I arrived on a morning flight to Cebu on Sunday, two days before the scheduled shoot with the “No Reservations” crew. At the office by 10 a.m., several of my crew had volunteered to come in on a Sunday just to make sure that preparations were going as planned and for any last minute instructions. While I am in Cebu often, I am rarely there on a Sunday, as I usually spend that in Manila with family… so on the drive in from the airport, I was stunned to see several street corners with lechon stands set up for folks to buy some “inasal” for their special Sunday meal. Cebu is well known for its inasal, but given the tough economic times, frankly, I was heartened to see that the Sunday splurge on roast pig was very much alive and well in the city. Even if the rest of the week was made up of dinners with dried fish and instant noodles, those who could afford it, and it seems there are still a lot of those folks, purchased some inasal for Sunday lunch. So after half an hour at the office, I decided to take everyone present for a ride through back streets on our way to one of the epicenters of Cebu lechon, Talisay, a 20-30 minute drive away…
It turned out to be a very smart move. And you will see why over the next couple of posts. About 10-15 minutes in the car, passing lechon stalls, on street corners, we got to the barangay of Punta Princesa, in what used to be the barangay of Labangon. There was a concentration of lechon vendors and other food stalls and the shopping was particularly frenetic at around 11 a.m. We passed this scene and a split second later something told me to shout and have the driver stop the car… I jumped out with a camera in hand and walked back to the food stalls to see what was on offer. Part of me says that there was a great deal of instinct at play when I plotted my menu for “the shoot” weeks ago, and I just wanted to get confirmation that it was fairly authentic soul food for a Cebuano…
I expected the aroma and fat floating in the air from the several lechon vendors hacking away at freshly cooked pigs, but what I was a bit surprised to find were several side salads already made and for sale in small portions. I always assumed these would be made at home, but I guess this is modern fast street food… honest yet convenient. One of the coolest vendors I found in this barangay had a “salad buffet” in a pail lined with banana leaves over ice. The center plastic container (in second photo up top) contained some “bat” or sea cucumber in a vinegar sauce. She also had homemade papaya acharra and banana heart salad.
A wonderful pale reddish brown guso salad in another “compartment” of the buffet.
And a cold unripe langka (jackfruit) salad in a coconut milk and vinegar dressing.
The inasal was chopped to order, with the most frequent amounts requested being a “half-kilo” or “kilo” at PHP350/kilo. The discussion that ensued between buyer and vendor about the best part of the pig to purchase was always lively but always ended with a request for some ribs. After the skin, savoring the ribs has to be the mark of true blue cebuano inasal lover. Forget the meaty thighs… give me some ribs! Thankfully, people all have different preferences and whole pig eventually sells out. And if it doesn’t, it’s made into paksiw the next day…
Of course, puso (rice wrapped in coconut leaves) in abundance.
The freshest fish grilled over charcoal. And now I was beginning to really understand the way Cebuanos eat. For a sunday meal, a bit of pig/fat/richness/flavor, with rice, and complemented by fresher vinegar based dishes to cut into the fat. If possible, some grilled seafood. And all in all, honest soul food that tasted great, looked good and probably mirrored Cebuano meals for hundreds of years of history… I got back into the car, thrilled I had decided to take this impromptu drive to Talisay, absorbing every little detail I could, hoping this would help in the days ahead.
After a few minutes, we got to the outskirts of Talisay, and I took a photo of this banner announcing the annual lechon/inasal festival that had occurred just a week or two before. Clearly, any town that honors their inasal with a festival, has to be tops on my list.
If there is anyone I would like to drive into the heart of Talisay inasal country on a Sunday noon, it must be Joey of 80breakfasts, an avowed lechon and pork addict, who would likely faint from the pounding of her heart as she laid eyes on these beauties. Guests at the Marketman eyeball in two weeks can really push the envelope by staying overnight on Saturday and having Talisay lechons on Sunday to round out their visit to Cebu! There are several stalls on one street of Talisay, and on offer is the motherload of Cebuano lechons… burnished or lacquered a reddish brown, glistening on their bamboo poles awaiting hungry diners or folks picking up whole pigs for their Sunday meals…
I was amused to catch this woman holding onto the pig’s ears while it was de-bamboo-polated. I always thought the ears were rather brittle at that point but apparently not.
Some skewered and fried/roasted? pig’s intestines on a stick.
Broiled kamote with a brilliant tinge of purple and other starches of choice should you choose not to have puso or rice.
Kasing-kasing or skewered and grilled pig hearts.
Beautifully roasted native chickens, also de-bamboo-polated.
Marketman in white pants checking out the salads and hawking some of the brilliant grilled food on offer… not to mention the enormous vat of dinuguan or dugo-dugo in the foreground of the photo…
A visually stunning guso salad with the palest of hues.
Another “bat” or sea cucumber salad drowning in onions and vinegar.
A luscious squid and fellow sea dweller over the coals.
And from an abulant vendor a whiff of my lola… a huge bilao filled with homemade consilva or pinasugbu… fried or baked banana slices drowned in sticky caramelized sugar. This was definitely a sign from lola that she was watching from above, and would provide otherworldly intervention, if necessary, for the success of the upcoming adventure. I kid you not. Also in the bilao were some deliciously thin and light fried kamote chips. I bought several packages of each to snack on in the days ahead.
But the main event of lunch had to be the lechon, and we opted to eat at the largest vendor, Mila’s, on the recommendation of a local resident. We ordered several kilos of lechon and most of the salads plus dinuguan. It was served in a grungy interior room that would make most folks worried about hygeine shiver, but the food was utterly delicious.
The skin was good, but since it was at least one or two hours old, not as crisp as I was hoping to have when the “No Reservations” crew showed up in a couple of days. The flavor, however, was incredible, and every piece of meat was infused with the stuffing/spices. The total cost of this incredible meal was less than PHP200 per person, and well fed, we were now ready to take on the incredible task of preparing pigs for the avowed roast pig lover himself… Anthony Bourdain. :)