Updated: May 14, 2022
It's bbq season and what better way spend time outdoors than to get out on the grill. This Inihaw na Liempo or Filipino BBQ Pork Belly is marinated with lots of umami flavours like soy, garlic, fish sauce and calamansi then grilled for a smokey, juicy, and flavourful addition to your kamayan feast.
What is Inihaw na Liempo?
'Inihaw' (pronounced ee-nee-haw) when translated to Tagalog means 'grilled' and refers to basically any meat (chicken, pork, or even seafood) that you would grill over an open flame. The liempo refers to the belly of the pork - which is what we will mainly be talking about and making in this recipe.
We'd usually start smelling the coals burning and the meats grilling from a few blocks away
Back home, these were traditionally served as street food, usually as skewers, with rows upon rows of them being grilled over a charcoal grill amongst other street food fare. We'd usually start smelling the coals burning and the meats grilling from a few blocks away, always tempting and luring us to grab some before heading home.
They were stacked in piles as the vendors cooked them in batches, and just like any other street food, they had a buffet of dipping sauces for you to choose from. They were presented in jars that were large enough for you to dip the whole skewer (or multiple skewers) in, and then served on a paper tray, ready to catch any drippings.
Some of the more common dips were vinegar (the malty kind) with chopped onion - and there was usually a spicy one and a non-spicy one if you wanted a tangy dipping sauce. Then there was the ketchup-based bbq sauce if you liked things on the sweeter side. Then there was also the soy sauce dip if you wanted that salty kick. All of them, absolutely delicious in their own ways.
If these were made at home for a get together or at the beach, these could be served in skewers, or in larger slices, like you see in the photo, and then chopped and piled to be eaten Kamayan style. And just like any Filipino meal, these would be served with plain rice, or sinangag (garlic rice) along with other grilled items like vegetables and other grilled meats, as well as the dipping sauces.
What makes this recipe awesome:
Well for one thing, it's my mom's recipe - and I always have a soft spot for any of the recipes that my mom made ever since I was a kid. To this day, whenever we have a barbecue in the summer, this is our go-to recipe for liempo.
This recipe, whenever we can, we make using fresh calamansi juice, and though sometimes pricey is totally worth it.
What is calamansi?
Calamansi are a tiny citrus, native to Southeast Asia and the Philippines, that resemble key limes. They are fragrant and their flavour is sweeter, almost like a clementine, but super tart like a lemon. For such a tiny little fruit, it packs a whole lot of character unlike any citrus you've ever had before. It also has amazing health benefits.
If you're not able to find fresh calamansi, you can use store-bought calamansi juice concentrate, or fresh lemons or limes are also a great substitute.
Though other recipes for Inihaw na Liempo call for sweet ketchup, we prefer to omit this and keep it simple and more traditional with our marinade. The marinade is also used as a basting liquid to keep the meat moist while grilling.
There are just a few simple ingredients to make liempo. One of which, includes time - just like any other marinade, a minimum of 1 hour is enough to flavour the meat, but ultimately if you allow it to marinade overnight, you allow the meat to tenderize and absorb all the wonderful flavours that you put into it.
Pork Belly - this is traditional. The belly is one of the juiciest and most tender parts, and also flavourful because of the fat. You can ask your butcher for the bone in or off, and can have them sliced to about 1/2-inch thick.
If you'd really like less fat though, you can use pork chops, or even pork tenderloin (cooking time will vary), alternatively, you can use chicken!
Calamansi - apart from its unique flavour, it's used to help tenderize the meat and keep it juicy. Substitute with lemon or lime juice, or store-bought calamansi juice concentrate (not calamansi syrup as that has a ton of added sugars)
Soy Sauce - preferably use dark soy sauce (our favourite brand being Silver Swan) or Knorr liquid seasoning. This is used as the main seasoning and salty element to this marinade.
Fish Sauce - a.k.a patis, is packed with loads of umami flavour and is another form of seasoning and is used to round out the salty flavour of the marinade.
Brown Sugar - used to balance out the salt, add a little sweetness, and also helps with the caramelization and char.
Garlic - adds that savoury and herby flavour to the marinade. You can roughly chop the garlic, or crush it with the sides of the knife to get its juices out.
How to make it:
This bit is easy-peasy, calamansi squeezy.
Simply place the sliced pork belly in a large enough container, or large resealable bag.
Next, mix the marinade ingredients together - calamansi juice, soy sauce, fish sauce (patis), brown sugar, garlic, and crushed black pepper. If you want to add chilis for that extra kick, add it here.
Pour the mixture over the meat, and mix it all together, making sure every part of the meat gets marinated. Let that sit and marinate, covered, for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.
Remove the meat from the refrigerator an hour before grilling (so as to come to temperature), then grill over medium high heat, basting with the marinade occasionally, and flipping every now and then until the meat is charred, caramelized, and fully cooked.
If you are able to cook this over a charcoal grill, I highly encourage it as this will give you tremendously delicious smokey flavour, but if you only have a gas grill (like I have), it works perfectly well.
Grill until the meat is charred, caramelized, sizzling and delicious.
Just watch out for those fatty juices as they may catch a bit of the flame.
Bonus: What is a Kamayan Feast?
I've mentioned a Kamayan Feast a couple times already in this post, and you may be wondering exactly what it is. Well, the term 'Kamayan' refers and translates to 'hands' and in Filipino culture, some feasts and gathering events would be served without utensils (forks, knives, spoons) and our hands and fingers are used for eating.
There are no serving dishes and no plate settings, but rather laid out on banana leaves are all the dishes being served in a communal manner, all within reach. This feast, may also be referred to as 'boodle fight' - first originating from the Philippine military, where in a mess hall, food was laid out on large banana leaves on long tables where the soldiers would gather and eat. The 'fight' would refer to them having to eat as much as they can, as quickly as they can, with their bare hands. When they were done, the banana leaves could just as easily be rolled up for easy cleanup.
This tradition, encouraged brotherhood, camaraderie, togetherness, and equality.
This takes finger foods, and eating with your hands to a whole new level!
The feast itself is also quite a sight to behold, as the whole table can be described as the serving platter. Everything is within reach I mean, you may be asked to pass around a few things here and there, with rice (plain or sinangag) is at the centre of it all, and everything else surrounding.
A kamayan feast may include:
Pansit - Filipino style stir fried noodles Grilled fare - like liempo and other grilled meats and seafood
Fruits and vegetables - served fresh or cooked, and extra citrus for drizzling.
Sauces and salsas - dipping sauces like vinegar, bbq sauce, lechon sauce, and tomato salsas
Ceviches and pickled items - like shrimp or fish ceviches, and atchara (pickled green papaya), and even coleslaw
Thinking of ditching the forks and trying out your own kamayan feast?
Just make sure to protect your tables by first laying out a table cover or some newspapers underneath your banana leaves. Then just have fun and lay out whatever fare you think you're going to enjoy - a balance of flavours between grilled and steamed, also lay out a variety of sauces from sweet, to tangy, to spicy. Add some fresh fruit as well!
There's no right or wrong way to do it, as in some cases, the messier it is, the better the experience.