Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mang Tomas: Pioneer Philippine Lechonero


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In the festive world of Philippine cookery, one name will always be associated with the Philippine Lechon--Mang Tomas Delos Reyes, pioneer lechon roaster in the La Loma, Quezon City.

Mang Tomas started in the early 1950s what is now the booming lechon industry, right from the very yard of his house in front of the La Loma Cockpit Arena. Before that, however, Mang Tomas was just a simple provinciano meat vendor selling pork meat around the neighborhood of La Loma.

Some of Mang Tomas' customers were the cockpit aficionados in the nearby La Loma Cockpit Arena. After a day's worth of cockfights, the winners would usually buy pork meat from Mang Tomas to be roasted and served as pulutan in the merry drinking that followed. The losers, on the other hand, would have to contend to the roasted meat of their dead roosters.

Eventually, Mang Tomas thought that he'd rather sell the ready roasted meat and charge an extra cost for the roasting labor. What he didn't know at that time was that he was already starting the first lechon industry in the Philippines.

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And it went on like that day after day, after each day's cockfights, the winners would go to Mang Tomas' house for their orders of roasted meats--until Mang Tomas finally set up the first ever Lechon shop in La Loma sometime in 1954. From then on, the La Loma would no longer be a name synonymous with the La Loma Cockpit (founded 1903), nor the La Loma Cemetery (right in front of the Cockpit), but the district where Mang Tomas sold his delicious lechon, by the whole or by the kilo. Mang Tomas also invented the famous liver sauce called Sarsa ni Mang Tomas to complement the delicious lechon*.

The business flourished. Mang Tomas purchased several meters of land at the back of his house to serve as the roasting area of the lechon. He also set up a piggery so that he can personally raise the best young pigs for his roasting. After a few years, Mang Tomas set up the Mang Tomas Restaurant to serve quick meals for the patrons who wanted to satisfy a spur-of-the moment hunger for the lechon.

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Mang Tomas delos Reyes, Pioneer Philippine Lechonero
(Archival photo courtesy of Mrs. Cora delos Reyes)


Eventually, the customers of Mang Tomas grew. No longer was the lechon the privilege of the cockpit patrons, it already became the ultimate piece de resistance of all Filipino feasts, celebrations, and gatherings. The new customers included the plain folks, the mayors, government officials, congressmen and senators, and eventually presidents and prime ministers. In 1955, President Magsaysay visited the La Loma to taste the famous Mang Tomas Lechon--eating with his bare hands the deliciously juicy meat dipped into the famous Sarsa ni Mang Tomas. From then on, the lechon became a permanent recipe on every Malacanang Palace banquets, even served to visiting foreign dignitaries who can eat pork meat. Only the Malacanang people know how many kings and queens ever tasted the lechon while on a state or official visit to the Philippines.

The elevation of the Lechon into a national dish made it the star of any Philippine Fiesta. In every grand wedding, baptism, or any Filipino event, the mere sight of the lechon's crisp red skin, with its tender young meat oozing with delicious juice is enough to disarm any meat-lover, taking his sight from any prepared food in the banquet into the irresistible urge to peel-off the lechon's crisp juicy skin and put into his now watery-mouth. A second picking will eventually be the juicy meat, so tender that it almost actually melts in the mouth. Never mind the cholesterol nor the calories--just for this day only, because life is a short joyful thing to possess to worry about what will happen next.

The lechon's taste deliciously varies with each person: according to one man I interviewed in the La Loma Fiesta, the taste is comparable to"heaven", while another could not find any suitable comparison to the lechon's taste--"nothing compares to it's taste, it's just, just so delicious, I'd be willing to travel hundreds of miles to eat it"--and the man, indeed, I found out came from Tarlac, to get a free taste of the lechon being served in the streets of La Loma that day.

