With the exception of the Islamic South and the indigenous tribes of the North, pancit is one of those non-negotiable party dishes for many Filipinos. In keeping with the Chinese superstition that serving noodles at a feast assured diners of long, happy lives, pancit is served at birthday parties, town or community fiestas, and even country weddings.
Most of the time, the pancit of choice is either bihon (similar to Peranakan bee hoon and made with thin rice noodles) or canton (made with wheat-and-egg noodles). These are usually prepared in the guisado manner, which is to say that the noodles are sauteed with onions, garlic, and a bit of soy sauce with bits of pork, chicken liver, and julienned vegetables. A more native alternative, so to speak, would be pancit prepared by the sarciado method: the saucy, brilliant orange pancit palabok or pancit Malabon (depending on the thickness of the noodles) where rice noodles are topped with a savory shrimp-flavored gravy, sliced hard-boiled eggs, snipped chives, and a generous sprinkling of flaked tinapang galunggong (smoked herring) and crushed chicharon. A more recent variation of the palabok entails the addition of garlicky longganizang Lucban – small, rich pork sausages – to the dish instead of the tinapa.
Just when I thought the buck stopped there, I found myself ordering a plate of pancit Tagalog for lunch one afternoon.
Pancit Tagalog may best be described as a Central/Southern Luzon version of the generic pancit canton. It consists of fat noodles sauteed with onions and garlic and cooked in a savory broth till rather dry. However, this is pretty much where the similarity to pancit canton ends.
Instead of being seasoned with soy sauce, pancit Tagalog is flavored with patis (fish sauce; nam pla) which gives it a distinctively umami vibe. The chicken broth used for regular pancit dishes is replaced with a stock made with pork bones and shrimp heads, making it incredibly flavorful and rich. The noodles used are miki – the same fresh, fat, eggy noodles used for that savory seafood soup called lomi – which make the dish quite filling with a very appealing stodginess. Sliced patola (native zucchini / loofah gourd) and coarsely chopped pechay (mature bok choy) replace the carrots and green beans, while baby squid or cuttlefish and tiny shrimp join the pork in lieu of the customary chicken liver. A squirt of fresh kalamansi or lime juice adds a welcome tartness and finishes the dish beautifully.
This dish may offend the sensibilities of those who prefer standard-issue pancit, as the flavors may be too wild, too exotic for their staid tastebuds. But if, like me, you prefer the more robust flavors of palabok or Malabon, I suggest that you sample this dish. The rich flavors add a new dimension to a classic dish. 😀