15 Oct2009

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Certain gustatory delights I have taken for granted. Take chicharon, for example. All my life I have enjoyed this wonderful “snack.” I can think of many instances and snippets of memory from the past 4 decades when I was crunching down on some variation or other of deep fried pork fat and skin or rind, with or without spicy vinegar. I missed this snack almost as much as kiamoy and sampaloc when I was studying in the U.S., or was stationed in countries like Indonesia where getting pork cracklings wasn’t so easy. But I never really wondered how they made chicharon commercially, in the same manner that I don’t honestly care how “Chippy” barbecue corn chips are made, either (and I have consumed hundreds of packs of Chippy in my lifetime). The concept of chicharon seemed simple enough, just cut up some fatty pork rind and deep fry it. I even tried a fairly upscale version whose recipe is attributed to the former brilliant finance minister Jaime Ongpin, in this early post, but while delicious, I never bothered to make it again, since it was so easy to buy commercial chicharon

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In Cebu, the epicenter of chicharon is Carcar, a town some 45 minutes drive south of Cebu City. Around the town’s main rotunda, dozens of vendors and hundreds of kilos of freshly cooked chicharon (and other snacks and goodies) tempt the tourists who drive by. Once you have stopped your car and opened your windows, you are bound to take home at least a kilo of this stuff. There are a few folks who lay claim to being the “original” or “the best” chicharon retailer, but nearly everything I have tried from Carcar is pretty darned good. The chicharon is substantial, not light and airy. And the vinegar seeks the nooks and crannies to help bolster the view that the acid will neutralize the fat somehow. :)

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So when driving back from the Auction market in Mantalongon, Barili a few weeks ago, we passed by what appeared to be the factory of a famous Carcar chicharon brand, of course we stopped and asked nicely if we could see the chicharon being manufactured. I have to tell you, it was an eye-opener in many, many ways. I really wish I could see more and more of these types of operations, as they are so incredibly interesting… In the top photo a freshly fried batch of chicharon is being taken out of an enormous vat of hot fat, ready to be sent to the retail shop down in the town of Carcar… The entire process goes something like this… pork rinds are cut into the preferred size… then they are parboiled in this huge vat of water that is salted and spiced (for many, that includes copious amounts of MSG), the second photo above… Then the drained boiled pieces are put into hot oil and fried until golden brown.

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At this particular factory, they still used wood burning or charcoal fires, which they felt burned hotter and were more reliable than other types of stoves. The cast iron vats were filled with fat, lard I presumed, and there were gallons and gallons worth of chicharon frying away in each batch.

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The place had the feel of a 1950′s iron shop, but the aroma clearly meant fat, fat, fat. The smokiness, the strong smell of lard, the decades of scum on the floor of the cooking area were just so authentic, and to me, so fascinating.

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The skilled cook kept the chicharon pieces moving in the hot oil, sometimes swirling, sometimes lifting and plonking it down elsewhere in the large pan. Note that he is barefoot, a fact that made me cringe, no safety standards here, but if he was in shoes or slippers, he felt they would be more dangerous because the floor was so slippery. Of course I was thinking more of the dripping hot fat! Yikes.

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Once the chicharon was deemed perfectly colored and cooked, they were scooped up in a large wire implement, then unceremoniously dumped into huge plastic garbage cans! Once full, these were sent to the packing area nearby to cool before being packaged.

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This garbage can full of chicharon is a site that would make Joey, of 80breakfasts, weak at the knees (a professed chicharon fanatic), but to folks who worked in the factory, they admitted that after seeing chicharon being cooked day after day after day, they had lost their desire to much on it despite the unlimited supply readily available to them!

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Once all the chicharon is fried, the charcoal is doused with water to turn down the heat, and the folks in the factory wait for a call from their main outlet in downtown Carcar to tell them to start cooking again. On busy holiday weekends, they are cooking constantly. And yes, now I can absolutely vouch for the fact that when they package chicharon for you by the kilo, the stuff is indeed FRESH and cooked within the last day at most!

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The freshly cooked chicharon is cooled then portioned out into 1/4 and 1/2 kilo bags and sealed. They are ready to be sold. I think they were asking PHP500 a kilo, which is two large bags of chicharon.

