Certainly, one of the many distinct icons associated with Cebu City is of course its famous lechon roasted to gastronomic perfection. At least once in a while it is quite rewarding to munch on something that is “sinful” to health. Locals would say tambal lang sa kaibog, which means to delight your cravings but not to overeat. Every lechon that can be found in the city is worth a taste test to check which is the best and the yummiest of them all. I tried two of the most popular lechon chains in the city and here’s what I experienced.
First Stop: Zubuchon
Most Cebuanos wouldn’t agree that this is the best tasting lechon in Cebu or even in the world as per Anthony Bourdain’s statement in his TV show No Reservations. To them this was just another overhyped resto to eat lechon.
In one of their branches along Escario Street, a walking distance from the Capitol, I had my first taste of their lechon and I was really impressed. Presentation-wise it was very appealing. As many chefs would agree, presentation is one component in food servicing since cooking is also an art. Most definitely you will “eat” with your eyes first before actually tasting the food.
Taste-wise, it was very good, juicy and the pig skin was consistently crunchy. Scrutinizing my lechon, I discovered that it has rosemary that was also mentioned by the resto owner in one of the travel review sites online. Good thing, it was less fatty. The taste of the meat was consistent all over with the right amount of saltiness. The skin has a crispy popped texture, showing that it was pricked before roasting.
As recommended by those who were able to dine here, their kamias shake is a definite must! I never expected this super sour fruit usually found in sinigang or paksiw to taste really good as a shake.
However, I was not quite satisfied with their mung bean soup even though it has some lechon strips in it, a little bit of coconut milk and aesthetically appealing. I was looking for something more, some kind of a kick and upfront yummy factor.
But overall, the dining experience was excellent, albeit the lechon they have is not your traditional kind of lechon. The crew was very attentive. And the pricing is reasonable. The dining area is neat and tidy and well-lighted. Separated by a clear unblemished glass wall, you can see from your table the crew slicing and preparing the lechon, an added attraction for diners.
Next Stop: CnT Lechon
Derived from the first letters of the owners’ names, Catherine, Norman and Tiffany, CnT is one of the popular litsunans for dining in and for pasalubong in Cebu City that is also often recommended by the locals. I went to one of its branches along Jose Briones St. fronting SM City Cebu that is located on the second floor of a parking complex.
It has a wide dining hall yet somewhat poorly lit. The place was not air conditioned but does have evaporative coolers. It’s also a self-service resto that is less classy but has a more familiar vibe to it. Although it was for the lechon that I went there, these features were something I sorely missed. I think the store needs a restaurant makeover or two to improve its total dining experience.
Presentation-wise: topsy-turvy, a little too bara-bara. The ladies who repeatedly chop the lechon must have been tired by the time I got my plate. The glass panel that separates the chopping area must be kept clean from the spatters of chopped lechon. Ordering food was a bit of a hassle as you need to get a number and wait to be called before your order can be taken. And there are separate counters for ordering rice and other viands, lechon, even your drinks.
The primary ingredient I tasted was star anise when I had my first bite. The skin was shiny and smooth and evenly crispy and the meat was juicy, well-cooked and has a good punch of flavor. It was very unfortunate though that there were still traces of crystalline salts that were overpowering the rib part. The serving was full of chopped bones too! Otherwise, it should have been very good.
Aside from lechon, CnT also serves traditional Filipino dishes including diniguan and sinigang.
Overall dining experience: good tasting lechon but not so good ambiance. Reasonably priced but the staff were less attentive. Should some improvements be done, I think that definitely it can compete well in the market.
Comparing the two, CnT is savory and traditionally authentic tasting while Zubuchon has a balanced taste with a progressive take on lechon. To put it differently, I would most likely eat at Zubuchon during the weekdays and then at CnT during weekends.
There are still many lechon places yet to be uncovered in Cebu. And as the locals say, some of the very best can simply be found along any ordinary corner around the city. But these two would have to suffice for now. I need to watch my cholesterol, lol!