As early as two months prior, I knew I wanted to have a whole roast pig (lechon) for our New Year's Eve party this year. It is one of the few food requests that our brother makes.
We had ordered lechon a couple of times for our celebrations past, but it was always my mother who procured the beasts, so I wouldn't know where to get them. When I asked my mother where we ordered our lechon before, I got a sort of vague, non-committal answer, leading me to conclude equally hazily that these roasting places must be fly-by-night operations, smuggling a pig in to roast today, gone tomorrow.
(That strikes me as funny -- when pigs fly, fly-by-night -- but I'm shallow like that.)
So I had to take matters into my own hands.
Suckling Pig at T&T
I had seen some posters of cute pink pigs up at T&T Supermarket. The posters said in English, along with some other Chinese that I couldn't read:
9 kg to 20 kg
Order 4 days in advance
Order from the Meat Department
I was a tad bewildered that a pig with that weight range would still have the same price. But I figured, as with most things in life, there was a trade-off: what the smaller pigs lack in weight, they might make up in the sweetness and tenderness of their meat.
We Order our Pig
Come week and a half before Christmas, I thought we'd take the plunge and order our suckling pig. I went up to the Meat Department and asked them if I could order a pig.
After much gesticulating and pointing to the poster, the men at the Meat Department finally called out Jonathan, who appeared to be the point-person for all suckling pig orders.
I asked Jonathan if we could order a pig and if it was still too early to order one (this was almost 2 weeks before the 31st). He looked at his watch (which I assume had dates and times), kind of chuckled, but eventually said it was okay. Jonathan had me fill out a piece of paper with the following information:
The Weight field was for the pig, by the way. ;) I filled out the first 4 fields and he confirmed the date and the time. December 31st, 6 in the evening. I nodded.
I thought he wanted the deposit but he didn't say anything and just took back the piece of paper. I was worried because everything seemed so perfunctory.
Or Did We?
That's it? Just my name and my phone number?
How do they know that I'm actually going to come back and pick up my pig? Do they not need my social insurance number? My credit rating? Three character references? An essay professing my desire and sincerity, detailing how much I wanted this pig and what I would do with a suckling pig?
And where is that piece of paper going? I highly doubted that inside the Meat Department there was an organized office with desks and filing cabinets. They were just probably going to tack that piece of paper on some hook and that was it.
When I told TS my worries, she just said it was okay. Apparently, when she ordered a roast turkey the year before from a well-known Chinese restaurant, it was also this perfunctory process: name, phone number, weight, what date and time the turkey is going to be picked. No deposit, no triple-confirmations, no credit rating searches, no soul-baring confessions.
We figure this is typical Chinese efficiency at work: take only the information you need, assume that the person you're talking to is trustworthy enough to do what he or she say she'll do, no need to inquire what their business is with the pig (just assume they'll be eating it), and then, if they don't come, worry about the pig later.
Besides, gathering all the extra information and somehow "processing" all of it just jacks up the tag price by at least 30%. =)
A Good Size Pig
We marked ourselves down for a 15 kg (approximately 33 pounds) of pig.
We figure that at least half of that poundage would be bones and other inedible bits. For approximately 50 people, we figure we needed about 50 pounds of meat. We didn't want to go overboard with the food, but we also definitely did not want to go below. We are always of the mind that it is better to err on the side of more food than less. Our guests could always take some food home at the end of the party.
All should be good but we were in limbo land with the lechon. We assume the lechon was going to be there, but we also had to allow the possibility it might not make it to our table.
Deep-Basted Poultry Interlude
So when we were debating how many turkeys and chickens we needed, we just could not decide.
The first turkey we got was kind of on the small side (approximately 11 pounds). Definitely we needed more poultry than 11 pounds. We thought of 3 chickens to supplement the small turkey.
But if the lechon did not come, 1 small turkey and 3 chickens would still not be enough. We thought, if we could just double the size of the turkey, then the food might just be enough. We went to Costco to see if they had more turkeys to sell, but they were all sold out.
(Forgive this short poultry interlude.)
The day before the party, I went to Safeway and saw that they had turkeys on sale. And these turkeys were all half off the original price! I guess nobody ate turkey after the Christmas celebrations are over. What I liked most about these turkeys was the fact that they were bigger than the 11-pounder we got originally.
