Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

Pork Art

Best Pig
The Philippines

When itinerant TV chef Anthony Bourdain — whose love of all things porcine is famous — visited the Philippine island of Cebu with his show No Reservations and declared that he had found the "best pig ever," many viewers were as surprised by the hyperbole as by the country he situated it in. But not Filipinos, among whom the zenith of porky perfection is an indisputable fact. It was just a matter of time before the rest of the world found out.

The pig that made Bourdain smack his lips with glee was lechón, or slow-roasted suckling pig, perhaps the Philippines' most beloved dish. Usually reserved for fiestas, it has long been a source of fanatical adulation; it's not uncommon for a whole lechón, still hot and fresh from roasting, to be flown across the country for special occasions. Though varieties differ regionally — stuffing can include any combination of lemongrass, tamarind, star anise, garlic, green onions and chili leaves, while condiments range from a light vinegary dipping sauce to a thick liver-based gravy — the basic concept remains the same. A pig is roasted for hours over a fire of open coals, slowly rotated on a bamboo spit, lovingly basted and meticulously supervised until its flesh is so tender, moist and succulent that it can be sliced with the edge of a plate, and its skin so crisp it can be punctured with the tap of a finger. You could call it the Platonic ideal of a pig, but it's doubtful if Plato, or even an entire faculty of philosophers, could have imagined anything so exquisite.