The Philippines is not necessarily known as noodle territory, given that rice remains the staple starch for much of the nation’s citizens. But this does not mean that Filipinos aren’t a noodle-noshing race; on the contrary, Filipino cuisine features several dishes wherein noodles – from chewy mung-bean sotanghon to wheat-flour Canton cooked either al dente or soft – serve as the base (the canvas, if you want to take an artistic metaphor) for a number of savoury preparations. From sotanghon guisado (mung-bean vermicelli stir-fried with shredded chicken and vegetables) to classic pancit Canton (wheat-based egg noodles cooked with a bit of stock and an assortment of meat and vegetables), noodle dishes are an integral part of every Filipino family’s celebration menu.
However, throughout the passage of time, tastes change and, with them, so does the country’s food culture. Filipino households are just as likely to prepare Western pasta dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese or macaroni and cheese on birthdays in place of (or in addition to) pancit. But, despite the influx of foreign dishes into local menus, pancit is still one of the undisputed kings of the celebration banquet – and is just the thing to use as a key ingredient for many exciting meals.
Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation, one of the oldest noodle-making companies in the country, recently held Oodles About Noodles, an event where the versatility of pancit Canton was presented and how such an Oriental ingredient can actually be used in lieu of Western pasta for a variety of dishes that can liven up family meals.
As one of the oldest and most prominent noodle brands in the country, Jeverps’ Excellent has long been a staple of many kitchens throughout the Greater Manila Area and throughout much of Luzon. While its primary stock in trade is traditional noodles (pancit Canton, pancit bihon [beehoon; rice stick noodles], and fresh miki [fat, udon-like egg noodles), it has also made a foray into instant noodles (both soup noodles and instant pancit) and Western noodles such as spaghetti and macaroni. Widely available in local markets and groceries, housewives, home cooks, and even institutional caterers have long been singing the praises of its products.
The end-product of years of continuous research and innovation, Excellent noodles – specifically Excellent Pancit Canton – are not only enjoyed in the Philippines but are now being exported for use overseas, particularly in North America, Australia, and the Middle East. It was easy to see why after we were shown comparative samples of Excellent pancit and that of a leading brand. In their raw state, Excellent noodles already smell delicious: the aroma of a just-opened pack of pancit Canton is similar to that of hot toast or corn chips (nachos) just taken out of a deep-fryer. The colour was also a deeper, richer yellow than the competitor: evidence that a good number of fresh eggs went into the making of the noodles
Cooked, the noodles continued to show their quality. Blanched at five minutes, the noodles were toothsome – al dente, to be exact – whilst the point of comparison still had a raw core that rendered the noodles tough and unpalatable. Shown above are noodles cooked for about 8 – 10 minutes: the sample on the left is the competitor’s and it was beginning to look like a tangled mass. The Excellent sample on the right had noodles that remained separate and had attained the chewy, ‘bouncy’ texture that many diners prefer. Even when overcooked, Excellent noodles retained their structural integrity even as the competitor’s had more or less turned into a gluey mush.
But, as they say, the proof of the pudding isn’t just in the cooking; rather, it’s in the eating. That said, the chefs from host institution Global Culinary and Hospitality Academy pulled out the stops and presented an excellent array of fusion noodle dishes.
The actual demonstration was handled by Chef Garie Quiambao, one of Global Academy’s chef-instructors. Meanwhile, in the side kitchen preparing dishes for participants to try was another chef instructor, Brando Santos, together with a team of student chefs. Needless to say that the aromas wafting from both kitchens made our mouths water and our eyes widen with anticipation for what we were going to sample.
One of the reasons for the event was to show both home cooks and culinary professionals that pancit Canton, pancit Bihon, and other traditional Filipino noodles could be used in lieu of their Oriental and Western equivalents in a number of preparations from classic Italian pastas to homespun Japanese ramen and udon to noodle braises worthy of an old-school Chinese lauriat. All four of the recipes demonstrated were interesting and quite easy to do either at home or in an institutional kitchens. Of course, some dishes were better received by the audience than others.
The first dish to come out of the kitchen was the Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton. This was pretty much a riff on the simple classic aglio olio which is a simple emulsion of garlic-infused olive oil with fresh herbs and peperoncini (dried chili flakes). Here, blanched pancit Canton was tossed into a simple sauce made by sauteeing plenty of minced garlic in olive oil. Clams – vongole/halaan – were thrown in and heated up until the shells popped open (if the shells don’t open, chuck those out!). The clams were taken out and a splash of broth and a touch of dry white wine were added to the sauce. To finish, the sauce was mounted with a bit of butter for some enrichment, the noodles tossed in with the shellfish, and sprinkled over with parsley and peperoncini.
If you blindfolded a diner and fed him this, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from a dish of classic clam linguine. The bright, fresh flavours of the clams and the peppery character of the sauce worked surprisingly well with the noodles which complemented the other tastes with a hint of nutty sweetness.
The second dish was a riff on the classic fettucine carbonara – or, well, how carbonara is typically prepared here in the Philippines. What is known here as carbonara is actually a variation on fettucine Alfredo in the sense that the white sauce is made with fresh cream instead of the egg yolks vital to classic carbonara. Nevertheless, this version also has bacon (rather than pancetta) to give it a typical salty-smoky savour.
In this fusion context, alas, the pancit Canton did not fare so well with participants. Because pancit Canton is made with eggs, the cooked noodles have a rather eggy flavour that usually gets drowned out when cooked with soy-based sauces as with a traditional platter of Canton. Here, the egginess didn’t quite gel with the rich, creamy sauce. I don’t say this too often, but I found this dish a little too rich for my palate. Apparently, many participants shared the opinion.
More successful was the fusion spin on another Italian classic: spaghetti puttanesca. A traditional puttanesca features a spicy tomato sauce given salty zip by the addition of anchovies and capers. Here, the anchovies were replaced by tuyo flakes – dried, salted fish (usually the small freshwater tawilis) flaked, filleted, and marinated with chili and black pepper in olive oil – which gave a similar flavour with an added fillip of heat.
This was quite a successful combo: the eggy richness of the noodles was tempered by the sweet-tart tomato sauce and the flecks of salt-fish added a pleasing contrast against the starchy noodles. This was, hands-down, my favourite dish from the demo and one I’d happily cook at home.
The grand finale of the demonstration was the Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba with Bok Choy and Quail Eggs. Humba is a dish that hails from the Visayas, particularly in my maternal grandmother’s home province of Leyte. It is, essentially, what you get when you combine the soy and vinegar flavours of Filipino adobo with the sweet and unctuous qualities of pata tim (Chinese braised pork leg): a whole pork leg cooked with banana blossoms in soy sauce and vinegar until meltingly tender.
In this case, the cooked pork is ladled atop a bed of noodles and garnished with blanched bok choy, hard-boiled quail eggs, carrot ribbons, and garlic peanuts. It is a fascinating dish: rich yet with a pleasant sharpness, soft noodles and tender pork against crisp carrots and crunchy peanuts. It is the sort of dish that is perfect for either family dinners or large-scale feasts.
It was interesting to see such an old-school staple transformed into dishes worthy of either an Italian osteria or a banquet of Continental delights. Thanks to the folks at Jeverps and Global Academy, I will never look at pancit the same way again or take it for granted. Its versatility and excellence make it a vital ingredient for both home and restaurant kitchens.
NOTE: I was formally invited to this event by Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation. Incidentally, the new Excellent Hong Kong-Style Pancit Canton will be available in leading supermarkets and public markets in November of this year.