I am glad that my husband’s eldest sister lives in the same town. When we first moved here she showed us places to shop for Asian foods. We now shop at FoodTown, an ethnic food superstore very much like the International Foods we go to in New York. In addition to fresh tropical produce, fresh fish and meats, there are endless supplies of pantry foods from the Caribbean, India and above all multiple isles to delight any Southeast Asian cook from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. There is an isle lined up with noodles made from rice, beans, sweet potatoes, various types of starches and flours, with eggs, without eggs, white, yellow, brown, flat, round, fine, thin, thick, straight or curly. In Filipino cooking, they are all called pancit with a qualifying description, sort of like a second name, derived from either what it is made of or how it is cooked, mostly from how it is cooked.
I believe the Chinese introduced the noodles to the rest of the world. This dish is the simplest and most common Philippine noodle version. Simply called Pancit Bihon, bihon being Tagalog for rice sticks, it is also referred to as Pancit Bihon Guisado, guisado being Tagalog (derived from Spanish) for sautéed. It is rice sticks sautéed with any type of meat or shrimps and vegetables. To give the noodles a bit of color, soy sauce or annatto extract is added. Usually the proportion of noodles to vegetables is about 3-to-1 but to cut down on carb, I like to increase the vegetable proportion to as much as 50-50. My only problem with cooking pancit is I find it very difficult to cook just a little of it, making this an ideal dish for company.
- 1/2 package thin rice vermicelli
- 1 chicken breast, cut into thin strips
- 2 c shredded cabbage
- 1 c french cut green beans
- 1 carrot, cut in slices or sticks
- 1/2 lb snow peas
- 1 onion
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2 scallions, sliced
- lemon for serving
- 1 c no-salt chicken broth
- 1 t annatto powder or 1/4 c soy sauce
- salt and pepper
- 4 T vegetable oil
Saute the meat and vegetables. Filipino sautéed dishes always starts with the browning of garlic in oil.
- In a big pan or wok, heat 3 T oil, slightly brown the garlic, add the onions and the meat. Cover and cook until the chicken is no longer pink and thoroughly cooked.
- Add the vegetables except the scallions and lemon. Season with salt and pepper . Cover until the vegetables are wilted but not soft.
- If using the same pan for the noodles, remove the meat-vegetables mix and set aside.
- Put the chicken broth on the pan, add the choice of color: annatto or soy sauce, start with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper and 1 T vegetable oil. Bring to boil.
- Add the dry noodle and keep stirring to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the broth is absorbed by the noodles, test for doneness like pasta. Normally, the noodles are soaked in cold water first but like my pasta, I like my noodles al dente so I skip the soaking.
- Add the vegetables back to the pan. Mix the veggies into the noodles. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.
- Transfer to a serving dish and top with the sliced scallions.
- Filipinos like topping their pancit with sliced hard-boiled eggs we also like to eat it with a squeeze of citrus like the calamundin or lemon.
Pancit is always present in any Filipino birthday celebration. We believe that the long noodles symbolize long life so don’t even think of cutting the noodles to put into your mouth!