BANGKOK, Thailand — What do you get when you add Spanish colonists and Chinese settlers to an island population that already raises swine? A stew of cultures with sublime pork skills.
The Philippines' national dish is lechon, a spit-roasted, suckling pig. And for good reason: it bears the influences of the nation's kaleidoscope of cultural and culinary influences. Lechon is practically mandatory at festive New Year's gatherings, where piglets are lovingly laid out so that revelers can admire their skin, darkened by soy sauce and charcoal flames.
Lechon is pork perfected: the smoky meat is flavored with garlic and lemongrass stuffed inside the pig, the skin is caramelized into a stiff, candied sheet. This is a special occasion food, not your everyday lunch, and Filipinos make lechon the exalted centerpiece of New Year's party feasts.
Sure, there are other Filipino traditions surrounding New Year's celebrations: tossing firecrackers, clanging pots to chase off malicious spirits, stuffing your wallet with cash to boost prosperity. But nothing can compete with the immaculate pleasures of lechon.
One suckling pig
Sprite or 7-Up (Optional)
Slaughter pig, remove innards, scrape off prickly hairs. Rub salt and pepper on the insides and outsides. Rub skin with soy sauce. Stuff belly with garlic, bananas, lemongrass, anise, taro. Stitch up the belly. Using bamboo stave, skewer the pig. Over a bed of burning charcoal, rotate the pig for several hours. Occasionally glaze skin with sponge soaked in Sprite or 7-Up. Remove when skin is uniformly crisp.