The Bohol Lechon

I got a pig roasted. A roasted suckling pig is called ‘Lechon.’ This is how it’s often done on our island Bohol. Just backyard roasting. Our butcher Yokyok and his assistant Noel do everything, from slaughter to roasting. Normally, a small pig or weanling is best for roasting, from 15 to 25 kg. 40 kg is also OK. But that wasn’t available. So this is what I got, a 54 kilogram pig. As of now, live roasting pig costs 130-150 pesos per kg (US$2.50-US$3.00), and can get up to 160-180 pesos/kg (US$3.50) during peak season (such as fiesta and school graduation). This one was 140/kg so that’s 7,560 pesos (US$148). The smaller the roasting pig, the more expensive the live weight. Yokyok charges 500 to 800 pesos (US$9-15) for slaughter and roasting. If you order a roasted pig, this size would cost about 9,000 pesos (US$177). It is delivered to your house ready to eat.

Prices may be different in other provinces in the Philippines.

Because this pig is quite heavy, Yokyok needed to make sure the pig is secure. The pig is tied to the metal spit from the inside of the pig (traditionally, people used a straight bamboo spit). The spit Yokyok uses is just a G.I. pipe, about 8 feet long, with a handle attached to one end for manually rotating the pig. There are kits specially for pig roasting, including an electric motor, but we don’t have those. This is the simplest and most primitive but effective for us.

To secure the pig to the spit, it is tied via its spinal column and ribs (shown in photos). Raffia twine is used. To do this, a rib is removed on each side (not sure if that’s obvious in the photos). Legs are also tied to the spit. Seasoning is prepared and rubbed all over the pig, inside and out. If the pig has way too much fat, sometimes the butcher will remove some fat. I think it is more difficult to roast an overly fat pig. Pig is also stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, onion, onion leaves, chopped lemon, fermented black beans. Then the belly of the pig is stitched up really tightly. Notice how sexy the pig is! This process is crucial to ensure the pig will not fall apart or move when it is rotated. Especially a pig this size. Yokyok has roasted a pig of 115 kg! It was not easy and not really recommended! The smaller, the easier and better for everybody.

Anyway, the roasting took 3 hours. During the last hour, a piece of cotton cloth dipped in coconut oil is rubbed all over the skin of the pig to crisp up the skin. After 3 hours, the pig was perfectly cooked all the way through. Awesome flavour, soft meat, and remarkable crispy skin! The skin remained crisp even after the lechon has cooled! Amazing!!

There are regional variations, but here, the seasoning usually consists of: lemongrass, garlic, onion, onion leaves, chopped lemon, fermented black beans, salt, soy sauce, black peppercorns, salt. The most important aromas that enhanced the pork are from the garlic, lemongrass, black peppercorns and lemon.We are still under COVID-19 Community Quarantine. So we cut this up and packed in lunch boxes with pork blood stew, vermicelli and egg noodles and steamed pork buns and distributed to people. Normally we would have a party at home. Still, everyone in the village had lots to eat!

Local Government Help During COVID-19 Lockdown

Distribution of COVID-19 relief packages to residents of San Roque, Baclayon. Quite well-organised, each Purok (or “Ward” in English) is assigned a specific time for pick-up of their packages. One package per household. This is the third instance I have witnessed in our Barangay since March, coming from Barangay, Municipal and Provincial government. The first consisted of 5 kg rice and 4 tins of food. The second was a cash grant of 500 pesos. The third, 5kg rice, a pack of mung beans, 1kg cuts of frozen chicken, vermicelli noodles, and tinned foods.

Since March 16, 2020, the country has been under a state of calamity which brings into effect, for six months, the following: price control of basic needs and commodities, granting interest-free loans, distribution of calamity funds, authorization of importation and receipt of donations, and hazard allowance for public health workers and government personnel in the fields of science and technology.

Community Quarantine: Visit to our Public Market

The Dry Goods area of Baclayon Public Market

9AM, Monday, Baclayon Public Market. This is probably just about a kilometer walk from home. With my Quarantine Pass, wearing mandatory face mask. Dry goods available all days and most times, while wet market goods have display times (always fresh). Livestock are available only on Market Day.

I got some veggies, fruits, ‘panakot’ (saute vegetables like garlic and onion), mais rice (corn grits, for an experiment on making fried breads), squid (the thin pink ones, 180 pesos per kilo), vinegar and sugar (for making pickled green papaya), St Francis Bread, hopia, a faucet (the one in the kitchen might give up at any time), paint thinner and brushes (I still have to finish painting the bathroom), bleach, cheap second hand cooking oil (for a DIY wood floor polish recipe), and fresh Ramen and dry noodles.

The last time I went was 2 weeks ago, at 1PM, hot day so there was less people. I like going at odd times. Market Day for Baclayon is Wednesday.

After 14-Day Quarantine…

Plaza Rizal in Tagbilaran City up ahead.

March 25, 2020 – After our 14-day self-quarantine, I finally managed to go to the big city of Tagbilaran. We often go there to get items not available in our Municipality. These would be such things as German whole wheat bread (only white bread is available locally), cheese (real cheese, not “processed cheese”), milk (fresh milk, not powdered and fortified milk), butter (margarine is often what’s locally available), and that beef I’ve been so long wanting to get my hands on. The fresh vegetables and fruits are available in the local public market. Fresh pork and fish are also available in the public markets on certain days and hours.