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But the most amazing lesson I learned during this visit? I spied hundreds of boxes of clearly U.S. or Canadian sourced raw material… the contents? Chilled pork rinds imported from the U.S. and/or Canada! Good grief, who would have known that all of that chicharon came from pigs with American citizenship?! Here I was thinking all those pigs sold in the nearby Mantalongon Barili market provided all that skin and fat! Amazing. Asked why they didn’t use local pork rinds, they said the imported stuff was more consistent, better quality, and ultimately more economical than local. But then again, if you read my post on making tinapa from scratch, I never knew the galunggong was all imported frozen from Taiwan… It upsets me somewhat that it seems we make fewer and fewer things from local produce. And particularly when they are such iconic dishes as tinapa and chicharon. Many, many thanks to the folks at Luis Chicharon who allowed me into their factory so I could experience this amazing process of manufacturing chicharon. And as for the poll, some 70% of you were wrong, like I was, and had no clue that the chicharon we all love didn’t come from a local pig. :)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. betty q. says:

    If you are up for another artery clogging experiment, MM…try the chicharon recipe I posted before…please don’t ask me where…you have better luck finding it than I do!

    It is foolproof and I have a money back guarantee on it…but I don’t do it anymore for I smell like chicharon to the bone for days!!! I will only do it when hubby is away on business for about 4 to 5 days!

    If you cannot find it, here it is….cut up the rind to 1.5 to 2 inches and about 4 to 5 inches long…..it will shrink later…then season with salt/pepper. Lay them single layer on cookie sheets and dry them under the sun or in the oven (low heat ). At home, it takes me about 2 days to dry them. When it looks translucent and beigy-brown, and hardened, dump them in big calderos. Now render the fat over low heat until soft and dark amber by now. Drain and heat the oil. Fry in batches until puffy and the fatty layer is crispy….it doesn’t take long.

    To save time, I do the drying process…lots of it and freeze. Then I continue the fat rendering some other day when I have the hankering for fresh chicharon…

    My mom used to parboil it but somehow never turns out like the picture you have. But the way I described it to you the way I did it some …years ago, it turns out exactly like the Carcar ones.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 3:34 pm

     
  2. Tok says:

    WOW! perfect snack MM. naalala ko tuloy ang Guadalupe in Cebu.

    Meron din akong home made version ng chicharon. Kung gusto nyo malaman kung paano gawin email nalang po.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 3:41 pm

     
  3. anthonyl says:

    my ultimate comfort food minus the cal.
    a friend hand carried a kilo that she bought in tondo manila.
    its chicharon with laman but the taste is almost milky and the chicharon literally melts and sticks in between teeth after bites..

    i remember also the chicharon house in san ildefonso bulacan at the back of the church…

    Oct 15, 2009 | 4:00 pm

     
  4. Noel says:

    Hehe, I voted that these pork rinds come from imported sources (including Korea, Taiwan, etc.), as they hate all those fats.

    Noel

    Oct 15, 2009 | 4:21 pm

     
  5. Cris Jose says:

    I remember the time when we made chicharon in our Meat Processing class (an elective actually)… many moons ago… :) but the ones we made didn’t have fat or meat on the skin… it was just the skin. Likewise, it was oven dried a bit before frying … parang Lapid’s na chicharon. Yummy.

    I have also tried the chicharon from Cebu – the best of the best (LOL) if I may say so. :)

    Oct 15, 2009 | 4:21 pm

     
  6. KROD says:

    Lapids chicharon (the thick kind) plus hot rice and a cold beer awesome! Still wish I could travel to Carcar though…

    Oct 15, 2009 | 4:37 pm

     
  7. Ley says:

    Imagine being from Cebu and not knowing this. Thanks for the info MM…

    Oct 15, 2009 | 4:53 pm

     
  8. cumin says:

    Aaaaay, your last two posts are melting my resolve. Haven’t eaten meat in more than ten years but now I’m thinking of dropping by BTC on my next trip to Cebu for a bite (or more) of the best pig ever. Chicharon was the last to go when I stopped eating meat, and I’m craving it again.

