I'm Filipino, Do I smell like Pork? Our Love Affair with Pork

Lechon de Cebu from Park Lane's Manuel's

While digging into my bowl of steaming Lechon Arroz Caldo from Zubuchon, the thought of Filipinos smelling like pork crept into my mind. For the majority of Pinoys, pork is a consistent table choice. 

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

Arroz Caldo el Cedo topped with chicharon from Zubuchon

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 known as pork/swine/pig or simply baboy.

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 80 to 100 kilos of pork. That's about the size of two whole pigs!

Grilled Belly with Java Rice from Everything Yummy

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.

The national scent could also depend on where you are located. When I go to downtown Cebu or Quiapo, there's a musty-kind of scent in the air that reminds me of old books and cabinet-kept beddings.

I remembered an article that historian Ambeth Ocampo wrote about the Filipino smell. He was going through the memoirs of an American who lived in the Philippines during the early 20th Century and there was a passage about a distinct Filipino smell.

Crunchy pork skin

I spent much of my childhood in the 1980s, whenever we wanted Imported goods, we either had to go to a PX store or wait for a balikbayan relative to come and visit.

Pasalubong from the United States was the best because of that particular smell that permeates when you open a balikbayan box or suitcase. 

I can't describe it. It's like a combination of fabric softener and airplane cargo smell. But when you have a sniff of it the only thing that comes to your mind is " Amoy- Imported!".

When I traveled to the U.S. a few years ago, I was expecting to have a whiff of that scent; that childhood memory lingers in my mind. But that smell eluded me the entire time I was there.

And when I went back to the Philippines, I asked my housemate if my things had that Amoy-Tate smell and she did confirm that there was.

There was one instance when our Tataw (Grandpa) was still alive and he was on his way home to the Philippines when he had to ship via door-to-door his balikbayan boxes because he exceeded his allotted baggage weight. 

He forgot that he was bringing home garlic from my Uncle's garden (he wanted to show-off the size of the garlic) but it rotted along the way; we ended up eating garlic-flavored chocolates and even the pair of sneakers that he bought for me smelled like garlic.

It would have been a different matter if instead of garlic, it was bacon scent. That would have been heaven for my olfactory senses.

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...too many decisions, too small stomach.

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. 

Etta's Sisig

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. I've eaten tons of these fried and grilled innards. I can recommend Manggahan in Lahug, KKD STK+BBQ, Baguio Craft Brewery, Mooon Cafe, and Hukad.

Pork Fritters or Bulaklak from Baguio Craft Brewery

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 food in any of the Cebuano restaurants I've been to. 

Mang Larry's Isaw and Bituka

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 from Zubuchon, Goldilocks, Ettas, and Golden Cowrie. Their stews have a thicker texture and there's no aftertaste.

Dinuguan with Chicharon from Zubuchon 

Yes, the perfect pairing is with Puto (steamed rice cake); the sweetness of the Puto balances the savoriness of the Dinuguan. I prefer Dinuguan that has a thicker consistency.

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.

Homemade Bicol Express

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.

Sinuglaw from KKD STK Restaurant

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.

Lechon de Cebu from Zubuchon

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.

When in Cebu, try out the following restaurants for the most scrumptious Crispy Pata: Alejandro's, KKD STK+BBQ, Kuya Jay's, and Chikaan

Crispy Pata by KKD STK Restaurant in Cebu

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

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

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.