MANILA, Philippines - It was a hot afternoon in Cebu and I was excited to have a taste of the Zubuchon, the much talked about roast pig by Marketman of Market Manila.
I had high expectations for the lechon, said to be prepared using homegrown organic ingredients, especially after well-known boar buff Anthony Bourdain called it the "best pig ever."
"(Anthony Bourdain) is incredibly intelligent and fantastic to work with. He ate a huge piece of the skin," Marketman shared his experience with Bourdain as his crew hand-turned the lechon on bamboo poles over charcoal.
Three pigs were prepared that day, and seeing them getting cooked right before my very eyes was an experience in itself.
And just when I thought I was up for one of the best meals of my life, Marketman revealed a sweet surprise -- one lechon was infused with the deep, rich flavor of black truffles.
The truffle lechon
It was the smallest of the 3 pigs -- or the lechon de leche -- that got a fancy French makeover that day.
Roughly 3 and a half kilos, the little pig was seasoned with garlic, onions, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, truffle salt and black truffle puree, which was made using whole truffles and olive oil.
Just like the regular Zubuchon, the truffle lechon got hand-turned on a bamboo pole for about 2 and a half hours until its skin became as crisp as chicharon (pork cracklings).
"The skin should crust up in the same way chicharon would crust up," Marketman said.
The Marketman's lechon was uneven and has bubbled up like blistered human skin, not as pleasing to look at compared to the perfectly browned pigs seen in most lechon shops in the Philippines.
"This is how lechon should really look like. The commercial lechon you see is evenly browned either because it's painted with soy sauce or it's blow torched to even out some parts," Marketman explained.
He continued, "We're less concerned about the looks. All that matters is that it tastes good."
Marketman believes that the best-tasting lechon can be made using the freshest ingredients and old-fashioned methods.
And he was right. The truffle lechon was a highly refined version of the favorite Filipino delicacy, from the succulent, tender meat with a hint of the truffles' earthy taste to the crispy, candy-like skin.
I opted not to eat it with gravy or any of the sauces that Marketman prepared as these will mask the piece de resistance -- the slather of black truffle puree in the pig's cavity.
Truly, the dish was one for the books. Unfortunately for most people, the truffle lechon is not for sale -- at least for now -- since it's more expensive to make than 2 large lechons.
"A lot of people have asked us to sell it, but for now, we don't," Marketman said.
Aside from the truffle and regular lechons, Marketman prepared other dishes inspired by the roast pig.
There's the lechon sisig --chopped pig parts tossed with chilies for an added kick -- and the lechon sinigang, where the star of the show is swimming with vegetables in sour broth.
Both dishes tasted good, but none of them compared to the experience of tearing off a piece of crispy skin from freshly cooked lechon.
Marketman said he has also tried making lechon rice, lechon salad, lechon empanadas, even lechon sandwiches as he continues to reinvent the traditional Filipino delicacy.
But so far, he said his best creation yet is the black truffle lechon. Now I wonder how Bourdain would feel if he got his hands on this beautiful creature.
E-mail the author at [email protected] Visit her food blog at https://asliceofkeix.blogspot.com.