Traveling the world through cuisine

Pancit in the Philippines

Just south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam sits a cluster of over 7000 islands that we’ve come to know now as the Philippines. With a colorfully beautiful island landscape of mountains and beaches, some have nicknamed the region as “The Hawaii of Asia”. Beyond its physical beauty there lies an exotic culture cultivated and influenced by centuries of open trading borders, and occupations by the Spanish, Japanese, and even the United States.

For me, I’ve only known Filipinos in my life as the “other Asian culture” found all over my home city of Chicago. Granted we have a robust population of Chinese, Koreans, and some Japanese, Filipinos were this seemingly less mysterious Asian culture many non-Asians could seemingly get to know...and relate to. They were more open and sociable, as opposed to the very “closed” behavior of other Asian cultures, thus outsiders were more easily welcomed into their world, and their cuisine.

When I’ve asked my Filipino colleagues about their native cuisine, the answers were varied. One friend, who happens to be a talented chef, wowed me with the simplest satay to the more complexly flavorful adobo. It made me see Filipino cuisine as this interesting mesh of Asian tradition with Island delicacies, and a large splash of Spanish influence (thank the 333-year Spanish occupation of the islands).

One of my good friends had an opposing opinion of his own cuisine, as he gave me a description reminiscent of how many Irish and English describe their native cuisine. “Bland” was the operative term he used, describing years of horrid meals cooked by his elders, and how much he grew to love American cuisine because of it.

It was one day when we were at an International Market when he pointed to a package of dry noodles and said “This...this is the basis of Filipino cuisine”. The noodles were labeled Pancit (“pahn-set”), and in all honesty they seemingly are the same noodles used in making chow mein, otherwise known as stir-fried noodles.

Pancit literally translates to “convenient food”, and I found they are a staple for much of what the average Filipino serves casually. I can’t blame them either, as they are incredibly easy to make and so versatile in what you can do with it. I took on the challenge to craft a pancit my friend would love, as I always felt if most dishes one “hates” are more the result of how they were prepared, rather than the dish itself.

So I set out researching how to properly craft pancit dishes, and potential directions to take. For my first attempt, I took the safer route of chicken, using ingredients and flavors I’ve always loved when making Asian-style poultry dishes, and how that intertwines with the Filipino culture. I’ll admit the use of cabbage in this dish fascinated me the most.

Pancit Canton with Chicken

Pancit Canton with Chicken

Ingredients

For the marinade:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

For the pancit:

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
  • 4 oz of pancit canton noodles
  • 4 tbsp of canola oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp of ginger
  • 1/2 lb of stir fry vegetables
  • 1 cup of cabbage
  • 6 tbsp of soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients of the marinade.
  2. Place the chicken into a sealable container or bag, then pour the marinade on to fully coat the chicken.
  3. Seal the container and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.
  4. When the chicken is fully marinated, prepare the noodles by soaking them in warm water until soft. Be sure to drain the water before using them.
  5. In a wok or frying pan, heat up 2 tbsp of canola oil on medium-high heat.
  6. Place the chicken in the oil and cook until finished. Set aside.
  7. Pour in the remaining 2 tbsp of canola oil in the pan and heat it up.
  8. When the oil is hot, add in the garlic and ginger, cooking until fragrant.
  9. Add in the stir-fry vegetables and cabbage, cooking them until soft.
  10. Bring back the chicken and pour in the soy sauce.
  11. Stir it all up and continue cooking the mixture for another minute.
  12. Add in the noodles, mixing them all up with the ingredients until the noodles soak up the liquids and become golden-brown in color.
  13. Continue cooking until the noodles are hot.

Quick Notes

You need to soak the noodles beforehand to soften them, since we're not cooking them beforehand as you would pasta. You just need to toss the dry noodles into a bowl and cover them with lukewarm water. It'll take around ten minutes to get them ready. Ideal time to start the other parts of the dish.

"Stir-fry vegetables" is subjective. I usually mean at least a combination of broccoli, carrots, and peppers.  You could add in snap peas, mushroom, water chestnuts, and/or baby corn if you wish.  In all honesty, I usually take a shortcut with a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables.  If you go this route, make sure you defrost them first.

When you stir up noodles with the final dish, I've found it helps to use your spatula and maybe a spoon or second spatula as a "second hand". Makes it easier when you gently toss it like a salad.

Variations

This is entirely up to you. You can change up the vegetables, or try other meats if you wish, or no meat at all if you want to go vegetarian. Pancit is really more or less about tossing together ingredients at hand with the noodles to make an easy meal.

With the success of the chicken pancit, I wanted to try a second version using beef. You can’t go wrong with beef and teriyaki sauce. Just be sure to give time to marinade the meat before cooking it.

Pancit Canton with Beef

Pancit Canton with Beef

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of steak, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup + 6 tbsp of teriyaki sauce
  • 4 tbsp of canola oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp of ginger
  • 1/2 lb of stir fry vegetables
  • 4 oz of noodles
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Place the steak in a sealable container or bag, then pour 1/2 cup of teriyaki sauce on it.
  2. Seal the container and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.
  3. When the steak is fully marinated, prepare the noodles by soaking them in warm water until soft. Be sure to drain the water before using them.
  4. In a wok or frying pan, heat up 2 tbsp of canola oil on medium-high heat.
  5. Place the steak in the oil and cook until half-finished. Set aside.
  6. Pour in the remaining 2 tbsp of canola oil in the pan and heat it up.
  7. When the oil is hot, add in the garlic and ginger, cooking until fragrant.
  8. Add in the stir-fry vegetables, cooking them until soft.
  9. Bring back the steak and stir in the remaining 6 tbsp of teriyaki sauce.
  10. Mix it all up and continue cooking the mixture for another minute.
  11. Add in the noodles, mixing them all up with the ingredients until the noodles soak up the liquids and become golden-brown in color.
  12. Continue cooking until the noodles are hot and the steak is fully finished.

Quick Notes

You need to soak the noodles beforehand to soften them, since we're not cooking them beforehand as you would pasta. You just need to toss the dry noodles into a bowl and cover them with lukewarm water. It'll take around ten minutes to get them ready. Ideal time to start the other parts of the dish.

"Stir-fry vegetables" is subjective. I usually mean at least a combination of broccoli, carrots, and peppers.  You could add in snap peas, mushroom, water chestnuts, and/or baby corn if you wish.  In all honesty, I usually take a shortcut with a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables.  If you go this route, make sure you defrost them first.

When you stir up noodles with the final dish, I've found it helps to use your spatula and maybe a spoon or second spatula as a "second hand". Makes it easier when you gently toss it like a salad.

Variations

This is entirely up to you. You can change up the vegetables, or try other meats if you wish, or no meat at all if you want to go vegetarian. Pancit is really more or less about tossing together ingredients at hand with the noodles to make an easy meal.

Tags: Filipino, pancit, noodles, beef, chicken

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