As someone who:
- loved Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations so much, it inspired her to write about travel,
- actually watched the episode where he came to Cebu and other parts of the Philippines,
- lived in Cebu her whole life, and
- grew up eating lechon, sometimes for Sunday breakfast because why not,
I feel like I should set the record straight about the popular misconception that Bourdain declared Zubuchon lechon the “best pig ever.”
It’s true that Anthony Bourdain came to Cebu, tasted lechon, and declared it the “best pig ever.” BUT this is how it happened:
- Bourdain came to the Philippines in October 2008.
- Joel Binamira — the man behind respected food blog Market Manila and the founder of Zubuchon — and his staff prepared lechon for Bourdain.
- Bourdain said it was the best pig ever.
- That No Reservations episode aired in February 2009.
- Binamira established Zubuchon in “very late 2009”; the first Zubuchon restaurant only opened in 2011.
So, when you come to Cebu and taste the Zubuchon lechon, don’t feel like you have to declare, “This is the best pig ever!!” Or worse, wonder: “This is the best pig ever??” It’s not like Anthony Bourdain walked into a Zubuchon restaurant, ordered up a plate, and then sang the pig’s praises. You’d be surprised how many locals don’t.
According to Mr. Binamira, though, the quote was used with Mr. Bourdain’s permission and the recipe used in Zubuchon stores is the exact recipe used to prepare the lechon for Mr. Bourdain. Please see his full comment HERE.
Which isn’t to say that Zubuchon lechon isn’t tasty. There are different ways to prepare lechon, different ways to season it, and people too have different tastes. In the lechon style that I grew up with and love most, I’ve found the best tasting lechons to be those that are stuffed with lots and lots of liberally salted onions and spring onions. No pandan or lemongrass — the simpler the taste, the better. And I think the best lechon is still the one your uncle slow-roasts in your yard, on a bamboo pole propped by rocks, over patiently tended glowing coals. Barring that, my favorite would probably be the lechon from the Carcar market down south, or the one from the weekend stalls in Liloan up north, or even the ones from suki lechon vendors in local markets. Not that I’d say no to a plate of Zubuchon, of course!
Have you tasted lechon? What’s the best lechon for you?
Update, 14 July 2015
- Reply from Joel Binamira: “You are absolutely correct in your chronology of what occurred. However, I must point out that the recipe used by Zubuchon in all of its stores is EXACTLY the recipe that was served to Mr. Bourdain, and which I posted on my blog months before his visit. And while we NEVER used his comment declaring it the “Best Pig, Ever” until we opened the restaurants, it was ONLY AFTER we checked with Mr. Bourdain’s production staff and Mr. Bourdain himself to request permission that we use HIS KIND QUOTE that he responded within minutes by email to say, absolutely, go ahead and use the quote, it was indeed the “Best Pig, Ever” that he had tasted in his travels. So the lechon you eat at Zubuchon is indeed the same lechon that we fed him on the No Reservations program.” See full comment HERE.
- To the person who wrote to defend Mr. Binamira’s integrity and to everyone else who might feel the same way, I assure you that this post was not at all meant to attack Joel Binamira or Zubuchon. Although I don’t know Mr. Binamira personally, I have had several opportunities to read his blog over the years, and in the posts I’ve read, he has been quite transparent about his methods, recipes, etc. I specifically stated in my post above that Mr. Binamira’s blog is respected and that I wasn’t saying Zubuchon wasn’t tasty. (Except for the paragraph pointing readers to Mr. Binamira’s comment, everything else above the line is exactly as it was when this post was published.) I was simply addressing the misconception — the exact word I used above — that many people have about what actually happened. It is a statement of facts, not an appropriation of blame or a judgment of Zubuchon’s marketing strategy. It is perhaps a testament to Mr. Binamira’s character that someone has rushed to defend him, but there should be no reason for anyone to feel slighted by facts.
- I do think that there is quite a difference, that there are bound to be differences, between cooking something especially for someone and mass-producing it for profit — even a non-cook like myself can think of several ways that it can be different (recipe aside, there are the techniques, equipment, etc.) — but I won’t force that opinion on others. That’s not what this post is about, anyway. What this post is saying is: Mr. Bourdain did not taste a Zubuchon lechon and declare it the best pig ever for the simple reason that Zubuchon did not yet exist when he came to Cebu. Whether use of the same recipe guarantees equivalence is a matter I will leave to each reader to decide for himself or herself.
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.