Prepare to pig out – sorry – on the Philippines' national dish, lechon. This cherished feast comes in multiple guises, though its essentials remain the same: it's a whole pig, roasted over charcoal on a spit, and usually served at celebrations or other important events. There are two main forms of lechon. One is from Luzon, home island of the Philippines' capital, Manila, where the pig is roasted with simple salt-and-pepper seasoning, and the meat then dipped in a rich sauce of mashed pigs' liver, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and onion. In the Visayas archipelago, home of Cebu, pigs are stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, onions, salt and chillies before being roasted, and there's no dipping sauce. Many Filipino cooks these days use a blend of the two techniques.
The word "lechon" is easy enough to trace: it's a derivative of the Spanish word lechona, meaning suckling pig. However, that doesn't mean this was a Spanish colonialist invention. Pigs had been domesticated in the Philippines long before Spanish arrival, and most historians believe the practice of roasting whole animals over charcoal had been going on for some time.
In Cebu, check out Rico's Lechon (ricoslechon.com) to sample Visayas style, while in Manila, try Elar's Lechon (facebook.com/elarslechon) for Luzon-style, or Pepita's Kitchen (home of self-proclaimed "Lechon Diva" Dedet de la Fuente, instagram.com/lechon_diva) for experimental takes on the dish.
Melburnians, get yourself down to new wood-fired Filipino restaurant Serai (seraikitchen.com.au) for a great take on lechon. In Sydney, try Sydney Cebu Lechon (sydneycebulechon.com.au), which does what you would expect.
ONE MORE THING
If you ever see lechon being prepared, keep your eye on the "lechonero", or the head cook, who will be busy over many hours shifting hot coals around, adjusting the spit, and ensuring that the meat stays tender while the skin attains a perfect, caramelised crispiness.