7,107. (Plus or minus, depending on the tide.)
That’s how many islands make up the Philippines, and they’re all grouped up into three geographical regions. To the north is my home in Luzon. To the very south is Mindanao. In between all of that is Visayas.
In Visayas you’ll find some of the best treats the Philippines has to offer, including the white sand beaches of Boracay, the chocolate hills and tarsier monkeys of Bohol, and the lechon of Cebu.
Hailed by Anthony Bordain as the “Best Pig Ever,” Cebu lechon is a not-to-miss delicacy for visitors of this Visayas province, and two weeks ago I finally got my ticket to piggy paradise.
I only had one full day in Cebu, as the trip was just a quick girls-only-weekend-getaway. The mission of that one full day: to take in as much island scenery…and Cebu lechon as possible.
We chartered a private banca boat via Islands Banca. By 10:00 AM we set sail to explore this tropical paradise…
And by 10:04 AM we began digging into the lechon.
Lechon is a suckling pig, stuffed with lemongrass, sea salt, garlic, onions, and a variety of local spices. It’s roasted slowly over charcoal and, just like the best Thanksgiving turkeys, is continuously dowsed in its own drippings throughout the cooking process. What results is a tender, succulent, flavorful meat, covered by a crispy-cruchy, golden brown skin.
How does one go about eating lechon?
Well, it’s not a pretty site…
You begin by peeling away the skin and eating it like potato chips. We first started doing so with a knife and fork. Within minutes though, we were digging in with our hands, pulling at the skin, latching onto the meat, and dipping it all into the stuffed mixture of spices.
Like I said, it’s not a pretty site; but somehow it just tastes better eaten that way.
More food enjoyed by hand is puso – a compact portion of rice that’s cooked directly inside a hand-woven coconut leaf pouch. The pouch easily splits in two halves . From there, you peel away the the leaves to reveal two perfectly white clumps of rice. It’s a far cry from the messy process of eating lechon…and a welcome palette cleanser too.
After Round One of eating lechon, we arrived at our first destination – Pandanon Island, where we splashed around the sand bar, sipped sparkling wine, laughed, basked in the sun, and enjoyed the fullness of our bellies.
Eventually we hopped back on our boat and our guide took us to Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary. I went snorkeling for the first time in more than a decade. A major feat for someone who 1) can’t really swim and 2) is afraid of fish.
We spent the rest of the day alternating from eating lechon to swimming in the perfectly still sea. Somewhere in between the sparkling wine, girl talk, and warm sun, I lost track of time and before I knew it, it was time to head home.