    It does seem strange that pork rind is imported, but also logical, i.e., many North Americans don’t eat it. Now if only we could get them to ship the fish heads they don’t eat either! :-)

    Oct 15, 2009 | 5:06 pm

     
  9. meekerz says:

    I love these “field trips” you bring us to, MM!

    Oct 15, 2009 | 5:15 pm

     
  10. junb says:

    MM looks like the way they cook chicharon doesn’t give them the oil splutter. Was there any secret to it?

    Also you mentioned above that after they boiled the skin and drained they immediately dip into a hot oil. Do they dry it up in hot sun to get that nice crackling? I’m curious as I did see it once on lapid stall frying the skin doesn’t seems to give the oil splutter like what we have on crispy pata or lechon kawali.

    Anyway I did vote on imported skin :) there is no way our pig industry can support so much skin for the chicharon hehehe.

    BTW Indonesia has an amazing chicken intestine chicharon that my wife discover during the time that she frequent Jakarta for work.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 5:36 pm

     
  11. Gener says:

    Consumers never knows that PORK used for chicharon are indeed IMPORTED! The fact that what people just care is consuming it! Well im rude to say that me too. I used to buy it in bus-stop shops where you can found it abundant, price is fair and affordable and love to eat them with vinegar con chilli while bus is running….I tried to sneak it thru the gulf terminal few years back but it was caught and dumped. fortunately i was spared and left the airport terminal sweating to death…WHEW!

    Oct 15, 2009 | 5:59 pm

     
  12. presentacion says:

    meron din po akong home made chicharon, no need to dry in the oven or sun. i cut them in small pencil like widths, season, then render the fat slowly until almost dry and dark colored. the pork skins turn very hard like wooden chips. to fry just heat the oil on high then test fry, if the heat is right the skins will pop beautifully. you can also freeze the rendered skins and fry later. my chicharon is cocktail size at walang tilamsik.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 6:25 pm

     
  13. ifoodtrip.com says:

    I want to go that factory and give that cook a pair of clogs or crocs even.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 6:34 pm

     
  14. chip says:

    MM, I don’t know if it’s just my monitor but that photo up top looks almost like a Rembrandt painting with the rich, dark tones in the background highlighting the luminous chicharon =)

    Oct 15, 2009 | 6:40 pm

     
  15. millet says:

    a lot of that pork rind for pinoy chicharon also comes from belgium, would you believe!

    i love the chicharon with some laman (meat) sticking to the skin. my dad used to say chicharon is healthy because all the fat has been rendered, and what’s left is the skin. i choose to believe him, he lived till 87, never ate veggies.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 7:04 pm

     
  16. Mila says:

    Just like the chicken feet trade between the US and China, it makes sense that our chicharon industry would need to import pork skin (although I thought it would come from much closer sources like Australia or NZ as a lot of our dairy is from there too).
    Can’t find chicharon here in China, it’s good for my arteries but truly a sad thing. You’d think the Chinese would love the stuff. I wonder if mamang chicharonero would like to move to China for a spell….

    Oct 15, 2009 | 7:45 pm

     
  17. Maki says:

    I realy like chicharon a lot. This is nice

    Oct 15, 2009 | 8:06 pm

     
  18. cheeseheadeatsushi says:

    It is one snack I miss too. Chicharon (with laman), rice and catsup!!! Its like eating mini-fried porkchops.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 8:11 pm

     
  19. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for solving the mystery of the chicharon skin provenance, Marketman! I was waiting for such a post to come up. I would love to have some chicharon in my life right now, but here in Berlin I can find only the Thai variety sourced from Denmark and it is nowhere nearly as tasty. Even with the aid of vinegar, it doesn’t come close to the kind from the Philippines.

    I was thinking about work safety, too, when I saw the chicharon-meister all barefoot, but I suppose he knows what’s best. That floor is coated in grease!

    Oct 15, 2009 | 8:15 pm

     
  20. cindy says:

    I onced asked the guy at R. Lapids where they source their raw materials for chicharon and he said that they import it from Belgium and several other countries.
    I’ve never tried Carcar Chcharon, is there a place in Metro Manila where i can buy this?

