Sunday, November 6, 2011

pigging out in cebu

Dizizit! Marketman's Zubuchon is the primary reason I went to Cebu on 10 October 2011. Really.

Because he said so.

I was astonished that the hotel concierge and the front office staff of Crowne Regency Cebu had no idea what Zubuchon was or where it was located. This is the most famous pig in the world we're talking about here-- endlessly touted and feted on the World Wide Web-- and they had never heard of it.

I knew that it was on Mango Avenue, which was a short walk from our hotel. So we just ambled along until I spotted the signboard with the happy red piglet.

The menu was only two pages long-- easy to peruse, easy to choose. As an avid reader of the restaurant owner's blog, Market Manila, I knew that each and every item was carefully tested and tweaked before being presented to the eating public.

We started with the iba or kamias shake, which the server very graciously split into two glasses when I mentioned that both Bunny Rabbit and I were looking forward to tasting it.

Iba Shake. Php70

Naturally, we had to have some lechon, but I wanted a smallish portion so that we could order other things.

Zubuchon Fast Meal, served with rice and pickles. Php130

The skin was fantastic, shatteringly crispy and very flavorful. I can understand why some diners a while ago wanted to order a kilo of just the skin. But the meat is the true test of a great lechon. Zubuchon's is bursting with porky goodness. It was chopped to order and served warm and moist, salted just right, and the herbs and spices permeated every morsel. And I could tell that they didn't use MSG.

(A word about MSG. Some people think that it's unhealthy, but I honestly don't care about that. What I'm ultimately concerned about is taste, and I believe that MSG tends to mask or alter the NATURAL taste of food, not enhance it, and that I can't abide.)

Lechon, by the way, is a whole pig cooked over charcoal. It's eviscerated and then skewered with a bamboo stick through its mouth and out its butthole, and masterfully spun for hours and hours on a sort of rotisserie, resulting in a crisp outside and a self-basted inside. To say that a lechon is a mere "roasted pig" is not entirely accurate.

Bunny Rabbit wanted to try the dinuguan.

Lechon Dinuguan Fast Meal, served with rice and pickles. Php90
This pork blood stew made with lechon bits and chicharon was just OK. Not something I would fly out for, although I enjoyed the addition of coconut milk which made a rich, smooth sauce. But it didn't seem to have enough offal-- ears, snout, heart, lungs, kidneys and/or intestines. It just wasn't nasty enough.

Besides lechon, I wanted some sisig, and to make myself feel better about eating so much pork in one meal, I opted to have sisig stuffed inside seafood.

Squid Stuffed With Lechon Sisig. Php330

This dish was really nice! I was happily surprised. People are always trying to stuff squid with all sorts of garbage, but the lechon sisig and green onions worked very well. Plus the squid was perfectly cooked, with hints of smokiness, and not rubbery at all. Mmm... my mouth is watering as I write this.

The chiller contained so many take-home goodies that I would have loved to try, like the pure leaf lard, adobo and paksiw, but I guess I was too porked out by the end of our meal, so I didn't buy anything. The same items are being sold at the Mactan International Airport.  

Pork, pork and more pork.

If I had a restaurant, I would want it to be like Zubuchon-- where all the furniture and tableware match, where the condiments line up perfectly, where the decor is clean and tidy, where the tax and service charge are incorporated into the menu prices, where I can fully enjoy my food in a casual but professional setting. In short, Zubuchon is my dream restaurant.

The chili oil and spiced vinegar went very well with the lechon.

I adored the Zubuchon staff. They were attentive, quick, detail-oriented, knowledgeable and oh-so-quiet. No yelling, no gossiping, no unnecessary socialising. I can't remember the last time I had such competent service in a restaurant in the Philippines. The level of service reminded me of what I had experienced at L'Atelier de Robuchon in Hong Kong, and that's the truth. 

The fresh flowers on the counter were an unexpected but delightful touch.

Because everything was so neat and orderly, seeing their business card like this was a bit jarring.

What's with the correction fluid and the uneven text?

Verdict: Technically, what Anthony Bourdain anointed the "best pig ever" in 2008 was NOT Zubuchon. Zubuchon was born after the demand for the lechon that Tony ate skyrocketed, giving birth to what was in the beginning a cook-to-order backyard business, and now culminating in two specialty restaurants.

Zubuchon's lechon is very, very good. I would immediately recommend it to anyone. Would I say that it's the best pig ever? I don't think so, not yet. But that's only because I feel that I still have a long way to go and a lot of lechon to taste before I can make a personal declaration like that. In the meantime, Zubuchon has become my gold standard. In terms of taste, it is on equal footing with my beloved Aklan lechon, which I blogged about here, but more consistent in terms of quality.

As a restaurant, though, I worry that there's too much pork in Zubuchon's menu. Of course, it's supposed to be about all things lechon, but it is somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps if I were staying in Cebu for a couple weeks, I could sit down at Zubuchon every other day and thoroughly appreciate the dishes one at a time. Having three lechon-related viands in one meal made me hanker for a green salad. 

Zubuchon is located at One Mango Mall on Mango Avenue, Cebu City, Philippines. Phone +63.32.2395697. They're open everyday from 7AM until 11PM. We had an early dinner at 530PM and the place was still empty, but by the time we left at 7PM, they were entertaining a steady stream of customers.


  1. Bunny rabbit has great taste, I remember how much I enjoyed the dinuguan at Bob Marlin in Naga city.

  2. Bob Marlin, a reggae bar and restaurant in Naga City where the specialty is blue marlin. What's not to love?

  3. I'm so excited about my upcoming visit to Cebu, lechon at Zubuchon was added to the must do category shortly after I first read your mouthwatering blog entry almost a year ago.