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The lechon indeed is delicious, no doubt about that. If it's only me, I'd rather make it into the official National Dish of the Filipinos rather than the pritong galunggong. But of course, this would not be practical as the lechon is quite expensive to the average Filipino wallet. At 500 pesos a kilo (roughly 10 US $), it just would not be affordable to the average Filipino. And of course, this idea will not be popular with our Muslim countrymen, our vegetarian countrymen, and those so-called animal rights activists.

Not to mention that there is danger in eating the lechon everyday. Eating lechon on regular basis makes for clogged arteries and cholesterol build up in the body. So it's best that the lechon is served only once in a while--during fiestas, birthdays, gatherings, graduations, baptisms, funerals (why not?), and other feasts worth mentioning. And it's always best to just take only a morsel and enjoy a little because eating too much can bloat the stomach and bland the taste buds.

After the celebration, any left-over morsel of the lechon from yesterday's feast is transformed into yet another favorite Filipino recipe--the lechong paksiw. The left-over meat, tail, pig knuckles and crisp skin are all happily simmered into a concoction of stew made from garlic, onions, vinegar, and liver sauce. It is then served as toppings over a newly-cooked steamed rice or sinangag.

Actually, there is nothing ever lost in the lechon roasting. Even the pig's innards, removed before roasting, is transformed into a favorite Filipino snack called sitsarong bulaklak. The innards are salted, spiced, dried, and broiled into a crackling state, and its ready to serve with a sprinkling of sukang maanghang (Spicy Vinegar).

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Sitsarong Bulaklak

And what about the pig's blood? It is cooked into a favorite Filipino dish called dinuguan, a meat and blood stew simmered in garlic, chilies, and vinegar, and best served with rice or puto (rice cakes).

The Philippine lechon, according to Time Magazine, is one of the best roasted pig recipes around the world. And to that we give credit to Mang Tomas delos Reyes, who passed away in 1985, but gave the tradition of lechon roasting to his family, and eventually to all the other lechoneros in the La Loma. Today there are some 20 stores of lechon operating in La Loma. Some of the other big lechoneros in La Loma are Mila's, Ping Ping, Bulakena's, Monchie's, and Nelia's.

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Mang Tomas' Lechon is now managed by Aling Cora delos Reyes, who continues the tradition started by her father-in-law. Mang Tomas Lechon is located in Retiro and Calavite Sts., La Loma Quezon City--a pioneer and a giant in the lechon industry in the Philippines. Come visit and enjoy their lechon. It's highly recommended.


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Mang Tomas Lechon, located in the corner of Retiro and Calavite Streets,
right in front of the La Loma Cockpit Arena



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Aling Cora delos Reyes with her grandchildren--heirs to the legacy of the lechon pioneered by the great Tomas delos Reyes**


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La Loma, Quezon City, the Lechon Capital of the World


*The rights to the Sarsa ni Mang Tomas was eventually bought by Justice Alex and Asyang Reyes who owned the Aristocrat chain of restaurants. The Aristocart now produces in mass-quantity the Sarsa and even being exported abroad.
**Special word of thanks to Aling Cora delos Reyes of Mang Tomas Lechon for allowing me to interview and photograph her despite the day's hectic schedule of festivities. Thanks for the very tasty and mouth-watering lechon!
Special thanks also to Monchie Ferreros of Monchie's Lechon for inviting me to the sumptuous lunch during the Lechon Parade.

40 comments:

Sidney said...

I was expecting protest from people from Cebu...

Dennis... lechon is indeed delicious... alas I made a vow of not eating pork and beef anymore... with one exception ( the la Loma lechon) ;-)

It was nice walking virtually with you through La Loma... maybe time for a walk through the nearby cemeteries... ;-) and look at the graves of the people who died from hart attack and high blood ! ;-)

the donG said...

i never tried la loma's lechon yet. i should make time. ive tried cebu's best lechon.

your blog proves to be a good contender for this year's blog awards.

upto6only said...

ang sarap talaga ng lechon. kakagutom naman.

walkwithmetothemoon said...