    Oct 15, 2009 | 10:11 pm

     
  21. APM says:

    Hi Marketman,

    You have got to try Lapid’s Jowl Chicharon. I buy mine at the Lapid’s stall at S & R Bonifacio.

    Oct 15, 2009 | 10:18 pm

     
  22. G says:

    I’ve always wondered why pork is sold in Boston with no fat/skin, with the exception of liempo and picnic shoulder. Kaya pala, the skin goes to Pinas for chicharon.

    And here I am asking my uncles to buy me chicharon from baliwag and send them over in tins.

    Buti pa yung pork skin nakakapagaround the world!

    Oct 15, 2009 | 11:14 pm

     
  23. zena says:

    When in Manila, I go for the Lapid’s light and airy all skin because in my mind, it’s “healthier” coz there’s no fat layer. And their suka is divine that I drink the leftover, hehe. But whenever in Cebu, I head to the Tabuan for dried fish and buy the smallest pack of Carcar chicharon with fat and all and savour every crunchy, tasty, artery-clogging bite. I can’t wait so suka be damned, I finish it in the cab.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 1:08 am

     
  24. eej says:

    By merely looking at the photos my arteries got clogged; how much more if I eat it? I’ll pass on this one.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 3:52 am

     
  25. botchok says:

    Chicharon with suka plus bahaw or kaning lamig, my ultimate comfort food!

    Oct 16, 2009 | 4:31 am

     
  26. ykmd says:

    Here (Seattle area) I actually find the Mexican style chicharrones (I think it’s Guerra brand) closer in taste to chicharon Carcar than the Philippine brands that are available here. I dump the sauce that comes with it (too sweet!). We usually eat it with monggo and lots of spicy suka of course! Yum!
    And MM, I love Chippy too! Now I get a headache after I eat it (MSG?) but I’ll eat it anyway, just on long drives, maybe once a month or so :)

    Oct 16, 2009 | 5:04 am

     
  27. sister says:

    In the summer at agricultural fairs in Virginia and other southern states you can find good chicharon being fried on site. Hungarian markets, surprisingly enough, often have fried pork belly, salty and crispy, with laman. I love chicharon, and will eat it whenever it’s around. It’s just disgustingly addictive.
    Asia is the biggest importer of offal, skin, and variety meats from the US and Canada. Funny that it makes its way to Carcar.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 5:51 am

     
  28. apa says:

    i love chicharon, i need to visit carcar on my vacation. thanks for the post Mr. MM.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 5:53 am

     
  29. Joey says:

    lip-smacking, belly-busting, finger-licking, artery-clogging fatty goodness my goodness! my all-time fave indulgence… hey MM- you failed to indicate the price :-)

    Oct 16, 2009 | 6:11 am

     
  30. natie says:

    this is in my top 10 list, too!! wow!! i could look at that last picture for a long time…

    ifoodtrip, if that guy wears clogs or crocs, they might slow him down–he could also slip with all that lard on the ground..hehe

    Oct 16, 2009 | 7:22 am

     
  31. gia mayol says:

    The same chicharon stalls in Carcar sell cosajos (dried beef?) which is so good with garlic fried rice and spicy suka.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 7:48 am

     
  32. Marketman says:

    gia, I have been trying to track down an old casajos recipe but so far have been unsuccessful…

    Oct 16, 2009 | 8:42 am

     
  33. mdg says:

    another interesting thing MM! can’t wait to get my favorite chicharon at San Miguel, Bulacan

    Oct 16, 2009 | 9:07 am

     
  34. natie says:

    a friend’s food blog has this about kusahos

    http://flavoursofiloilo.blogspot.com/2008/02/kusahos.html

    Oct 16, 2009 | 9:39 am

     
  35. diday says:

    hhhhmmmm…(big sigh) is all I can say

    Oct 16, 2009 | 9:47 am

     
  36. isagarch says:

    It makes sense that you would have to import Pork skin and fat since in Manila, most of your cuts of pork come with skin still attached! Here, it is very hard to find any pork that has pork OR fat … we send it all to you!

