The Filipino affinity for crunchy pork crackling—whether in the offalpalooza that is sizzling sisig; sheets of crunchy lechon (suckling pig) skin; or chicharron bulaklak, flowers of pork fat—is legendary. This is perhaps best seen by the vast selection of pork crackling on offer at Filipino markets like Phil-Am Food Mart in Woodside’s Little Manila. The shop contains at least a half dozen varieties many in clear packaging bearing names like “Tito Al’s” and “Elena’s.” Sucker that I am for commercial junk food from other cultures I opted for a jaunty looking package of Chicharron Ni Mang Juan on a recent visit. It’s quite possibly the strangest Filipino chicharron I’ve ever had for one simple reason: It contains no pork whatsoever.
When I purchased the bag I had no idea it was vegetarian as the writing on the front that reads “NO-PORK” is rather small. It should be in 72 point type! After all when one purchases a bag of pork crackling one expects pork. The lady at the register should also have issued some sort of warning; perhaps a 300-decibel klaxon would suffice. Once I got over the initial shock of having purchased vegetarian crackling Mang Juan’s, or Mr. Juan’s Chicharron, wasn’t so bad. Crunchy, vinegary, with a kick of chili it tasted sort of like a Filipino Fun Yun.
“Send me the ingredients,” my friend Mabie Roa of Papa’s Kitchen, wrote in disbelief when I told her about the strange snack. It turns out that the main ingredient is green peas. The language on the back makes no indication of porklessness either and references “certified Pinoy sarap” or certified Filipino yumminess. Last time I checked certified Filipino yumminess in crackling equals pork. Nonetheless I polished off the entire package of chichawrong in one sitting.