Keith and I spent Easter Sunday with my family at my uncle’s weekend house in Tagaytay, which is about thirty miles or so south of Manila. Everyone calls my uncle’s place “The Farm,” since he and my aunt grow quite a bit of vegetables, herbs, citrus and flowers, but it’s unlike any farm I think anyone would ever encounter.
For one thing, the only thing the house has in common with a typical (American) farmhouse is the wraparound porch, and most of the grounds are manicured and sprawling with a basketball court, two decorative ponds that my younger cousins and my cousins’ children fish from, an outdoor kitchen, and multiple patio areas shaded by flowering vines.
Oh, and there’s also a lechón hut.
I don’t know if it’s actually called a lechón hut per se, but as it’s a hut in which you can roast lechón on a spit… I’m going with it, especially because lechón was the main course of the day. Also on the “menu” were also barbecued chickens, pancit (rice noodles pan-fried with vegetables), banana heart salad (banana heart slivers, julienned green mango and other fruits and vegetables, all tossed with a coconut cream dressing), tilapia grilled in banana leaves (the Asian version of cooking en papillote), giant prawns with garlic and, of course, rice.
I stupidly filled up on too many freshly boiled peanuts to have much of anything, though Keith tried pretty much everything as well as the multiple desserts: fresh lychee sherbet (which Filipinos and I pronounce lye-chee, as opposed to the Western pronunciation of lee-chee), fresh buko (young green coconut) sherbet, mango float (frozen layers of mango, what I think was carabao cream, and cookie crumbs), chocolate cake, and buko pandan (more green cocoonut, pandan leaves, condensed milk, gelatin, sugar and other ingredients I can’t quite recall). Keith also had his own buko, which had been shaved and sliced open with a machete so he could drink its water.
My favorite part of the meal was the lechón, which is more surprising than it sounds. When I was younger, maybe ten or twelve, my mother and I came to the Philippines; part of our visit was a trip to Camiguin, which is now quite built up apparently but was actually rather rustic back then. Our family rented a cottage on an isolated beach — I won’t even say it was a private beach, because I don’t think anyone actually owned it. The cottage was really a large open space underneath a corrugated steel roof which was divided into a “living room” area and a “dining room” area; towards the back of the room were the bedrooms and bathrooms, and none of the walls went all the way up to the ceiling for better air circulation (and no privacy). The large living space itself had no walls except for what separated it from the bath- and bedrooms — it was entirely open to the sea.
There were a few kids my age there, but I often went out on my own to climb trees and lure hermit crabs out of their little sandy holes (getting terribly pinched in the process by a very determined-never-to-let-go crab with disproportionately-ginormous claws). If I did hang out with someone, it was a black-and-white spotted piglet, whose slaughter I accidentally walked in on a few days later. As a direct result of that vacation, I didn’t eat lechón or any other kind of suckling pig for years.
Sunday’s lechón was all right in the sense that the pig was long dead by the time we arrived; it had been roasting in the hut since seven AM. I did feel a bit unsettled by the sight of it turning on the spit and couldn’t help thinking about the piglet of some twenty-or-so years ago, but I was determined to get over it. After all, I like bacon as much as the next sane girl, and it seemed more than a little hypocritical to relish in that but not lechón, particularly when I learned that its cavity had been stuffed with a delicious combination of lemongrass and ginger. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the meal — the caretaker’s mongrel dogs had more than their share.
Click on the lechón for a slideshow of images from the farm, including the edible lettuce-and-flower centerpieces and the fresh-from-the-greenhouse tarragon-mint tea my aunt brewed.