    Oct 16, 2009 | 10:28 am

     
  37. dizzy says:

    ack, the guy in the repacking area has no shirt! now i know where the flavor comes from (joke!) :-p

    Oct 16, 2009 | 10:42 am

     
  38. Lee says:

    i think i heard a crunch

    Oct 16, 2009 | 11:23 am

     
  39. diday says:

    MM try this casajos recipe. Mix salt, freshly ground black pepper, crushed garlic, chicken style stock cube, MSG (optional) or any seasoning mix.

    Sprinkle the first layer of thinly sliced beef with an adequate amount of the mixture and drizzle with lemoncito juice. Add another layer of beef on top of the first layer and repeat the process. Leave overnight in the refrigerator to develop flavour . String the beef strips on the skewers to help meat hold its shape and dry under the sun.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 11:35 am

     
  40. Bubt says:

    the last photo makes me salivate… time to run to market! market! to find a good chicharon..

    Oct 16, 2009 | 12:00 pm

     
  41. farida says:

    Bettyq, you certainly have a way of making long tedious work short by freezing. That is a good idea. Oh,yes I have not forgotten you are going to give me your ensaimada recipe. Have to plan when I am going to Vancouver.

    MM, I will be waiting for your casajos recipe. I remember my grandma used to make those and they were really good and tasty.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 12:12 pm

     
  42. betty q. says:

    Farida…Life is hard enough as it is …that is why I am always looking for ways to make it easier!

    MM…I don’t think I had the opportunity to taste casajos. Is that the same thing as the dried beef or pork jerky similar to the Singaporean or Malaysian pork jerky? ….that is packaged and taste like 5 spice? or the dried meat flakes? The name escapes me now, If it is, I do have a recipe which I gave to my sister there for that is what she wants when anyone goes back there. So I told her how to make her own.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 1:19 pm

     
  43. Alisa says:

    Wow! For me, nothing beats Carcar’s chicharon! I really love the changes you made on your site MM!

    Oct 16, 2009 | 3:20 pm

     
  44. denise says:

    hmmm…another plus point to visit cebu! :)

    Oct 16, 2009 | 6:32 pm

     
  45. rpgteemd says:

    Cholesterol shmolesterol! MarketMan I gotta get me some of those!!!

    Oct 16, 2009 | 9:06 pm

     
  46. marilen says:

    thank you for poking into corners and such – and bringing us all wonderful manner of seeing the world, big and little. your curiosity and energy about many many things is hard to match. also wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed re-run of ‘best pig ever’ this week.

    Oct 16, 2009 | 11:12 pm

     
  47. Risa says:

    Imported, really! And here I thought that was a giveaway trick answer! Amazing

    Oct 17, 2009 | 12:57 am

     
  48. Risa says:

    Heeeeey, this is my first time to comment on this interface. I have 10 minutes to proofread my comment! Coolness

    Oct 17, 2009 | 1:00 am

     
  49. pinkgiggles says:

    Chicharon from Carcar is really yummy. I usually had is as my “ulam”. Try dipping it in pinakurat..argh, am salivating already.
    Btw, try adding chicharon on your mongo with coconut milk it really makes a difference.

    Oct 18, 2009 | 2:23 am

     
  50. Betchay says:

    Hi MM!From the comments of readers above, do they have a basis for saying that those chicharon that are light and airy have less fat?or it is just a false sense of security?less guilt?

    Hi BettyQ! Can you give us the recipe for the Singaporean Pork jerky/floss?And also about your chicharon recipe, if you use the oven, what is the best temperature setting to dry it?How many hours?

    Thanks to both of you!

    Oct 18, 2009 | 8:38 am

     
  51. joyce says:

    fascinating. makes me want to schedule another trip to cebu to visit friends and eat! carcar chicharon and zubuchon are now on my list of cebu must-dos.

    Oct 18, 2009 | 1:17 pm

     
  52. Fine Life Folk says:

    Those production images are enough to make some foreigners not drool, but I don’t care. Our chicharon is the way it is. And it’s good that no one has the monopoly of producing it in Carcar or anywhere in the country because the competition makes the output even more delicious.

