity and credibility. Her husband (also a lawyer) and I worked very closely on several legal cases in Cebu and I am sure he too would have interesting opinions on my personal, ethical and moral standards…