The Joy Pancit Palabok Brings

Rather unusual-looking dish, huh? Well, if you’re not from Southeast Asia, that is.

If you’re from the Malayan peninsula – somewhere within the vicinity of Malaysia, SIngapore, Brunei, and Indonesia – you would probably think this was a container of mee siam. However, it isn’t – but it does come close.

Pancit palabok is the name of the dish shown above. The word palabok itself colloquially describes anything particularly flowery (in terms of speech) or just terribly overdone. It is an apt description of a dish that is gorgeously embellished with practically everything save for the kitchen sink.

A plate of thin rice noodles is smothered in a savory sauce flavored with shrimp and made a brilliant orange with an extract prepared from annato seeds (known locally as atsuete). The dish is then covered with sauteed bits of pork (or firm tofu), bits of smoked fish (tinapa in the vernacular), sliced hard-boiled eggs, chives, crushed chicharon (pork crackling) and shrimp. Drizzle on a bit of kalamansi juice for a tangy contrast and you’re good to go.

Culinary nitpickers in this part of the world say that the term pancit palabok applies to the kind made with fine-textured noodles. Make the noodles slightly thicker, and you get pancit luglog, a variation popular in Central Luzon. Luglog is an onomatopoeia for the sound the noodles make whilst one drains the water off them via a sieve or colander. Still another school of thought refers to the concoction as pancit Malabon, a variation that uses very thick rice noodles topped with the usual orange-colored shrimp sauce and a variety of seafood sans pork. This variant gets its name from its place of origin, the Northern Manila suburb of Malabon which is famous for seafood and, alas, infamous for being such a flood-prone area during the monsoon season.

I should state at this point that even the best home cooks in the Philippines never prepare the dish in their own kitchens unless they are of a rather masochistic persuasion, but I digress. It is a very fiddly dish to do, seeing how one needs to pound goodness-only-knows how many pounds of shrimp heads to flavor the sauce. Palabok devotees like myself have thus resorted to going to places where they do the dish quite well:

For Classic Palabok:

  • Jollibee, the country’s leading fast-food chain, has been doing an excellent Palabok Fiesta for years. While I miss the old-style with tofu instead of pork, the pork-and-shrimp version they’ve been selling now isn’t shabby at all.
  • Tapa King is where I got the box pictured above. Their version is saucy without being too watery so the noodles, thin as they are, still have a bit of bite to them.

For Pancit Luglog:

  • There can only be one great place for it in my book: Razon’s of Pampanga. But, of course, you needn’t drive all the way to the town of Guagua to enjoy this (along with the shop’s pared down / sinfully simple halo-halo); there’s a Razon’s branch in most local malls these days.

For Pancit Malabon:

  • Amber Golden Plate in Makati and its sister establishment Amber Golden Spoon in Muntinlupa are a sure-fire way to get a Malabon fix without having to drive all the way over to that part of town. They don’t skimp on the delectable sauce, you see. You’ll feel stuffed after a plateful – but won’t be able to stop yourself for coming back for more! This pancit goes down a treat with pork barbecue, so be sure to get a dozen [or so] skewers along with your order. ;D