I had Lechon for the first time on Sunday.
But I didn’t think it was that good.
But you can’t judge a dish based on one taste. And I am not out to sabotage anyone’s livelihood, so this is just my reaction. This is not intended to be a food blog alone, and I am not a Yelp reviewer (or any kind of reviewer) and I do not think people should make a living (or worse, a hobby) from destroying or threatening to destroy’s another person’s business. (Watch the South Park episode, “You’re not Yelping.”)
As someone who cooks and knows how often our efforts turn out less than perfect and even disastrous, I am reluctant to judge based on one taste. If anyone ever had a chance to taste my disasters in sio bak, and just judged my ability to roast pork belly based on one tasting, they would probably decide that I make terrible sio bak.
So anyway, I was probably the first customer for the day, I asked what was the difference between a pork belly and a Lechon. I was told the pork belly was marinated (before roasting), and the Lechon was roasted whole with herbs. So I went with the Lechon, and was told it would be a 10 minute wait. Later I saw him bring out the Lechon.
First, Lechon is usually a whole pig, stuffed with herbs and spices, seasoned, and slow roasted on a hand-turned spit over many hours.
But when I said, I saw him bring out the Lechon, it was not a whole pig. It was just a slab of pork belly rolled and tied into a cylindrical shape, skin side out, for spit roasting.
I’m not a subtle person, so all I can say is the pork was “porky”. There was some… gameyness(?) or hint of aroma that suggested that this was pork. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people like that coherent aroma. It is part of the package.
I can’t say that I would like that, but this was not overpowering, and served to raise the “exoticness” of the dish. At least for me. It suggested that this was an authentic pig from Philippines, imported just for this stall. (I seriously doubt it, but part of enjoying food is building up and believing the back story. At least for me.)
Tastewise, it was not bad. The meat was not tough, but not as tender as my 3-hour slow roasted sio bak. It was different in taste, but not remarkably so. Again, this could be due to my not very discerning palate.
Base on the texture/toughness, I would say this was roasted no longer than 90 minutes. Probably just an hour. But I could be wrong.
But the whole point of eating roast pork belly, is the crackling on the skin.
This was not uniform. Some parts of the skin was quite inedible – too hard. Some were hard, but edible, but it was not enjoyable.
Only a few pieces were properly crispy and crackly.
To be fair, some parts of my sio bak may not be crispy and crackling. But at least 90% of the skin would be perfect crackling. (For a non-disaster, “good” roast – which is about 90% of my sio bak.)
This Lechon was only about 30% perfectly crackling. Sure the rest of the meat was edible, but the crackling, or lack, was disappointing.
BUT… I wonder if part of the problem was that I was early (I wanted to beat the lunch crowd so we were there just after 11 am), and maybe he had rushed the Lechon. However, in this case, he should have told me that the wait was at least another 30 minutes and would I like to try to marinated pork belly. It is important to do things right.
Alternatively… could the whole thing have been thrown off by the fact that they were not roasting a whole pig, on a open fire pit, over several hours, the way it is traditionally done? This was a stall in a food court, so understandably an open charcoal or wood fire, and several hours of slow-roasting would not be feasible. The whole pig is a logistical problem, but is probably solvable. So the “solution” of a rolled pork belly on a small kitchen spit (I’m guessing) was an attempt to bring traditional rural cooking into an urban setting. If so the attempt needs quite a bit of refinement. However, the point is that perhaps Lechon in the Philippines done the way it is supposed to be done could be fantastic. Just not the way it is done in a food court in Singapore.
I want to know what good Lechon tastes like. So my point is perhaps this stall is not a proper representation of Lechon.
Or the poor Lechon I got was an anomaly of this stall. For some reason, this batch didn’t come out perfect. It happens to me too. I do all the same things (as far as I can tell), and the sio bak just doesn’t come out right sometimes. (I think I figured it out now. A full size oven is necessary for consistency.) It could be adjustment problems or just simple bad luck.
Whatever it is, I would have to try Lechon again from another stall. See if there is a better Lechon stall in Singapore.