I agree with Dong! You deserve the best blog award. (clapclap)

bertN said...

La Loma is not very far from where I used to live but I never had the chance to taste the litson of Mang Tomas. I probably missed a lot! That's probably one of the places I will check out when I visit.

PUSANG-gala said...

are those lechons real? they look sooo red like they were synthetic.......

焦糖 said...

Nice photos,I like the cutural color.In Taiwan we have pork-cooking just same as this.

Mari said...

I never knew that lechon is this big an industry back there. This is one of your great posts, Dennis. Very informative. I would definitely try going to Mang Tomas once I go back for a visit.

Sidney, you cracked me up with your comment: "... maybe time for a walk through the nearby cemeteries... ;-) and look at the graves of the people who died from heart attack...! ;-)"

docgelo said...

Funny that it is few minutes past midnight and i am craving for lechon because of your post! LOL.

Photo Cache said...

naku pasarap ng pasarap ang post mo ah. never tried their lechon before. havent eaten much lechon in my lifetime eh.

Jean Maglian Sawtelle (South Carolina, USA) said...

Hi Dennis! I have to be honest with you; I was looking up "Mang Tomas Recipe" in Google and here came along your webpage as one of the top 5 sites related to my search. Although the recipe isn't really what your blog is all about, I read the whole article and I found it very interesting! I glanced some of your blogs as well and I have to admit, you're very talented and I am learning a lot! I added you in My Favorites (websites) and I'll be looking forward for more historical and cultural facts of th PI! I'll spread the word about you with the rest of our kabayans here. :-) Keep it up!

Ebie said...

Are those lechons lined up along the side street already reserved? Aren't they cooked per reservation? Just curious.

Garando said...

Wow, I've always wondered who pioneered the lechon. Now I know about its humble beginnings, thanks to you!
I wish Mang Tomas became more of an institution. Like when you eat lechon, you think about Mang Tomas straight away. Apparently sa sauce lang nangyari... He really deserves all the recognition.

This post made my mouth water.

Dennis Villegas said...

Jean: Thank you!

Ebie: Those are ready for sale. There are enough customers during the day to sell off the roasted pigs even w/o reservations.

Dennis Villegas said...

Thanks Mari, Garando, Buninay, Photo Cache, Upto6Only, BertN, Dong, Sidney, Pusang Gala

REDLAN said...

naglalaway ako sa mga litson. omg!

goldensparks said...

Hi Friend.. Interesting post.. Do keep up the good work.. Visit my blog and post your comments.. Take care mate.. Cheers!

Angelo said...

drooool.... so good and yet so bad for you... hey you only live once right, might as well enjoy! That chicharon bulaklak looks especially delicious.... mmmmm I'm feeling chest pains just thinking about it but I don't care hehe...

I never tried LaLoma Lechon, but I'm gonna have to put that on my list of things to do next time I'm in the Philippines. Cheers Dennis!

laagan said...

ang sarap....hmmmppp

but just looking at the photos is enough to give me heart attack...hehehhehe there must be a million cholesterol out there.

dodong flores said...

I agree. This is one of the best post you have, Pareng Dennis!

I voted you for the photoblogawards...

fortuitous faery said...

ahahay...killing me softly with this pork!

i feel my heart palpitating! haha

isladenebz said...

What a post! Thanks, Dennis.

Because pork is not allowed in Saudi, we don't get to eat lechon(in Arabic, pork is called kansir). But you know what, we always have Sarsa ni Mang Tomas for our fried fish and fried chicken.

Tell Aling Cora that. Mang Tomas is now international!

SePp said...

great post and images. Very well done and interisting information!

mimi said...

napadaan ako dito noong college ako.. na amaze talaga ako sa sunod sunod na lechon ang nakikita ko... thanks for the post!!! nagutom ako.. hehe

Nance said...

OMG! you're making me hungry for lechon, Dennis! and thanks for the history, Mang Tomas lechon sauce is unbeatable!

thess said...

