Rico’s Lechon stakes claim at being Cebu’s best
Enrico V. Dionson prefers to keep things simple. Like his no-nonsense and direct approach to business, his roasted pigs are seasoned only with the most traditional herbs and spices.
It is this insistence on the uncomplicated, even doing away with lemon grass (tanglad in Cebuano) as a flavoring even if it is commonly used by others, that has made Rico’s Lechon one of the most sought after in Cebu and the rest of the country.
Dionson’s explanation for wanting only commonplace enhancers like garlic and spring onions (sibuyas dahunan) in his lechon makes sense: he does not want to alienate anyone from his roasted pigs.
“Kanang tanglad sagbot ra man na. Dili man na moduga. Nya naay uban nga dili ganahan anang tanglad,” he said. (Tanglad is just grass. It has no juice that will add to the taste. Some people do not like tanglad.)
Since he did not have the benefit of a handed down recipe or method, Dionson’s first few attempts at roasting pig 14 years ago were more experimentation than anything else and he recalled receiving not a few complaints — too salty or too bland, overcooked or just the opposite — from customers.
President Erap’s favorite lechon
Since then, though, he has perfected the art of preparing and roasting pigs to the tastiness and crispiness that Cebu lechon is well known for, so much so that he has satisfied even the discerning taste of former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
Estrada’s patronage of Rico’s Lechon started in 1999, as he was about to celebrate his first birthday as the country’s president.
A Cebuano businessman friend of Estrada, who was also known to Dionson, asked him to bring a roasted pig to a celebration that the former president was attending in Cebu shortly before his birthday.
Dionson said he was dismayed to find that there was lechon from two other well known suppliers, but the businessman told him that Estrada was going to select the tastiest from the crop and the chosen one will be asked to provide roasted pigs during his birthday in Malacañang Palace.
Estrada pronounced Rico’s product the best of the three and the day after he found himself on his way to Malacañang to roast pigs for the then president’s birthday.
“Nag order si Erap og 50 kabuok. Nahurot gud ang baboy sa alad sa Mandaue,” he recalled. (Estrada ordered 50 roasted pigs. I think we bought all the pigs in Mandaue.) Dionson said he had to ship live pigs to Manila and brought his staff with him as well since Estrada wanted the roasting to be done at Malacañang.
Estrada continues to patronize Rico’s, said Dionson, adding that he eats lechon when he’s in Cebu and brings a few when he returns to the capital. He said he had been asked to roast pigs in Malacañang no fewer than five times while Estrada was president.
How Rico started
Dionson was a bet taker in cockfight arenas since he was 15 and did the job for over 22 years, before he decided in 1997 to go into the lechon business.
Since he did not have any money, he remembered how he decided to get a pig on credit and as luck would have it chanced upon a supplier who knew him from his cockpit days.
His early months in the lechon business were shaky but persevered and got help from a few kind souls. The Cebuano businessman who introduced his lechon to Estrada, for one, and the owner of Busa Printers who printed him 500 calling cards for free.
Before Estrada, Dionson said he would go about his usual watering holes, make friends, and then casually mention that they can order roasted pigs from him. Often, while they were drinking, he would have a few kilos delivered so they could taste his lechon.
After his lucky break, Dionson said he capitalized on how Estrada picked his lechon, letting friends and prospective customers know and weaving the story in Rico’s marketing campaign.
When he started, Dionson said he would roast only three pigs in a week and thought that the 24 orders during his first Christmas in the lechon business were already high.
Spicy lechon: a new favorite
Rico’s, today, sells 70 pieces a day on average and gets even more orders, over a hundred, on weekdays.
According to Dionson, the highest number of orders always happens on Christmas eve and last December 24, Rico’s received 600 plus orders for roasted pigs.
Rico’s Lechon prices vary according to the size of the pig: small ones or lechon de leche sells for P2,600 (good for 15 people) while bigger ones cost P3,500 or P4,000.
Rico’s is also known for his spicy lechon, which he thought of the night before a family trip to the beach. He said it occurred to him that if a spicy preparation worked for roast chicken, it might also work for lechon. They next day, he gathered all the peppers he could get, pounded these and placed this in the lechon that they were roasting for their beach trip. The family loved it and Dionson decided to keep it in his menu.
Interest in Rico’s roasted pigs has spread even among Manila’s celebrities, and Dionson counts Pokwang and Angel Aquino among his die-hard customers.
Just recently, television host Kris Aquino did a program on Rico’s and expressed interest in a partnership to bring Dionson’s lechon business to Manila.
This article is part of a project supported by Philippine wireless leader Smart Communications, Inc.
Location of Rico’s Lechon