    Oct 18, 2009 | 4:55 pm

     
  53. Maki says:

    i cant stop looking at this crunchy yummies… ^___^

    Oct 19, 2009 | 12:48 pm

     
  54. joel says:

    try putting cream cheese on your chicharon next time :)

    Oct 19, 2009 | 3:57 pm

     
  55. betty q. says:

    Betchay…it is not how many hours BUT how many days to oven dry the chicharon. Because I make the one with a layer of fat (skin from the pork chops withabout an inch of fat?), it takes about 48 hours at about 200 degrees. However, if what you dry will be just the pork skin with 1/4 inch of fat, it will dry faster. When it is hard but not brown…just a tinge of beige…it is ready for fat rendering.

    Ok…fingers are getting numb again so just please send me an e-mail and I will forward the recipe to you. A tip, freeze the pork loin or pigue (boneless) and ask the butcher to slice paper thin.

    Oct 20, 2009 | 2:46 pm

     
  56. joey says:

    Oh how lovely! I wonder if the fellow with the little semi-six-pack eats his own product…my belly would certainly not look like that if I worked in a chicharon making place! Heehee :)

    Oct 20, 2009 | 5:45 pm

     
  57. Betchay says:

    BettyQ: You mean 2 days to oven dry? I’ll just buy chicharon from the store—cheaper! :) I’ll send you my email for your Singaporean Pork jerky/floss recipe.Thanks!

    Oct 21, 2009 | 8:57 pm

     
  58. betty q. says:

    Betchay, …you have to remember, we are up North where the summers are short ..not like Thelma or ECC where it gets scorchng hot in the summer. When the temp. soars to 38 degrees here, then I sun dry the pork rind. and it takes only half a day!

    Also, we do not have the luxury of eating freshly made chicharon here. Don’t know usually the best before date of the ones in Pinoy stores here. That is why I resorted to perfecting my own since I might end up in Timbukto. At least I know how to make things I lke to eat once in a while. Who knows, Betcahy, like Zena , you will find yourself one day where chicharon is unheard of. …then you can make your own…and open up a chicharon shop!…mwahahahaha,.

    Ok…I will tell you how to make that Singaporean beef jerky on one condition. Should you decide to open up a Beef/Pork Jerky shop one day and become a PORK JERKY DIVA …or should I say MOGUL(ette?), I am going to collect royalties…the sole beneficiary of which is MM’s feeding program! OK?..hey, you will never know…just think of Mrs. Field’s!!! You could become the Mrs. Field’s of Pork Jerky industry in Pinas.

    Oct 22, 2009 | 12:10 am

     
  59. The Artist Chef says:

    This is a deadly delicious chicharon!!!!

    Now I remember how my Lola made her own version of chicharon. She hails from Pampanga that’s why there is no doubt she cooks well. What she did before was, she compiled all the pork skin every time she will have one. Then she will have it sun dried for how many days. Then she had this big kawa and she will fill it with oil then fry those pork skin. The best!!!! :)

    Oct 23, 2009 | 11:07 am

     
  60. john says:

    There’s one guy in Carcar that I know of who uses pork skin from local pigs. He does not sell along the main roads but inside the market. The other great thing from Carcar are the deep fried innards of the pig that are sold in the late afternoon and evenings. These are from the remains of the butchered pigs for the inasals. They are tasty because they are marinated and braised before deep frying.

    Dec 29, 2009 | 5:59 pm

     
  61. thelma says:

    the best chicharon that i have ever tasted come
    from guagua, pampanga. aside from enjoying it with
    vinegar, black pepper, red sili and lots of minced
    garlic, i also add it to my ginisang monggo….delicious!!

    Jan 19, 2010 | 4:01 pm

     
  62. Acer_M says:

    Is Carcar chicharon available here in Manila? I was in Cebu last weekend and got a bag of carcar chicharon. too bad i only got one! wish i had bought more! i think this is different from lapid’s. we left the bag open overnight and it stayed crispy! amazing..! :D

    Feb 23, 2010 | 8:49 pm

     
 

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