I’m Filipino, do I smell like pork?

Feature Story: Margaux S. Camaya

WHILE digging into my bowl of steaming Lechon Arroz Caldo from a local Cebuano restaurant, the thought of Filipinos smelling like pork crept into my mind. For the majority of Pinoys, pork is a consistent table choice. Pork meat is flexible in its taste and can adapt to any seasoning or flavor that you add to it.

We have more than a hundred and one ways of cooking it. Whether it’s barbecue, stir-fried, sinigang, nilaga, sisig, adobo, or siomai. I can go on and on with the variety of Pinoy dishes that showcase the versatility of this meat.

For most Filipinos, our meal is not complete without it. I even observed a married couple in a salad restaurant, clandestinely sneak bites from their package of chicharon while partaking their “healthy” bowl of veggies.

For the curious, you might ask where the word “pork” comes from. The French gave us “porc,” which came from the Latin “porcinus.” It was Anglicized to “pork” when the Normans invaded England in 1066.

What’s the National Smell?

I heard someone say before that you smell like what you eat. So if you eat a lot of fish, does it mean you’ll smell fishy or if beef is your daily diet, you’ll be beefy?

I even asked an American guest what we smell like but she couldn’t put a finger on it or maybe she was just too polite to tell me.

There should be a petition to construct a monument in every town plaza to honor our ongoing devotion with that four-legged creature that provides us so much food satisfaction.

It’s part of our DNA. Even our ancestors were enamored with the pig. I calculated that in a year, an average Pinoy omnivore would consume about 30 to 60 kilos of pork. That’s about the size of a whole pig!

In the travel journal of Italian chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, when they landed in the Philippine islands, the locals prepared a meal of pig flesh and meat cooked over wood fire. The Europeans were enticed to eat lechon even though it was Holy Week, the Catholic period of fasting.

Other Pacific Islanders roast their pig by creating a pit, burying it with hot coals or wood on top of it. As always, Filipinos tend to do things differently.

Wouldn’t it be weird that after reading this article, you might start sniffing yourself to check if you do smell like pork?

It’s like a badge of honor that we Filipinos should be proud of.

Our Love Affair with Pork

I, sometimes, dread grocery shopping because of the numerous options that face me when choosing the different cuts of pork there is: ground pork, chops, ribs, belly, pata…

Like what we, Pinoys, do with the chicken, every part of a pig is put to good use. The cheeks and ears are made into the Kapampangan sizzling dish, Sisig. Other regions have adapted this dish and tweaked its recipe by using ingredients available to them.

The intestines are thoroughly cleaned, boiled, and then deep-fried to produce chicharon bulaklak which goes well with beer. It can also be grilled to make the popular street food, Isaw.

Even the pig’s stomach is chopped in pieces and fried to produce the dish called ‘bituka’; which my Dad would buy from a kiosk at the mall and munch on while waiting for my Mom to finish with her shopping. I don’t see this particular snack in any of the Cebuano restaurants I’ve been to.

Pig’s blood is the main ingredient of Dinuguan or blood stew which also contains internal organs like the liver. When I was younger and vacationing in Pampanga, I didn’t like eating this dish but as my taste buds improved with age, I actively seek out Dinuguan whenever I can. But I’m still a little choosy when it comes to where to get Dinuguan. I prefer the ones in which the stew has a thicker texture and importantly, no aftertaste.

Yes, the perfect pairing of Dinuguan is Puto (steamed rice cake); the sweetness of the Puto balances the earthiness of the Dinuguan.

In Southern Luzon, pork is one of the main ingredients for Bicol Express or also known as Binagoongan. The spiciness of the dish which has lots and lots of lada (Bicolano word for the green or red finger chilies) and the pork fat would make one eat a whole bandehado (platter) of rice.

This is one dish that I always request from my Mom to prepare whenever I go home since she’s Bicolana.

The islands of the Visayas and Mindanao also have their own version of surf and turf which is Sinuglaw. It’s a combination of Kinilaw (fresh fish cooked in vinegar) and fried pork. To enhance the flavor, they add a little coconut milk.

I’ve even read in Chef Claude Tayag’s book, Linamnam, that Cagayan de Oro loves Sinuglaw so much that they have a festival to honor it.

The best lechon has been synonymous with Cebu. And after living here for more than a decade, I have developed quite a sophisticated palate for it.

In some instances, I can differentiate in which place the lechon comes from. Cebuano lechon is all about the herbs and spices that they put inside the pig. Their most valuable ingredient is lemon grass which Cebuanos love to use.

Last but not the least, the part of the pig that I most enjoy eating is the pata (leg, knuckles or pig trotters). Depending on where and who cooks it, the pata is boiled until tender and then marinated, deep-fried to golden goodness on the outside, juicy meat on the inside. Crispy pata is life! The same procedure is done with lechon kawali or the Ilocanos’ Bagnet.

Which pork dish is your favorite?

Some might not agree with what I wrote but how can you resist the wonderful world of pork.

I am Filipino and I do smell like pork.

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