The 1930s were the glory years of panciterias in the Philippines. Camped out along roadsides and esquinitas, these informal restaurants would cook up no-brainer Chinese staples like noodles, dimsum, and siopao and sell them for cheap.
These ready-to-eat dishes were an instant hit among women cigar factory workers who had no time to whip up meals for their families. But soon enough, everyone else was lining up for their own fill of tasty panciteria eats, too.
Chef Lido opened his namesake panciteria in 1936 along T. Alonzo Street in Sta. Cruz, Manila. His menu didn’t stray away from the basics, offering what all the other eateries were serving up. But while those other restaurants have long bitten the dust by now, Lido Cocina Tsina is still very much alive eighty years later.
With now owner Annie Wong opening up fifteen more branches starting in 2010, the secret to their longevity seems to be in this one dish that only they can call their own: Pugon-Roasted Asado!
Lido Cocina Tsina: The home of pugon-roasted asado
The traditional Cantonese way of roasting pork asado is to place the meat inside a stainless capsule and directly expose it to fire. But Chef Lido, being the genius pancitero that he was, tried slow-heat smoking the meat in an old-fashioned pugon instead.
And the result was a remarkable smoky flavor no one else could replicate! Facebook wouldn’t be invented for another sixty years but word of mouth did a great job of promoting his innovative pugon-roasting method and his new, irresistible asado dish.
A lot goes into making Lido’s legendary Pugon-Roasted Asado. First, there’s the meticulous process of selecting the pigs–not all of them are qualified to be on the menu because they have to be of a certain breed and size. Once the lucky ones have been chosen, they are then carefully cured and delicately smoked to let the natural flavor of the high-quality meat shine through.
And because they’re hanged to cook, all the fat drips down, leaving just the best parts of the pork for us to eat. They smoke their meat early in the morning and then distribute them to their different stores, all before opening time.
Loyal patrons are skilled at spotting the difference between Lido’s asado and its counterparts in other Chinese restaurants. But for the less experienced, there are some obvious telltale signs. While the usual asado sports a bright red sheen, Lido’s skips the food coloring all together and goes for an au naturel look.
You’ll also find that Lido’s pugon-roasting method leaves the pork leaner with a flavor that penetrates deep into the meat.
They’ve kept their cooking methods, tools, and ingredients the same as they’ve always been the past eight decades. Their chef today, the only trainee under Chef Lido back in the day, makes sure of that. He’s been in the asado-roasting business for fifty years now!
Experience China’s cultural culinary styles at Lido
Pugon-Roasted Asado may run the show at Lido but you can’t let the feast stop there! Their new menu is a representation of China’s diversely-rich cuisine, culling different cooking traditions from provinces like Macau, Shantung, and Manchuria. But as all these various styles and flavors come into play at Lido, it all just really boils down to fresh, seasonal ingredients and well-balanced dishes.
Lido’s Drunken Lechon Macau is definitely worthy of space on your table, simply because of the amount of work that goes into this thing! Just like what they do for their asado, they find the best pigs for the role before beginning the arduous cooking process.
Annie Wong would personally rub, cure, and cook the pork herself when they first introduced this labor-intensive masterpiece to the public. And according to her, the curing alone takes sixty hours! But it’s a method that has proven to work because their lechon macau is a delight to eat. The crackling on it is crispy and the seven layers of meat underneath is juicy and laced with a delicate wine flavor.
If you like your pork extra hot and spicy, Lido’s 16-Spice Shantung Pork will be sure to thrill your tastebuds. The inspiration for this dish came from Annie’s aunt who once cooked a pork loin dish coated in several spices when she came back from the Shantung province.
While fiery, you can’t stop at just one bite, especially when you have a bowl of rice on the side as buffer. Annie created her own version of the dish to put on Lido’s menu, plating up thinly-sliced pork marinated in sixteen kinds of Chinese herbs and spices. Its bold flavors is balanced out by tender meat.
Before you go thinking you can only order pork dishes at Lido, chicken-lovers will be happy to know there’s an entire poultry section on the menu. And the bestseller in this category is the Manchurian Wings!
The Manchurian style of cooking incorporates a lot of sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you bite into this Lido favorite. Aside from being flavor-packed, the skin is also crunchy to the bite and the meat soft and juicy.
MSG is off the menu at Lido
One clear sign you’ve taken in a ton of MSG is feeling like you need a nice, long nap after your meal. Other scarier side-effects are dry, itchy lips, asthma attacks, and intense nausea and dizziness. You don’t have to worry about these things at Lido though because MSG is strictly kept off the menu!
Good broth goes a long way in building the natural umami of Chinese dishes. It takes a lot more time to prepare a flavorful broth than to add in a few dashes of synthetic food enhancer, but Lido takes the extra step to make sure their food is not only rich in flavor but safe for consumption as well.