Lechon degustacion… my mouth watered as I read the email invite from Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort for lunch. Lechon Diva… read the second part of the invite. Who in his right mind would refuse such an invitation? First, a lechon degustacion doesn’t always happen. Having such a distinguished event presided by the Lechon Diva herself, Ms Dedet dela Fuente of Pepita’s Kitchen, is something that you should accept.
Cebu is lechon country. It is known as having the best roast pig in the Philippines. And when I was reading that email, one thing that crossed my mind was: Why? Why bring in an outsider? It’s not that we are a bit protective. As Ms Dedet told us, she was having qualms that of all places, she will be serving Cebuanos in their turf. But also, why not? I think that trying different takes on the lechon can enrich the Cebuano way of making this highly respected pig dish. Look at how the debate on the entrance of Zubuchon has sent fireworks at both sides of the fence, and probably made Cebuanos mindful of what makes our lechon unique. Albeit, many Cebuanos I know have resisted claims that it is Cebu’s best lechon.
On the other hand, Ms Dedet has made a headlines for her Pepita’s Kitchen. Lechon done in different ways, but usually with a variety of filling. It can be truffle rice or bagoong rice, or a myriad ways of using different ingredients. Her degustacion dinners are well received and her level of creativity in presenting Filipino food or twists on the traditional cuisine has garnered her several distinctions in Singapore and London where her lechon degustacion has also been showcased.
For Bluewater Resorts, one of her lechon degustacion is the Hayop sa Sarap na Degustacion which brings in some of her creative dishes from different menus she has prepared and includes those that were recognized in London and by the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Best Dessert List.
The lechon degustacion lunch
We were gathered at the airconditioned dining area of Bluewater Maribago. After several weeks of raring to have multi course dining, my wishes were answered with this lechon degustacion. With the help of Bluewater Resorts’s skilled chefs, Plate #1 went to our tables.
Gayuma ni Pepita, calamansi juice with local liquor set the tone. Curiously served pink cotton candy in a glass, one has to pour the juice cum liquor over the sweet confection, melting the spun sugar. It was fancy, it was playful and bold as well as creative.
This was then followed with Pica Pica ng Pepitas, a selection of finger foods. There was Lucban kiping with squid ink aoili and tarlac dilis for that crunch. The balut salpicao on cracker was something kind of unusual but flavorful. It was also a good way of presenting balut in a palatable way. Lastly, lechon scone with Mr Thomas butter. Ms Dedet creatively combined the Tagalog’s penchant for eating lechon with the Mang Tomas liver sauce.
The Nata de Achara Salad was interesting for the vinegary taste of its nata de coco which is usually sweet and the added corniks which was unusual considering its more of a stand alone snack. Overall, a rather curious dish that was more a play of textures and combinations of sour, sweet and salty flavors. Not sure though if it fits the whole ensemble.
The Bicol Express, a medley of noodle with pork cooked in coconut milk and green chilies and serve on halved coconut shell brings out the sweet-chili-gata flavor that we all love with this traditional dish but with noodles. The spicyness was bearable, considering Cebuanos are not as spicy friendly as Bicolanos. But it was good.
Surprise dish and more
Not listed in the menu was the so called surprise dish that Ms Dedet named Hiplog, a portmanteau of hipon and itlog, shrimp and egg in Filipino, respectively. And what a surprise! Beautifully plated in half of a shell with pebbles, it’s shrimps with salted egg sauce. Yes, SALTED EGG sauce. Love the texture, love the taste. Unfortunately, like the Sipit Sarap, the following dish, crab claw in gulong-gulong sauce, was small and bitin, wanting. For such a delicious piece of seafood, she should have served more of it. But then, this was a multicourse lunch and the main stars were still to come.
I don’t really eat brains. Especially if its visible. But thank goodness, it was mixed well with the next dish, Heavenly Sisig. Served on top of petals of sweet potato chips, it was creamy (thanx to the brain). The so called Palate Cleanser followed. Locally, we call these two ice candy but unusually in ginger and calamansi flavors. I think it was a fitting intermission to the bold and full flavors that were served before hand. Although in small plates, it did start to fill our tummies.
The main stars
After surviving the eight dishes that came our way, it was now time for the awaited stars. I thought there was only one kind of lechon but I was wrong. Pepita’s Lechon de Leche, came in two variants: truffle rice stuffed lechon de leche with divalicious labuyo sauce, menu notes mentioned that this was awarded in London as Tastiest Dish in Asia in the Chowzter fast feasts awards in 2014. The garlic, chilies and herb stuffed lechon de leche served with baked head of garlic in olive oil and steamed potatoes. The first suckling pig dish was sumptuous. I love the truffle rice that resembled more of a risotto and the piquant labuyo sauce, yes, bird’s eye chili peppers, one of the most fiery pepper in the country.
The second was also good, especially if you eat it with the soft clove of garlic pressed into the potatoes. The skin was perfect, the meat flavorful. It was a symphony of flavors as you process a fork full. But it was actually more than I can chew that I wasn’t able to finish the second lechon de leche dish as I was getting full and there were still two more to go.
Last two dishes
It was a sigh of relief as I checked the menu and found there were two more dishes before this lechon degustacion is done. You can consider these two as desserts. The first one is called the cholesterol sweeper, a much needed followup to the heavy leche de leche dishes. It was a rice based semi sweet flan, if you can call it a flan. For the dessert proper, there were three kinds: super suman, which was in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Best Desserts List 2012, guinataang brulee, a different but welcome take on the creme brulee and the buko pandan macaroon. Of these, I like the guinataang brulee better than the other desserts.
And now, it has come to this. Pepita’s Kitchen’s lechon degustacion was a sumptuous multicourse lunch. One of the best that I have partaken. The number of dishes was quite many. The degree of creativity was great. There were memorable ones like the hiplog which was just so good. Or the balut salpicao which I liked. Although I am not sure if the nata de achara belongs in this ensemble, it was interesting to taste a different kind of salad. The sipit sarap was also good although bitin.
What about the stuffed lechon de leche? Yes. It is darn good: the flavors, the taste. The truffle rice was perfect and so was the labuyo sauce. It’s one of the best lechon dishes out there and is good to indulge once in a while. If you have the opportunity, please grab it. You won’t be disappointed. One Cebuano food writer even exclaimed that Cebu lechon has met it’s match. But, while savoring the last forkful of the second lechon de leche dish, I already made up my mind. Nothing beats a good traditional Cebuano lechon. Hands down.
Thanx to Bluewater Resorts for the invite to try this lechon degustacion by Pepita’s Kitchen. They are currently offering it in their three great resorts: Bluewater Maribago Beach and Resort, Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort, and Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort every Saturday lunch till 30 December2017.
For more details or reservations, call Bluewater Maribago at 402 4100 or
email firstname.lastname@example.org. For room packages and other
promotions, you may also visit www.bluewater.com.ph