I think it was some time in 2008 when the late, great Anthony Bourdain came to the Philippines to shoot an episode of his TV show “No Reservations” because some Filipino dipsquat scammed Bourdain into thinking he (the dipsquat) actually knew what Filipino cuisine was all about.
So Bourdain flew the dipsquat to the Philippines, thinking he would have a great introduction to Filipino cuisine.
It turned out that dipsquat didn’t know Jack Schitt, so Bourdain had to tap his resources to find someone who actually knew Jack.
Unfortunately, the first “resource” Bourdain tapped was another dipsquat who was probably stoned out of his gourd and took Bourdain to all the wrong places.
The dipsquat took Bourdain to Chinatown for pancit malabon.
Why Chinatown when the municipality of Malabon is less than an hour’s drive away?
The dipsquat also made Bourdain taste adobong hipon (shrimp cooked adobo-style), so he was understandably pretty disappointed.
I mean, a world-renowned chef wants to taste adobo and you make him taste a version that’s rarely served anywhere? Shrimp adobo?
What the f**k were you thinking, boy?
At any rate, Bourdain was pretty lucky in that he was able to get in touch with Marketman, a gourmet who writes perhaps the best and most knowledgeable food blog in the Philippines, resulting in Bourdain ending his episode with what he said was the “best pig ever!”
The lechon Bourdain was served came to be known as “Zubuchon” when Marketman started selling it roughly a year later.
In 2011, Marketman opened a full-service restaurant in Cebu that featured a whole lot of Filipino dishes, but with the lechon still the main attraction.
My mom visited Cebu recently and wanted lechon, so I took her to Zubuchon. We were able to get a table right away, and our server was very attentive and helpful.
We started out with sinuglaw, a ceviche-like dish with fish, chopped lechon, onions, and tomatoes.
It’s pretty good, but I think the cook put too much onion in my order. I wasn’t able to ask the server or cook what fish they used, but I guess it was tanguigue (Spanish mackerel).
My mom ordered crab relleno (stuffed crab), but after one bite, she decided not to finish it. Obviously, she didn’t like it, but that’s not to say the relleno wasn’t good.
I don’t eat crab, so I wouldn’t know if it was really good or not. I trust my mom, though, and because she’s a pretty good cook, she does have her standards.
She’s also objective enough to know that every cook does things differently.
I’ve always loved lumpia, the Chinese-inspired spring roll Filipinos love so much.
I ordered Zubuchon’s ubod (heart-of-palm) and lechon lumpia, which was a deep-fried spring roll containing heart-of-palm and slivers of tasty lechon (for followers of The Bureau who are based in Vietnam, the fried lumpia is a lot like cha gio, while the non-fried lumpia is kind of like goi cuon, but with different fillings).
It’s the best lumpiang ubod I’ve ever tasted, and I now have a new go-to place for lumpiang ubod.
Finally, the lechon.
Yes, it’s still good. I don’t know if it really is the “best pig ever” but it’s up there on my top three list, all right.
Just to make things clear, it’s not the typical Cebuano lechon.
Many Cebuanos feel that Zubuchon is too gourmet (people say Zubuchon uses a lot of herbs and spices that Filipino cooks rarely use) to be considered real “Cebu” lechon, but Market Man has never claimed it to be.
It’s just his version of the roast pig that everybody loves so much.
Everything was okay up to this point.
Unfortunately, when my order came, the lechon was cold. Not cold-cold like it just came from the refrigerator, but cold like it was set aside and somebody totally forgot all about it. We’re talking somewhere around room temperature.
It was still tasty, and lucky for me, my rice was still pretty hot, so I just put the lechon on top of the steaming rice to heat it up a bit. I would have made a big fuss out of it, but I was already pretty hungry, so I just let it pass.
All things considered, a visit to Zubuchon is worth it, if only to say you’ve tasted the lechon Anthony Bourdain raved about.
But Zubuchon isn’t really just about the lechon.
They’ve got a bunch of other dishes you should taste, like the ubod and lechon lumpia, the dinuguan (pork blood stew), and the mongo bean soup.
Who knows, like Bourdain, you might find something that in your opinion is the “best ever!”
The winner is still the lechon
Loving the ubod and lechon lumpia
Not getting why the lechon was served cold
Words & Photos by Jigs Arquiza
Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood
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Years ago, the late, great Anthony Bourdain had a taste of what was to be Zubuchon. He said it was the “best pig ever!” Was it really? Is it, still? Find out soon at TheBureauAsia.com! @zubuchon @thebureauasia #anthonybourdain #bestpigever #morethanjustlechon #filipinofood #filipinocuisine #lechon #roastpig #pig