Marketman’s Amorsolo Moment…


My mother visited Fernando Amorsolo’s atelier in Malate several times during the 1950’s and 60’s. She was often tasked with touring foreign female spouses who were visiting or had been recently transferred to Manila, their husbands were either business colleagues of my Dad, or members of the diplomatic core. Mom would later express some wistful regret that she never purchased any of Amorsolo’s paintings from what turned out to be near the zenith of his career. His paintings were, even then, a bit more than her budget would have allowed, and my dad wasn’t interested in art at all. Instead, several of her guests had purchased paintings, impressed with the bucolic scenes, vibrant use of color and the masterful use of “light”… They also probably thought it was rather PC to have a local painting hanging in their expat home. Today, their heirs (in all parts of North America) are probably pleasantly surprised (if not shocked) that the native scenes with mangoes, riverside maidens and carabaos are easily worth a small house in a rural American town. I happen to like many of Amorsolo’s pieces from the 1950’s and I suppose I was channeling Amorsolo during our recent visit to the Catmon hills….

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One of the reasons we headed to hills was to hunt down kabog or millet. But I figured we would kill two birds with one stone and also check on the “backyard pig suppliers” that represent the backbone of Zubuchon’s business. One of our scouts is based in this area, and she is responsible for consolidating pigs that are brought down to Cebu by truck. We pay a premium for “backyard raised pigs” but I sometimes think a few of our suppliers are either intentionally or unintentionally supplying us with some pigs that are raised in more piggery/pen style conditions.


So off to the hills we go. Amidst beautiful countryside settings, verdant from weeks of early rains in Cebu, an Amorsolo-esque scene greeted us at nearly every turn on the twisting hillside roads and paths. Nearest the main road, a pile of traditionally made charcoal was being assembled for us, and we in turn give business to several dozen makers of charcoal in this area. They don’t clear cut healthy trees for this, rather they forage fallen branches and trim some trees. It’s not the most environmentally sound fuel source, but it is traditional, it is made as it’s been made for centuries, and it provides income directly to those who make it, with few middlemen involved.


We found several pig raisers who had 6, 8 or 10 pigs in their backyards, literally, and that was just amazing to see. A simple bahay kubo or cement home, and nearby was their equivalent of a bank account of say PHP20-30,000 worth of pigs. When the pigs reach the right size, they are brought to our scout and transported to Cebu. These pigs are not strictly “organic” and we have never claimed them to be so. They are fed a combination of natural and pellet style food, but more importantly, have more room to roam, play in the mud, and live a more “natural” life before we unfortunately or fortunately, roast them to a crisp.


I was so happy so see most of the pigs eventually headed to Zubuchon were indeed in real “rural settings” and generally happy (or as happy as a fattened pig is that he will soon come to meet his maker). But more importantly, it was nice to see the REAL effect of our strong corporate belief that the way we source our ingredients has a direct impact on our community and environment. Here you could see that the community made money from their pigs, from raising corn and kabog, making charcoal in the off-season, and it was not high populated at all with only a few homes scattered here and there, and everyone looking healthier than city folk…


Some of the pigs were untethered, while most had a leash (residents said it wasn’t a joke to go hunt them down an hour after they decided to wander off). They always seemed to have a shady spot (they sunburn easily) and again, I thought they looked pretty darned happy and lively. Even when penned up, they were in bamboo staked pens, often on dirt (they like mud) and covered with a nipa roof or tarp so that they could remain cool. When do I get curious about the particular source of a particular pig? Commercial piggery raised pigs often have more fat, their meat is incredibly pale or white almost, and there is less muscle build up. And if you are buying lechon de leche in Manila, the vast majority of them are neither true lechon de leches nor locally sourced (they are imported from places like Vietnam frozen)…


Some 98% of our restaurant clients probably don’t realize the difference between going out of your way to find pigs raised like this, versus the pigs raised in commercial piggeries in tight cement quarters. But we do. And increasingly, I hope they (the customers) do as well. This is direct flow down to the grassroots, not trickle down through a large corporation. This is knowing the hundreds of people you end up helping out, and just as you are dependent on them, they are likewise reliant on us. It isn’t about the 250+ people we directly employ, it is about the thousands of people we indirectly impact through purchasing policies for our basic ingredients and materials such as charcoal, wood, pigs, vegetables, grains, etc. I was really smiling widely by the end of the visit to the Catmon hills the other day. But also apprehensive that there is a finite amount of pigs sourced this way, and I dread the day we run out of supply. But this setting in Catmon just all seemed right. So right.


