Traditionally, panciterias are best known for their primary stock in trade: pancit in all its myriad variations but, most likely, either pancit Canton or pancit bihon. One of the oldest panciterias in the country, however, has gone beyond that and its primary specialty happens to be asado (char siu – Chinese-style roast pork) cooked in a pugon (wood-fired oven).
Panciteria Lido has been around since 1936. Despite the passage of the Second World War, Martial Law, the Revolution of 1986, Erap Estrada’s ouster, and nine years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it is still serving tip-top comida China (Chinese food tweaked to local tastes) in various locations in and around the city. While its noodles dishes still draw in crowds (the thick, rich, seriously umami lomi is a major favorite among its habitues), families drop in during weekends or call in for delivery for the smoky-tasting pugon-roasted asado.
Lean-ish pork bellies are first poached in a tasty marinade consisting of soy sauce and a variety of spices known only to the proprietors (though I do suspect the presence of both cinnamon and star anise in the mix) for up to 60 hours, the meat soaking up the flavors and becoming absolutely, meltingly tender. The pork is then roasted – well, to put in more technically, smoked – in a brick oven, and served chilled. The resulting dish is soft and flavorful, certainly moreish. Your palate will play tricks with your brain as you eat as you’ll be wondering if you’re eating a really good ham, thickly-cut bacon, or a chilled, well-prepared roast. I recommend ordering the asado for take-away as it makes fantastic sandwiches when stuck into either a hot pan de sal or a steamed white mantou.
Another crowd-pleaser is the three-cups chicken, a smokin’ hot clay pot filled with savory-sweet goodness. Known as sanbeiji in Mandarin, three-cups chicken gets its name from the mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil it’s braised in – in specific measures of a cup each.
In Panciteria Lido’s version of the dish, the chicken is cooked in such a way as to become magnificently succulent and utterly delicious and fragrant. Apart from the classic ingredients, this version is spruced up by sliced root ginger, spring onions, star anise, and huge cloves of garlic that lose their pungency through long cooking, becoming toothsome and almost nutty-tasting and perfect on rice with the braised chicken.
The steamed fish fillets in soy sauce are tasty enough, though they do pale in comparison to either the asado or the chicken. Still, if you want to treat yourself after a serious bout of the flu or after a bad cold, the delicate cream dory cooked in a light soy broth will certainly appeal to you. The addition of fresh grated ginger and spring onions adds a pleasant sharpness that makes the flavors pop out at you without being too overpowering.
My family usually orders the Yang Chow fried rice whenever we’re at Panciteria Lido, but take my advice and order plain steamed rice, instead. Apart from it being healthier (in a manner of speaking), the blandness makes a perfect background to the flavorful meats and sauces. One other thing to order (which, alas, isn’t pictured here): the lomi – thick, rich noodle soup – so thick that it’s practically more of a stew. Sheer bliss, believe me.
All that said, I firmly believe that Panciteria Lido is here to stay – and here to satisfy the appetites and palates of generations to come.