Origin of the Roasted Pig Called Lechon
Lechon is a pork dish that is popular in many parts of the world. The word lechon has originated from Spain which means a suckling pig that is roasted. Lechon is very popular in the Philippines it has become the country’s national dish. Lechon is a dish that features a whole pig, cleaned, spiced, and roasted over charcoal.
Filipinos learned about lechon from the Chinese, who according to legend, discovered “pig roasting” by accident.
I recalled a story we read in grade school about a young Chinese man who accidentally roasted his pigs. I could not remember the details until I came across the work of Charles Lamb called “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” which was published in 1822 where he told the story of how pig roasting was discovered by accident. By the way, Charles Lamb mentioned that he read the story from an old Chinese manuscript which his friend had read and explained to him.
The Origin of the Roasted Pig
There was a time when animals were eaten raw by man. Though they have already discovered fire, perhaps they have not discovered how to butcher and cook animals.
It was during this time that a swine-herder named Ho-ti lived in a simple cottage with his son named Bo-bo. One morning, he left to gather food for his pigs and put the care of their cottage, including the pigs, to Bo-bo.
Bo-bo was a young rascal who loved to play with fire. On that particular day, while playing with fire, he inadvertently let some sparks fly into the bundle of straws which kindled quickly and spread throughout their cottage. In time, the cottage burned and turned to ashes.
Bo-bo was not worried much about the cottage. It was the suckling pigs that were far more important to him and to his father. He and his father could easily build the cottage up as it was made of light materials which they can easily procure. It was not his first time to have burned down their cottage but it was the first time that the pigs became part of the conflagration. He was afraid what his father would do to him because the pigs in those days were considered luxuries.
While thinking what to tell his father and surveying the damage, he smelled something different, something which appealed to his senses.
He stooped down to touch one crisp pig and it burned his fingers. To cool them, he brought his fingers to his mouth, and to his amazement, he tasted something that delighted his taste buds. It took a while for his slow mind to understand that it was the aroma of the burned pig that smelled so good and that the skin tasted delicious. Little did he know that he just tasted crackling.
With his new-found discovery, he tore a handful of the scorched skin with its flesh and started eating them.
He was engrossed in his feast when his father came with a stick and started beating him.
“You bumbling idiot, what are you doing? Is it not enough that you have burned down the house, and now you are eating fire and whatever is that you are eating now?”
Bo-bo did not even mind the beating, “Oh, Father, the pig! The pig! Come and taste how nice the burned pig tastes.”
Ho-ti was filled with horror. He cursed his son that he would eat a burnt pig and he cursed himself for having a son like Bo-bo.
Bo-bo pulled some more pigs from the smoldering ashes and said, “Eat, eat the burnt pig, father. Just taste it!”
Ho-ti debated whether he would put his son to death for being a monster while he grabbed from him the piece of crackling he was stuffing into his mouth.
The scorching crackling burned his finger and like his son did, he put his finger to his mouth and tasted the flavor that his son seemed to be crazy about.
So both father and son sat down and enjoyed the roasted pig in the midst of the mess and did not stop until they finished everything there was to finish.
“Son, you have to keep this secret to ourselves or our neighbors will think we are despicable persons who would eat burnt pigs,” Ho-ti cautioned Ho-bo.
But soon rumors started to circulate because Ho-ti’s house burned down more frequently. Fire would break out in broad daylight, at times during the night. The neighbors observed that the fire would happen a few weeks after the sow gave birth.
The neighbors were used to the burning of Ho-ti’s house due to his son’s playing with fire but they wondered why Ho-ti no longer chastised Bo-bo for causing those fires, but instead he was being indulgent towards his son.
The neighbors decided to spy on them and discovered their secret. They were dragged to court and evidence was presented.
The jury examined the scorching piece of obnoxious food. They handled it and burned their fingers which they instinctively brought to their mouths, therefore tasting the food in question.
It was a surprise to the townsfolk when the judge gave a verdict of not guilty.
Well, the shrewd judge quietly bought all the pigs in town, and in a few days, the lordship’s townhouse was on fire.
It did not take long for the thing to become a trend. Now, fires broke out in every direction. Fuel and pigs increased in price since the demand for them had skyrocketed.
The fire insurance offices closed down. People were building lighter houses and there was a great fear that the science of architecture would be lost in the world.
The custom of firing houses to roast pigs continued until a wise man came up with a solution. He proposed that there was no need to burn down a house to roast pigs, that there were other ways to do that.
Thanks to that wise man, they found better ways to roast a pig but it took another century for pigs to be roasted on a spit.
Today, we can enjoy roasted pigs called lechon without burning our houses down.