And that Amorsolo moment? Around an hour into the hills, we turned around a steep bend, and this vision of green on my right made us abruptly stop the car and get out. Bamboo trees, verdant plant growth, nice morning light. A male barako or stud in his Presidential “suite” where he serviced the neighborhood maidens and ladies. Nearby were some females and their piglets in deluxe nipa accommodations. If Fernando Amorsolo were still around, I am sure he would have been happy to paint this scene in his unmistakable style. And I would be willing to pay a minor ransom for that painting, and I suspect, my mom from her perch wherever, would smile with amused approval. :)


24 Responses

  1. Oh, I love the scenes.
    On my yearly visit to Pinas, a month before my arrival, I asked my house assistant to buy a piglet, bring it to my cousin in the farm, and they raised it with just veggies scrap and let it roam around. That pig then will be slaughtered for my use during my stay. Same with chickens, I buy a dozens chicks and let them be cage free.
    I am then unsure of the meat n fowl that I eat.

  2. Great post, MM, I smiled from start to end. I used to live beside an empty lot, several hectares in the middle of the city, which is a bit of a miracle, and informal settlers bred goats and pigs that freely roamed the entire area – very possibly the happiest in Manila, and I sometimes thought of putting them in touch with you. Bucolic. Twice the pigs gave birth right below my window; their antics made me so happy. All gone now, condominium project coming up.
    I salute your corporate ethos.

  3. last Monday’s Antique Roadshow had a guy who has painting of Amorsolo he inherited from his father who was stationed in the Phils. In the 50s , it was appraised at $60,000 and I read and article about Bad Saint a restaurant n Washington DC the photos were taken by IB, is she your daughter MM?

  4. I was thinking Amorsolo when I read your 2 posts prior to this. Good job MM on putting a premium on getting the best ingredients while providing livelihood to so many people.

  5. Ami, yes, it was very Amorsolo-esque. Alilay, yes, that’s the daughter, sorry, I just abbreviated her name… And the painting in the program must not have been a particularly good one, as those are now fetching upwards of $100-200+K for the really nice ones… cumin, when you observe pigs in a more natural habitat, you realize how smart, playful and engaging they can be… EbbaBlue, home grown eggs has been on my list of things to do for years. As are home grown fattened quail as well. :)

  6. Sorry MM, when I saw the first picture, the following transpired in my mind:

    MM: (to Barako) So, you are the happiest around here?

    Barako: Yeah, I’m the man!

    MM: I’m looking for happy pigs, can I bring you to my lechonan?

    Barako: May I ask why?

    MM: I want you to make the girls there happy before they become lechon.

    Barako: Deal! I’m kinda tired of the native girls here, all they want is to get pregnant! Do you think I can at least have some romance with the city girls, you know, talk a little, maybe get to know each other?

    MM: If you are the man, that is not impossible. But if you fail, the lechonero will be waiting for you.

    Barako: Eeek! By the way, how many girls are there?

    MM: At least 100.

    Barako: Eeeeeeek! I’d rather be a lechon!

  7. joejj, hahaha, had a good laugh. But believe it or not, we only roast females, or males that have been de-testiclelated (neutered) at a young age. Male meat is like boar meat, the taint or smell that comes with it is a no-no in lechonan circles. So yes, the males are lucky that way, or unlucky, depending on how you look at it. :)

  8. Yes, neutered or castrated, emasculated, gelded. An outrageous practice in animal husbandry that yields mild flavoured pork from male pigs. Even more outrageous when performed on boys just so to preserve their prepubescent warble. As usual, as in a lot of progressive things, the Vatican arrived late at discontinuing the employment of castrati. It was abandoned only in 1903. The practice was widespread in the East, both Near and Far, principally to handicap (where it counted) male staffs serving the seraglios and imperial concubines’ quarters.

  9. I’ve never seen Vietnam sourced piglets here in Manila, and most of the famous purveyors of cochinillos seem to use locally sourced piglets. Maybe the suckling pigs sold in Chinese restaurants are the imported ones as they’re incredibly small.

