Continuing our great southeast Asian pork tour (previous stops have included Kuala Lumpur, northern Thailand, and northern Sumatra) here on EatingAsia, we touch down in Manila. As a reader commented on our last post, pork is king in the Philippines - perhaps even more so, I would add, than in northern Thailand. Not much strolling is done on the streets of the Philippine capital, but if one were to hoof it around Manila one could count on at least one whole roast pig sighting a day.
Lydia is legend in Baclaran, a Manila neighborhood fronting the Bay that's home to Seaside, a small but fantastic seafood market, and a Redemptorist church that sees heightened activity on Wednesdays, when devotees of Our Lady of Perpetual Help crowd into the church for mass and leave offerings at and worship at the saint's statue outside.
Lydia is Baclaran's lechon (roasted pork) queen. Born and raised in the neighborhood, she opened a lechon stand when she was fifteen years old (she's now 60). Word of her delicious lechon spread well beyond Baclaran, sales grew year-by-year, and about two decades ago she opened a lechon restaurant a stone's throw from seaside. She now owns a hog (and fighting cock) farm in Batangas and supplies lechon to most of Manila's five-star hotels.
We caught up with globetrotting Lydia at the restaurant. She'd just returned from a sojourn in LA. Business is good, very good. Lydia spoke with enthusiasm of the shopping on Rodeo Drive.
Lydia's is a simple, open-air affair with walls painted in sunshine yellow, colorful formica-top tables and, a bit bizarrely, many photos of cute little piggies.
It's a fine place for a brunch of juicy, tender, porcine-ful pork with a crispy, laquered skin and just the right amount of fat. Alongside, a plate of steamed rice and an intriguing pork broth soured up with tamarind - light and bright and a good complement to the pork.
Pig is, obviously, the focus here, but the display at the back groaning with other dishes deserves a once-over. On our way in we passed a couple splitting a bountiful golden-riced paella studded with shellfish and chicken. Not wanting to detract from the lechon we stuck with simpler dishes: a grilled squid stuffed with tomato, onion, and ginger (skillfully cooked, almost fork tender - excepting the crunchy, crackly tentacles - and very smoky), served with a soy and vinegar-based sawsawan (dipping sauce),
and laing, a Bicolano dish of taro leaves simmered in coconut milk. Lydia's version included pumpkin or winter squash. A bit rich, perhaps, to accompany a plate of pig and fat, but tasty nonetheless.
We know that Filipinos, a people as opinionated about food as Malaysians are, will chime right in and tell us if we did not dine on Manila's best lechon at Lydia's. But we walked out of the place pretty happy.
Lydia's Lechon, Roxas Boulevard (just a few minutes' walk from Baclaran Church), Baclaran, Manila. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From 135 pesos for 1/4 kilo of lechon to 5,400 pesos for 10 kilos.