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SGMT | Cebu lechon


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.

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56 Responses

    1. Hehe! Parang ako rin, biglang nag-crave ng lechon. It’s one of the reasons I can’t be a vegetarian! I just read a 2014 article about Filipino food that notes how a lot of our local cuisine is meat-based. Ano ba ang pinaka-favorite Filipino dishes mo?

    2. For someone who has a normal sensibilities when it comes to lechon, I grew up eating the regular lechon and was able to first try the Cebu-style lechon in 2012 when I visited Cebu. So, the first lechon that I was able to try is that of Zubuchon. Honestly, nothing special other than the cozy ambience. However, most friends would recommend to try and bring home CNT lechon for pasalubong. I am not a fan of CNT either, though I must say that it’s more flavorful than Zubuchon. When Zubuchon arrived here in Manila, I tried it. However, like a couple of my friends, they didn’t like it on top of the fact that the skin is not crispy enough to our standards and so as the meat, which doesn’t even taste fresh enough. When I get to try Rico’s lechon, which claims to be a Cebu original as well, I got suddenly addicted to the crisp and not so fatty version with the saltiness just perfect for me. Having tried several versions of lechon and the popular brands that Cebu carries, I must say that Rico’s is the best tasting to my personal standard and Zubuchon doesn’t even come close.

  1. I’ve never had it and so now I guess I never will but I’ll take your word for it because the locals know best. It’s interesting to see when the episode was taped, then aired and then the rest happened. I forget sometimes watching about all the production stuff and timeline. On a Parts Unknown episode Anthony was taken to Koreatown in L.A to eat at a Sizzler restaurant. People were SO pissed because the Sizzler is pretty lame! That has nothing to do with your tale of the Zubuchon lechon but it popped into my head. You’re making me want to re-watch No Reservations! (and also reminded me of the episode he came to Buffalo which was so-so as far as representing us goes. I didn’t relate to it and it covered a very small community but at least we were on TV!)

    1. I was pretty stoked too when I heard he had come to the Philippines and especially that he had dropped by Cebu. Even though…Filipino food varies so much because we’re all in separate islands, and different regions have different favorites, so with some of the food he was given to taste on the show, I was like, of all the food you can give him, why THAT? And now with what you said, I think a lot of people in the places he featured probably felt that way too, that the food that got on his show wasn’t totally representative of their cuisine. You could do a No Reservations marathon! 🙂

      1. I find Anthony Bourdain so entertaining and sometimes thoughtful. I want to find the Philippines episode!!
        Also I realized you might not know I’m a vegetarian which is why I said I’d never have lechon, since I didn’t before I became vegetarian–hope that makes sense now.
        I wonder how frustrating some of the episodes may be for folks watching a version of their hometown or country on the show they can’t relate to…but either way it’s still cool. Plus there’s only so much they can do with one episode so with that time I think they do a pretty good job of at least peaking viewer’s interests about destinations to visit, culture and cuisine. I miss that program=(
        If Anthony came to visit you which dishes would you want him to sample or which restaurants would you take him to? You should make him a new Cebu itinerary!

      2. I did know you were vegetarian and I was going to mention it in my reply but then I forgot. 😀 When I was writing this post, I was actually wondering if it might be offensive to some people, like Muslims. Especially since I included a photo. And I’ve seen some vegans in WordPress refer to meat eaters as murderers. But I figured most of the people who would read this would be cool about it.

        Bourdain really is entertaining! He comes off as this tough, grumpy guy, but he is very insightful and his show isn’t the usual feel-good stuff, which I appreciate.

      3. Yeah, good description. He’s like punk and irreverent and cynical but also an intellectual and seems like a decent person. I love how open he is, and eager, to try new foods and be immersed in a new to him culture. And he’s funny!
        Oh my gosh I’d never call a meat eater a murderer.
        I wouldn’t have even thought about Muslim readers (you are so thoughtful!!) but overall I think people should just skip reading once they discover the post centers around a pork dish if that is bothersome for whatever reason just as a post about anything else might be whether it’s parenting or politics. One of the cooking/food blogs I like to read is mostly meat dishes even though I don’t eat meat. =)
        PS: I’m watching the Philippines episode RIGHT NOW.

      4. One more thing. Now you’ve got me thinking about this. What people eat and how people who don’t eat it judge so harshly. I feel a post about it coming on soon!

