Recipe: Pancit (Filipino noodles)

As I’ve noted in the past, Filipino food makes regular appearances in our diet due to my parents’ upbringing there. One of the basic dishes in Filipino cooking is Pancit, a noodle dish with infinite variations (like “pasta” in Italy). The core ingredients are a special egg noodle, soy & fish sauce, citrus, vegetables, and meat. If you have the right noodles on hand, the recipe can be easily localized using market-fresh vegetables and meats. This is best as a fall meal as most of the core American vegetables (cabbage, carrots, potatoes) are available then. Here’s a how-to recipe based on my family’s traditions. Filipinos reading this are welcome to contribute their own takes. Vegetarians can simply leave out the meat and fish sauce, use vegetable broth, and still have a nice dish that just won’t be quite as complex in flavor.

Non-local ingredients:
Pancit noodles: These are a thick, yellow egg noodle usually sold in squat, nearly cubical packages. I have found them at every Asian grocery I’ve ever visited. Currently I buy mine from Kea International on VanDiver. There are several brands, some of which have some odd ingredients, others just the basics. Look for one made in the Philippines (there are Chinese versions that aren’t quite the same).

Soy & fish sauce: The former should be obvious. The latter is also available at any Asian grocery. It stinks when raw, but when cooked it mellows and adds a very nice and unique flavor to any Asian dishes. Use it.

Calamansi juice: Calamansis are a tasty Filipino fruit, like a small lime but unique in flavor. They’re the real thing to use, but lemons are a good substitute.

1-2 onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-1 lb cabbage, shredded
3-4 cups chopped vegetables (esp. carrots, potatoes, & celery)
4 cups meat or vegetable broth
Cubed meat to taste (often chicken or pork, goat in our case)
Shrimp to taste if desired (not local but more authentic)
1/4 cup citrus juice (calamansi if you can get it, lemon if you can’t)
Soy & fish sauce to taste
Black pepper to taste

Pancit is often made as a stir fry, in which you cook everything in the pan/wok before adding broth and noodles at the last minute. I think the flavors blend better when made more like a soup, so that’s how I describe it here.

Sautee onions and garlic in some oil in a large pot. Add broth, some sauces, and black pepper, and bring to a simmer. Add meats and vegetables in order of needed cooking time (meats need longer, as do potatoes; carrots and celery less; shrimp not much; cabbage not much, etc.). When everything is almost cooked, taste broth and adjust sauces, spices, and citrus to get a very richly flavored broth (the noodles will soak up some flavor). When you like it, add the entire package of noodles and cook, covered, slowly mixing noodles down in. If done right, the noodles should absorb most of the broth and leave you with a thick noodle stew and just a bit of broth to keep it moist and not sticky. Top with some citrus squeezed onto each serving.

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