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Lechon, a succulent pork dish steeped in cultural tradition, is a centerpiece at celebrations across the Spanish-speaking world. According to the National Nutrition Council of the Philippines, lechon is so revered in the Philippines that it's considered the national dish, symbolizing feasts and festivities. The term 'lechon' derives from the Spanish word 'leche,' reflecting the tender age of the piglet—typically between two and six weeks old—still nourished by its mother's milk when prepared. Suckling pig is a delicacy valued for its tender meat and is a culinary practice shared among various cultures. For those wondering what is lechon, it's not just a meal; it's a gastronomic experience that embodies the rich heritage and communal spirit of its origins.
Making lechon begins with the slaughter, disembowelment and skewering of the animal with a spit, which could be either a stick or rod. The suckling pig is then roasted over a pit of charcoal or wood. The spit is slowly turned so that the entire animal is completely roasted, thus making this style of cooking resemble a rotisserie. This process takes several hours to complete, resulting in a meat that is rather tender, and skin that is crisp and crunchy. The meal is usually made and served on special occasions, particularly holidays and festivals.
Lechon is very popular in the Philippines, a republic in Southeast Asia that was a Spanish territory for about three centuries. There, the pork dish is called lechon boboy or litsong baboy, and the people use banana-leaf brushes to coat the pig with oil. The dish is particularly popular during an annual festival called Parada ng Lechon, or Parade of Lechon. During this event, held every June 24 to commemorate the country’s patron saint, St. John, inhabitants from all over the Philippines converge upon the municipality of Balayan in the province of Batangas, bringing with them distinctively decorated golden-red or golden-brown pigs that are paraded with their mouths stuffed with apples.
This dish is also popular in Cuba. In this Caribbean country, the roasted pig is usually eaten with black beans and rice. Here, lechon is frequently referred to as lechon asado. Other countries in which this dish enjoys considerable popularity include Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Perhaps the main reason why the dish is so common in so many different places all over the world is because of its adaptability. Like turkey from a Thanksgiving dinner in the United States, leftover suckling pig can be transformed into other dishes. For instance, in the Philippines, people usually turn leftover pork into paksiw na litson, or paksiw na lechon, which is a stew made out of meat boiled in vinegar.