I booked a tricycle to bring me to Tagbilaran City and back. We often use a tricycle for transport and I’ve been saving the driver’s names and mobile numbers over the past several months. It can be a very difficult getting transport where we live, especially in an emergency. Usually, we walk about half a kilometer to the highway where public utility jeepneys are available. But it isn’t easy these days with the entire island is on enhanced community quarantine and social distancing imposed. This means only 8 passengers in a jeepney instead of the usual 16 (or more!), and only 1 passenger in tricycles. No more ‘habal-habal’ (a popular local transport – back ride on motorcycles) for now.

When I arrived at 8:30AM, Tagbilaran’s streets were quite deserted, few people and vehicles. A few businesses still open. Cyber cafes are closed, some restaurants are closed. People 65 years old and above, below 18, are not allowed out unless absolutely necessary (i.e. medical, emergency etc). Barangay officials (local council or district) will soon be handing out Quarantine Passes.

I wore a mask. In Bohol, everyone is required to wear a mask when going out in public. I also wore simple, easy to wash clothes and tied up my hair. When I got home, I washed my clothes and had a bath before touching anything… And while I was at it, I decided to clean the bathroom as well … 😉

COVID-19 Case Update as of May 6, 2020 from the Philippine Department of Health

Food Security in a Small Village

April 7, 2020 in San Roque, Baclayon, Bohol —- We finally did it! Our butcher Yokyok and his assistant Noel came at 7 in the morning. This was Jenny’s pig. Jenny is our next-next-door neighbour. I bought her pig and asked Yokyok and Noel to butcher. I took the meat we need and shared the rest with people in our village. It is very good meat, amazing red colour because Jenny fed the pig banana stalks, scrap fruits and vegetables from the market, kangkong, kamote leaves, and various forage.

I gave the pig’s head, blood and internal organs to Penny. She used those to make a fantastic blood stew for sharing with neighbours. Her husband, Bebe, cooked the head into cracklings, soup and other such things and shared as well. I asked Noel to share meat with people up the hill. Plenty of people, uphill and downhill, benefited from one pig. Imagine so much meat from just one pig. Although our village is transitioning to urban ways, I hope that we will never be prevented from raising our own food. Having a pig or goat, chickens, ducks or a cow should continue to be a way of life here. For us, this is better than buying food from Magnolia or Ligo or Purefoods or San Miguel. Money spent on buying our food stays within our community instead of going to someone who doesn’t know or care about the way we live. Why buy from a big company just so their CEO can go yachting or buy another ski resort?

This is more fun too. Today was also like fiesta except that there was social distancing and Penny and Noel wore a mask when they distributed the meat and meals. Well, this is the closest we can get to fiesta since all fiesta celebration is cancelled now.

Jenny is not rich. There are 3 families in their little un-finished house, there are 9 children in total and a new baby coming next month. The men in the family are small-scale fishermen. But Jenny can raise pigs in their backyard, feed them vegetable and fruit scraps from the market and forage from the surroundings. She still has 2 more pigs. They were intended for sale during fiesta when demand is high. But there will be no fiesta because of COVID-19.

Backyard pig raisers are having a hard time for several years and now COVID-19 has made things worse. Fiesta celebrations are cancelled because of COVID-19. No more school graduation parties either. In both, pork and roast suckling pig are mandatory. So pig raisers are stuck with fatteners that should be ready for slaughter in March-May. Also, the live weight price has gone down 90 pesos/1.78US$ per kilo from the usual peak season price of 130 pesos/2.57US$ per kilo. The price of pork remains high at 240 pesos/4.75US$ per kilo. So buying the whole pig is actually cheaper.

But Jenny’s system is a closed-loop that benefits her and the people around her. It is efficient, low-cost and nothing goes to waste. It may not be pastured pigs but it is a far cry from factory food. The pigpens are homemade from wood gathered from the hills. The butcher slaughters in situ so the pig is not subjected to the stress of transport. The pig is slaughtered very quickly, there is no squealing. The backyard plants are mostly banana, taro, kangkong, sweet potato, coconut. All these plants are human edible, animal edible, and the non human edible parts of the plants, such as banana trunks and leaves are fed to the pigs. The pigs were purchased as weanlings from a more rural municipality 2 hours away where they are cheaper. Transport of pigs are limited now because of COVID-19 (and ASF). There are local breeders (like us) but we are more expensive because we are closer to the city (only 8 kms to heart of the city). I sell piglets at prevailing price but add more value by selling fully weaned piglets weighing 15-25kg, free consultation and medicine if piglets get sick or need castrating (we offer free castrating if buyer wants to castrate).

Our piglets cost 2,800 pesos/55.56 USD and the cheaper piglets cost 1,200 pesos/23.81 USD. While ours weigh a minimum of 15kg, the cheaper piglets weigh a minimum of 8kg.

I know the pigs are kept in not very ideal conditions. This is a low income family with small space (about 500 sq meters). Men in this family are small-time fisherfolk and they don’t even own their boats. Land rights and ownership is an issue in places like ours because of the drastic policies made during many colonial periods (from16th century to early 20th century), taking vast tracts of land away from people. Our own property is not so big either (only about 2000 square meters). There are larger parcels of land around us that are being converted from agricultural to residential and being subdivided. City life is quickly creeping up on us. But I am documenting how important it is that we remain able to raise our own food and make the case to local government before it is too late.

Life of urban poor is much worse because they can’t grow or raise their own food. This is luxury compared to urban poor.

Nonetheless, most backyard pigs kept here are friendly. They are not afraid of approaching strangers. This means they are well looked after by the family.

I also try to encourage people to give their pigs more space, allow the pigs to socialise, and express their natural behaviours. Our backyard farm serves as example when people come and visit. But I also continue to yearn for more space to pasture some (native) pigs. I hope in the near future.