However, they were all Butterballs, something that did not necessarily appeal to me, given that they also came with the tag, "Deep-basted for superior flavor!" I had no idea what deep-basting they had done to this bird, but since these were the only turkeys I had found after Christmas, I decided to buy a 22-pound Butterball.
Sixty-five (65) Pounds of Protein
By my count now, we had a 22-pound Butterball, another 11-pound turkey, and 3 chickens.
With the fish (about 6 pounds), the clams and oysters (5-8 pounds), the embutido (about 8 pounds), we have enough protein for the party.
It might seem like a lot of food, but I justified it by saying that the lechon might come uncarved. Carving the pig on the spot would be a major deterrent to guests -- not to mention, it would slow the consumption of the pig. Therefore, it would seem like the lechon was not there at all.
Cue foreboding music.
Day of the Party
On the day of the party, in the midst of all the food preparation, around 10 in the morning, the phone rang. We were too late to pick the phone up but saw that T&T Supermarket was calling.
They didn't leave a message.
We asked Mama to call them back to ask about our order.
Mama: Hi, T&T. You just called me. I wanted to ask about our roast suckling pig order.
Girl who answered the phone: Huh? What roast pig order are you talking about?
Mama: We have a roast suckling pig order for today. From you.
Since I was overhearing this conversation, I said, "Ask for Jonathan, in the Meat Department. Jonathan!"
Mama: Can I talk to Jonathan in the Meat Department?
Mama: Hi, Jonathan. We have an order with you.
Jonathan: Yes. I was just calling to let you know that your pig is ready right now. You can pick it up.
Mama: Oh. Okay. I'll see if we can pick it up earlier than 6pm. Thanks.
Our mother relays the message and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. So there was going to be lechon after all.
Me: Why is it ready now? Isn't it too early? We said 6pm.
TS: Maybe they just take all of the day's order and have them all ready in the morning.
Me: I guess that makes sense.
We asked our brother to pick the pig up on his way home.
At about 5:00pm, our brother calls home. He was already at T&T Supermarket, picking up our lechon.
Brother: Did you actually order lechon from T&T?
TS: Yes. We ordered it.
Brother: A roast pig?
Brother: At T&T?
Brother: They're saying that they don't sell roast pig here.
TS: Huh? But we ordered there! At the meat department. They called us this morning to say the order was ready!
Brother: Yes, I'm at the meat department. They say they don't sell roast pig.
TS: Yes they do! It's right on the poster! Do you see the poster? It's at the end of one of the aisles, near the meat department.
Brother: OK, I see it.
TS: So yeah, we pointed to the poster and ordered the pig.
[From the sounds at the other end, it seems that my Brother pointed to said poster.]
Brother: They say they don't COOK here!
TS: Huh? Yes they do! They have those dishes you can order: fried rice, roast turkey, etc.
Brother: They say they don't COOK in the meat department.
[In the background, I hear voices from the meat department staff saying that they don't cook there.]
Brother: They have a RAW pig here for me to take home! He says the poster says that it's a fresh pig, not a roast one.
TS: It didn't say that!
Brother: He said it's says so in the Chinese!
TS: Oh. OK. Well, I guess you have to leave the pig there! You can't take a whole pig home!
Brother: Yeah, OK. The guy says it's OK. We don't have to buy the pig.
TS: OK, good. OK, bye!
So my brother left the supermarket with no pig. Apparently, Jonathan pointed out to him that the poster said the pigs were FRESH, meaning they sell it to people who would be roasting the pig themselves!
This information was written in the Chinese, not the English.
Okay then. That means we won't be having lechon for the party then. Thank goodness we had the quintet of poultry to tide us over the whole starry, starry night.
I'm sorry that we don't have a picture of the raw pig. If it were me picking the pig up, I would have just asked them to chop the beast into thirds. I figure I can stuff a third of it at a time in the oven and roast it that way. Of course, we still won't have lechon for the party, but we'll have lechon the next day.
Or at the very least, I've always wanted to put a pig's head on a pole and do our own Lord of the Flies presentation. ;)
Thus concludes the story of our missing lechon for our New Year's Eve party: A Starry, Starry Night in Vancouver -- Evoking the Philippine Christmas Spirit.
All illustrations by TS.