      5. There was this one person from Cebu who’d started a vegan-oriented blog and she said she was going to post vegan recipes. I immediately followed her because I have a friend who was sticking to a vegan diet because she was breastfeeding her son who was allergic to practically everything, and I thought I’d share that blogger’s recipes with my friend. But then she started one of her posts with something like “I used to be a murderer” referring to the time when she still ate meat, and I was discouraged by that. Like, I understand that that’s what she believed in, and that’s perfectly fine, I can understand the reasoning behind it, but I didn’t know how I would feel if all her posts had that tone, I might end up becoming defensive or angry, so I figured the most prudent thing would be to Unfollow.

      6. Some people haven’t learned that sometimes the best way to try and change minds about something isn’t to be critical and harsh but to be gentle and understanding and exchange ideas. I sound corny but that’s how I feel about some issues. I’ve had people say something like “If you REALLY cared about animals you wouldn’t eat cheese” which isn’t true. We all have to do what feels right for us at that time and for me that’s not eating meat, fish or poultry and for other people it’s eating meat selectively or eating meat but supporting animal welfare groups or adopting a shelter dog. It’s complicated for me to go into here but I’m sure you know what I mean! (Right?) What we eat is very personal and it’s not cool to freak out on other people over it. I wasn’t a vegetarian…before…I was a vegetarian and I know I wasn’t being a horrible cruel murderer either.
        I don’t think I could read a blog like that one you described. I find it extremely off putting when vegetarians or vegans express themselves with that type of language. I’m going to stop though because as usual I can go on forever and comment about 100 more times on this and I’ll clog up your comment section even more! I like this topic<3!

      7. I think there are people who feel that, to justify what they believe in, they have to attack others who believe or behave differently. Which — you’re absolutely right — is rarely effective if the goal is to win people over. It’s not just with eating habits — religion, politics, even travel. I always say lifestyle seems to be the new religion; there are people who practice it, and then there are people who make it their life’s work to correct “sinners.” 😀

        There’s this saying attributed to St. Francis: “Go out and preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.” I think this is more effective, not just with religion but with most other things — to behave in such a way that your actions make a better testament to your beliefs than any words ever could. And so that when you speak, people know your words are worth listening to. (And I know I’ve gone way off topic haha!)

      8. Well said and that saying is perfect. That’s the type of thing I need to remember, just to behave better and more like the person I want to be.
        Another thing I’ve noticed is that many people “care” so much but it seems like it’s more about control.
        The weirdest thing I’ve experienced as a vegetarian is people finding out and immediately getting defensive or criticizing me which is strange. I always hear it’s the other way around like vegans and vegetarians pointing the finger but I would say more than half the time somebody finds out I’m a vegetarian and didn’t know they’ll say something odd and snotty in response or start asking questions that are kind of defensive and the tone is condescending. I’m not making that up! Especially with co-workers for some reason.
        Anyway off topic is okay! I think I started us off topic anyway. I like talking about this.
        I’m really going to keep that saying from St. Francis in mind. Not because I want to even sway anybody in one direction but just because I want to be kind. So Thank you=)

  2. Sus, ang lechon! Naglaway na mi! We agree with you; Carcar’s lechon is the best. We love “home-cooked” lechon that are sold on traditional lechon stalls and eateries rather than commercialized ones like Zubuchon.

  3. “I’ve never had it and so now I guess I never will but I’ll take your word for it because the locals know best”–that part. I hope that didn’t sound like “you’ve made this dish sound ghastly! I shall never try it!!”

  4. Ahh, you’re making me crave for lechon sooo bad!!! Of course, my favorite has always been CnT lechon but before they became popular during my time, it has been the home made ones, then talisay then carcar lechon. I have never tried all those newcomers in the lechon business because I like my lechon done the original way, no fusion, no fuss. Crispy skin and ribs to be precise. And then the next day comes lechon paksiw! Yumm! 🙂

  5. I’m from Cagayan de Oro, and I remember once, the local government tried to make it appear as though the city was known for lechon – they named the fiesta, for that year, a lechon festival or something. Personally though, I don’t remember many lechon versions from where I live as being ‘exciting’. My parents have a suki na taga-lechon, and we’ve been ordering there for as long as I can remember, so I guess that’s why I’ve never really ‘gotten around’. I guess this goes to show sometimes loyalty can be a disadvantage for the palate LOL.

