Growing up in an Asian household, I ate a lot of Chinese roast pork when I was a kid. It was one of those things that my mum would get every now and then as it didn’t score too high on the health scale with all that pork and fat. Plus, it’s a lot easier to watch your Chinese butcher chop up a hunk of pork than having to sweat over the stove yourself. When I heard that Colombians also do roast pork, I was naturally intrigued and immediately went on the hunt for some authentic Colombian style pork.
While there are different variations of pork here, nothing stands out more than Lechona. Originating from the Tolima region, Lechona is basically a Colombian hog roast except it’s preparation is slightly more complicated than just putting the pig on the spit. First off, the meat is removed from the pig and generously seasoned with a simple marinade of salt and pepper, garlic, onion and green onion. The pork is then put back into the pig and mixed in with yellow peas. What I am describing is the original Tolima way. In Bogota, they add rice to the mix which I like as it helps to balance out the pork. When everything is in, the pig is then stitched up, placed on a baking tray and put to roast in a massive brick oven. The end result looks like this:
Talk about no a holds barred pork. It really doesn’t get more rustic than this. Head to the “Zona L” (Lechona zone) in Bogota on Calle 27 sur and you’ll see what I mean. This district is lined with many “Lechonarias”, serving up fresh, fatty and meaty love and they’re not exactly hard to find. Just look out for the crispy pigs sitting in glass cases just ready to be eaten.
What makes a good lechona? First of all, it’s gotta be nice and greasy. If I wanted dry meat, I’d go for a pack of jerky. Second of all, it has to have a nice balance of rice and pork. While the original version calls for just pork and peas, I could easily see myself getting porked out without some sort of starch to balance out the fat which is why in Tolima, lechonas are served with a plate of “insulso”, a type of corn masa that is served in a plantain leaf. I guess Bogotanos love their rice which is why Lechonas here are served straight up with the rice mixed in already. Finally, there needs to be good crackling or “cuero” as they call it in Spanish. If the cuero is soft and soggy like a wet sock, the deal’s off. That thing should be golden and as the name implies, make a cracking noise when you bite into it.
At the end of the day, you, yes you the eater has the final say as to how you like your lechona. Maybe you like it a bit more meaty. Or maybe the crackling isn’t important to you. There’s only one way to find out. Go eat some. Then eat some more. When you find a good one drop me a line and tell me how it was. Or just come with me and I’ll show you.