Bagnet, the northern spin on the dish known here in the lowlands as lechong kawali (a whole slab of pork belly poached with salt, bay leaf, and black peppercorns before being deep-fried till exquisitely crunchy), is seen as “evil incarnate” by the veggie community but is seen in an almost angelic, even sacred light by all the rest of us. What’s not to like about it: while you obviously can’t have it every day because of both caloric and cholesterol-related concerns, I’ve yet to see anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the tender, flavorful meat and the gorgeously crunchy, slightly salty crackling that tops it all.
I am of the opinion that bagnet ranks smack in the middle between sticky roasted pork belly made magnificent with honey and hoisin sauce and the fatty, smoky, saline glory that is belly bacon. I was pretty much thinking that I was probably wrong about that until I encountered the bagnet from a new stall over at the Galleon Food Avenue: Firebrick.
Firebrick is a wee stall that specializes in the good stuff: proper, porky bagnet with the perfect ratio of meat, fat, and crackling. But the kicker here is that it isn’t deep fried. As the name suggests, it’s actually roasted till the rind crisps up, the fat melts, and the meat steams to a wonted tenderness. As a result, the flavor is more smoky than salty with the sort of resonance you get from artisanal bacon as opposed to the over-salted rashers you sometimes get from your neighborhood supermarket. This is 21st Century bagnet: it has all the crisp-tenderness of the Ilocano original, but the flavors and aroma are swankier, more bespoke, grown-up.
It’s also quite reasonably priced: P 80.00 gets you a bag of chopped-up pork you can share with a friend, while P 85.00 gets you the lunchbox shown above with a generous portion of bagnet, rice, classic sweet liver sauce, and tangy achara (pickled green papaya, carrots, and ginger) to offset the richness of the pork.