Dennis, you don't know how hungry this post made me :P But seriously, it was a very very good post...may puso.

Vk-mahalkaayo said...

sarapppppppp
lalo na yon bulaklak na sitsaro.....
naku, hindi makatipid ako nito....nagtitip kasi ako ng calories....lol

really, a very nice and wonderful pics again.

thanks for sharing.

alis na ako, baka mag-litsong karajay ako.....

have a nice Pfingsten to you.....

holiday dito at bukas din.

regards

Vk-mahalkaayo said...

dalawa na kami ni, fortuitous faery.....

.....killing me softly with this pork!

naka gutom talaga.....sarap ng balat....

bye na, uwi na ako, nagugutom ako.....

~~louise~~ said...

What an inspiring story, Dennis. Thank you so much for sharing. Absolutely Amazing! I'm now hungry for more, more, more!!!

Cza said...

Lechon!!! OMG.. this entry made me drooooool. :D

出張ホスト said...

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Anonymous said...

. . .anoh poh ba ung contact number jan. . .???? pki sagot nlng plzzz. . . .

Oscar Aguas said...

Kudos to you, Mr. Villegas, for a well-presented article and awesome photos! They brought back memories of La Loma where I grew up, not far from Mang Tomas' Lechon. In fact, my brother (deceased now) worked there for Mang Tomas for a long while. I am pleasantly amazed to find on the Internet something so close to home. (I've been living in the US.) Thank you. Everything you described in it are authentically true. I know, because as a teen, I used to hang around that store and the cockpit.

Anonymous said...

Putang inang LOLAS LECHON na luto sa La Loma, INUUOD NA! Nadiskubre ng helper sa kumpanya na pina pasukan ko! bale me Christmas Party kami nuong Dec. 30, 2010, Bale Umorder kami ng 3 Lechon. Dumating kami sa Party 5:00 pm, Sakto na nag hahain na ng mga pagkain ang mga helper unang na serve e yung Lechon tuloy tuloy na, 12 ng gabi na natapos pinag bibigay nayung mga ulam kasama yung ulo ng Lechon, napunta yung ulo ng lechon sa helper. Pag dating sa bahay kinabukasan ay iluluto na sana ng helper yung ulo ng lechon, hinati na niya yung ulo ng biglang nag labasan yung mga uod na sobrang dami NA PARA KANG NAKA KITA NG HORROR FILM!... sa sobrang nakaka diri daw ay naitapon nila sa ilog yung ulo ng lechon.... Mga wala kayong hiya pati pinag lumaan nyo na Lechon balak nyo pang ibenta!!!

Anonymous said...

dapat hindi na itapon nung helper yung may uud na ulo ng lechon ibinalik nya sana sa pinag bilan. kasi pag walang ebidensya walang maniniwala. baka isipin pa na sinisiraan lang sila. kaw nakita mo ba tol na may uud yung ulo ng lechon? sigurado ako hindi sinabi lang sayo. kasi gumamit ka ng salitang "DAW" tignan mo yung post mo tol.

MONCHIEF111 said...

Galing mo naman Dennis I'm always impressed with your writings, your choice of words and how you expressed it really makes me understand it so easily, got some ideas with your approach and ways. Very impressive! Excellent! and hope to see you again this coming PARADA NG LECHON 2011 - Monchie Ferreros Monchies Lechon

Gita Asuncion said...

amazing photos! those lechons look like theyre ready to pop out of my monitor! nagutom tuloy ako at 3 in the morning! :)

Anonymous said...

Sila ba ang nag imbento ng Mang Tomas na Sauce? Sarap!!!!

http://www.squidoo.com/mang-tomas-lechon-sauce

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this article about a legendary lechonero Mang Tomas. Fan ako ni Mang Tomas even when I was a boy growing up in Albay. I first tasted Mang Tomas lechon when my brother brought some from Manila to my province in Bicol. It's super delicious!!!