    1. Haha! But I think that’s fine as long as you’re happy with what you’re loyal to. 🙂 By the way, when I was in CDO one time, one of the river rafting guides mentioned that they were looking for a dish that can be iconic of CDO, and he said they were considering sinuglaw.

  6. I forgot the name of the lechon resto at a mall in Cebu. I asked the guard for the food court and he told me it’s outside the mall. It is a side walk of the shopping mall turned into rows of restaurants.
    I’m not sure if it’s a Zubochon. It is at the end of the side walk, or the first when you come from the highway. I asked for the fork and spoon and they gave me a pair of plastic gloves to use, “kamayan” style pala. Is it Zubochon? And the “lechon” was “delicious to the max”, grabe! Very tasty, I should have asked for more!
    Best lechon that i’ve tasted in Cebu, just last week of June 2015.
    I tried them one after the other: 1) Zubochon in a Cebu Mall and at the corner of the road going to the airport in Lapu-Lapu city 2) CNT near SM Cebu 3)El Corazon in Talisay city, Cebu. I hired a taxi from Lapu-Lapu city in going there.
    I’ll be back in Cebu for more lechon hopping! “Baka ma-highblood” if i eat more for the day.

      1. i’ll think it over if there’s a need for a hopping job for these specialties but i believe dried mangoes is a strong candidate…then sea foods, …

  7. 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.

    I also agree that there are several variations of lechons across the archipelago, so very many of them delicious, but I would disagree that lechons whose main flavoring ingredient is a cup or so of MSG in it’s tummy (rather than using other natural and locally grown ingredients) is the way to go. And in the areas you have described eating lechon, the vast majority are made with copious amounts of MSG. But some folks PREFER MSG, I just happen not to. I thank you for mentioning Zubuchon in your post and hope you enjoy many more lechons in the future!

    1. Thank you for your reply! I have updated the post to include your comment, particularly your points that the quote was used with Mr. Bourdain’s permission and that you use the same recipe in your stores. I’ve also clarified that my post was not an attack on your or Zubuchon but was intended to correct people’s misconception of what actually happened. I believe there is nothing in my post and your comment that contradict each other, and I wish you and Zubuchon the best of luck!

  8. Thanks for the clarification on this matter! Not that I needed one since di ko pa nasusubukan yang Zubuchon na yan, hehe. But at least I know na to temper my expectations when having my meal there. By the way I was watching a No Reservations episode when I saw this post of yours.

    1. Wow, good timing pala! 😀 Zubuchon is tasty din naman, but a lot of people (especially Cebuanos) feel na there are better tasting lechons. I think it’s a matter of, you know, what you’re used to and what you personally like. Like ako, I’m not used to lechon with lemongrass so it always tastes kind of strange to me, but I know for some people, lemongrass-stuffed lechon is what they grew up loving. But, yeah, maybe adjust expectations a bit, then if you find that it’s everything you’ve ever wanted in a lechon, then good. 🙂

  9. No, Anthony Bourdain didn’t say Zubuchon was “the best pig ever”

    Somebody tell that to Zubuchon management. They have the quote printed on all of their marketing materials.

  10. The logic of this post is flawed. The very reason why we have recipes/techniques is to replicate the same dish as many times as one wishes. Of course nobody expects to eat the same lechon that Bourdain ate 7 years ago, but as long as the same procedure and recipe is used by Zubuchon it remains essentially the same pig that Bourdain was able to taste. The dates do not matter at all. You can dig up a 20 year old recipe, cook it, and it would taste the same as it did 20 years ago. This is why we patronize Jollibee chicken, because it tastes the same today as it did 30 years ago.
    Joel Binamira is a man of integrity and wouldn’t be posting the “best pig ever” sign all over his restaurant if it weren’t true.

  11. Zubuchon is merely about branding but it’s not the same as the original in Talisay. Zubuchon’s salty and you don’t taste the original spices (which the traditional lechon cebu have).

    1. Ooooh! You’ve just reminded me that I haven’t had Alejo’s lechon in more than a decade! 🙂 Thanks for dropping by. (Your blog has also inspired me to try the Pig and Palm one of these days…I’ve been intimidated at the thought of the prices but they’re not too bad after all.) xx

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