    I’ve had some cochinillo in Spain recently, and I still think we have an edge over them. We just need more tourists to affirm that.

  10. @Footloose: Was thinking about the castratis myself when the neutered pigs was mentioned…..the neutered pigs to improve one’s gastronomic experience and the barbaric practice on prepubescent boys to keep their pitch for the male soprano voice enthusiasts’ listening enjoyment. At least now one can listen to Phillip Jaroussky without thinking, did they do it to him? and thank God for Phillip who I listen to whenever my intractable insomnia strikes.

  11. MM, you should start a seminar on “Responsible Business Practices” so you can impart your views on business ethics and concern for the community. The Philippines needs more businessmen like you.

  12. I wonder if they (the pigs so altered) squealed in high F.

    As it turned out, the practice had a very slim chance of success for the young souls who chose to go through with it both in terms of mortality and final vocal outcome but did not dissuade anyone concerned anyway so their presence became common enough that many of the vocal masterpieces we enjoy today were composed specifically for the castrato register. You would have heard many of them since you enjoy Philip Jaroussky’s artistry. A commonn favourite, here is a great rendition of Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate. httpss://

  13. Somehow, I think, only on marketmanila can a post on rural pigs and a mention of neutering turn into a comment on Mozart. :) pinkytab, actually, I also want to do free seminars for resume writing as the appalling biodata/resumes I read monthly are enough to question our entire educational system and the ability to graduate college seniors who cannot write a decent resume… Monty, yes, many of the restaurants do use frozen imported suckling pigs, they are brought in by the container, frozen and in vacuum packed bags. I have seen them with my own eyes. Was even asked to help a 5-star resort with their lechons and when I got to their gleaming kitchens for a tutorial, they presented me with the vietnamese pigs, complete with markings… I think you tend to get what you pay for, so for small local purveyors that get real native suckling pigs should EMPHASIZE that’s what they use and get better prices for them…

  14. Too bad the pigs can’t sing Mozart. LOL.
    We’ll have to ask MM next time he inspects his pigs destined for the lechonan if he noticed any difference in their squeaks….before and after the minor surgery.

  15. Can you imagine what tragedy it must have been if Luciano P was castrated? The world would have been deprived of his glorious baritone. He would have also been deprived of certain well known dalliances.

  16. Yeah, hahaha. Only in Marketmanila site, na lumiliko ang usapan in a good way. Minsan nalilito ako, both topics I want to engage into, but I just get amused into the conversation.
    Thanks guys. Something different than what I read in my FB threads.

  17. thanks mm for that trivia on neutered pigs. it seems that being a male in the porcine species does give them a 50:50 chance of a long life albeit a much “useful” one. they could even have their own theme song “to all the girls I’ve loved before…” though in this case doors are non-existent.

  18. @joe jj Not a quibble but a gloss, he was celebrated mostly for his higher range, therefore as a tenor. Remember, he was the King of the high Cs.

  19. Nice to see the hills mostly covered with trees. Maybe next time you can scatter lots and lots of seeds from fruit trees, preferably those that are either native or endangered, then let nature do the rest. Who knows in a few years you might be plucking fruits grown in the wild. Or the pig’s meat might taste better having eaten the fallen fruit.

  20. Footloose, yes, absolutely. Though I like LP’s lower notes which are warm, almost loving, he was really applauded for the quality of his high notes.

  21. Love how you tied together the landscape, nature, art and business sense all in one piece. And the comments from the usual casts are just scholarly and educational. Every time, I take something from it. Thanks and regards to Mrs. MM and daughter.

  22. I sure hope you’re able to confirm that the charcoal really comes from fallen trees. Outside my farm, across the valley I hear the sound of a chainsaw then after a awhile see the traditional ulingans where it once was green. They leave it as an ugly empty spot, move to the next area then repeat the cycle. With that in mind, I no longer buy charcoal from my area.

  23. Jaimie, I suppose there is always a risk of that. But I asked specifically, and was on the lookout for bald spots in the area but seeing folks deliver 2-3 sacks at a time to this consolidator, I think the chances are far less likely in this particular area. But I do agree that it is possibly done in some areas. Recently though, someone was telling me that a lot of inferior charcoal is made from stands of ipil-ipil which is a “junk tree” and makes less dense charcoal…



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