“The best pig…ever.” Those are the words of international food show host Anthony Bourdain, proudly printed on the paper table mat at Zubuchon restaurant. When Anthony Bourdain uttered those words, naturally heard around the world, he was munching on a lechon from the Queen City of the south. The name of the lechon? Zubuchon.
Being featured in an international food show, by an internationally-famous chef, obviously helps a lot. Allow us to illustrate this point. We didn’t know Zubuchon when we arrived in Cebu (good for you if you’re reading this — you already know the name). All we know is that there’s a lechon in Cebu that got featured by Anthony Bourdain. And so that’s the way we phrased our request, “Can you please take us to the lechon house featured by Anthony Bourdain.” Sure, sure, we would have made our lives less difficult by knowing the brand. But there’s no fun in that, is there? And the beauty of it all? We were brought straight to the nearest branch of Zubuchon. Cebuanos certainly know their lechon.
And so, a full hour before lunch time, we arrived at the Zubuchon branch in Escario Street. The name Zubuchon is derived from two words, we later learned. The latter part, “chon” obviously refers to “lechon.” We have previously staked our claim that lechon Filipino is the best roasted pork in the world. Cebu lechon is one of the best, if not the best, lechon your taste buds could ever encounter. And for good reason. But before we get to that, let’s go back to the first part of the name Zubuchon.
The first part of the Zubuchon name, “zubu,” has nothing to do with the Tagalog term “subo” (to put in the mouth). It turned out that “zubu” is pure Visayan in origin. The word zubu, Zubuchon claims, is used in old Spanish maps, referring to the olden name of Cebu City. This is interesting. We initially thought that Zubu is a stylized version of the old name of Cebu (Sugbo), pretty much like ElarZ lechon (pronounced “elar-zee”) and along the lines of the more recent zombie movie, World War Z.
Anyway, no need to belabor the point (although it would be very interesting to see the actual map with the word “Zubu” on it). How the same lechon is called is not material to its taste. A rose (or rhose), by any other name, is still a rose. Pork barrel, by any other name, is still pork barrel (#MillionPeopleMarch; we just have to stick that somewhere). A lechon, by any other name, is still a lechon, although we must say that “Zubuchon Cebu lechon” might be redundant because Zubuchon is derived from “Cebu lechon”.
What do we get when we put Zubu and lechon together? Yes, yes, we obviously get Zubuchon. We know that. But many of you, dear readers, have no idea that Zubu and lechon, merged to form Zubuchon, results in something way much more than sum of the two words. It’s like Voltes V — that robot is way more awesome than the sum of its five parts. This Zubuchon is one mouthwatering, deliriously delicious lechon.
What makes this lechon special? Zubuchon provides a short explanation in it facebook page. Zubucho says that it doesn’t use MSG or soy sauce. It uses more than a dozen herbs and spices. The distinct taste of tanglad (lemon grass) is immediately apparent from the first bite of Zubuchon. The profusion of taste tricks your mind to forget that lechon is not the healthiest of food choices. But, hey, moderation is the key to enjoying heavenly culinary treats. Bet your doctor also enjoys Cebu lechon.
One important mark of a great lechon is its skin. The skin is padded with a thin layer of fat, with the skin melting in your mouth. Golden-brown. Malutong (crunchy). Taking a bite of the skin generates (should generate) an involuntary reflex of the muscles — the jaw chews deliberate slow, gently munching the skin to savor its rich crunchy taste; the eyelids drop to block all visual inputs, limiting the experience to the taste and sound of the crunching skin. Ahh, sinfully delicious.
Zubuchon also says that the pig’s skin is “acupunctured” or pricked all over, then sprayed with fresh coconut water, resulting to a crispy and brown skin once roasting is done. Acupuncture. How could a lechon that sounds like being treated in a spa not taste darn good? But wait, there’s more. We export fresh coconut water and foreigners pay big bucks for this healthy drink. Filipinos drink it straight from the nut, husk and all, but there’s another way we consume coconut water — spray it on lechon (uhm, does that make it a bit healthy?). Consuming coconut water? Certainly more fun in the Philippines.
The lechon is roasted the traditional way, spun over charcoal, using bamboo poles. The pigs, which are sourced from “backyard raisers”, are fed 100% organic feeds one week before the pig is cooked. But Zubuchon can take one giant leap further. Get free-range pigs. We heard that Elarz is already doing that.
If the lechon is not enough to give you a heartache, figuratively and literally speaking, Zubuchon also offers pork chicharon and a host of other menu choices. Zubuchon says that it prepares the chicharon the old-fashioned way, using antique cast-iron cauldrons over wood fire. Sounds tempting. We’re reminded of witches, the usual mainstay in fairy tales, mixing potions in huge cast-iron cauldrons. But that’s not the reason why we steered clear of the chicharon. We visited Zubuchon for its famous Cebu lechon. That’s enough happiness (and cholesterol) for the day.
For the trip, we could live with only the lechon. To assuage our culinary conscience, however, we ordered seafood (sinigang na hipon, plus squid stuffed with, uhm, Zubuchon sisig) and vegetables (the token mongo soup). For desert, there’s the turon, biko and the budbud kabog. We haven’t encountered this suman before. “Budbud” is a Visayan term for “suman”. Kabog is millet, although we can’t identify a millet even if we encounter it strolling down the hallway. Budbud Kabog tastes good. Imagine the facial wash with beads, with the round stuff gently massaging your face? Imagine that sensation on your tongue, except that it’s delicious.
We’d go on a limb to say that in any given flight out of Cebu City, it’s most likely that there’s a small Zubuchon pasalubong box stashed somewhere in the plane’s overhead compartment. In fact, by way of suggestion, Cebu Pacific should seriously consider spicing up its inflight “bring me” game by asking, “Who can bring me a box of Zubuchon lechon?” (or if it wants to be fair to the other well-known Cebu lechon brand, it could also ask for a CnT lechon pasalubong box). Drop a comment below if you brought home a box of Cebu lechon pasalubong when you traveled from Cebu.