Pancit Malabon from Amber
Last Saturday, my German class had a little party to mark the end of our course. We all brought different kinds of food, ranging from "generic Americanised" to "European inspired;" and right in the middle, insisting on grabbing all the attention, was the Filipino offering.
Pancit is both simple and complicated. It's simple because it's basically noodles tossed with meat, seafood, vegetables, and a "sauce." It's complicated because every region of the Philippines will have its own version of pancit--which means a different "sauce," different vegetables, different meat or seafood, and even different noodles. Pancit malabon is simply the pancit of Malabon City--and since Malabon is near the coast, pancit malabon owes its special taste to the sea. Its chunky rice noodles are traditionally tossed with shelled hipon (shrimp) and other seafood. And I believe that its seafood-stock-based sauce originally got its yellow colour from aligue (crab fat)--though these days, most cooks just use achuete (annatto) seeds, which leads to pancit malabon being confused with pancit palabok. (My purist heart can't take it.)
Amber's pancit malabon was nice and flavourful, if also "minimalist." It didn't have as much shrimp as the photo suggests, nor any squid, mussels, or other goodies from the sea. And the sauce owes its flavour as much to crushed chicharon (pork crackling) as to the traditional shrimp broth. While the point probably should be that everything works together and tastes good, the eclectic mix of shrimp, chicharon, and hard-boiled eggs also called to mind the even wilder medley of ingredients that is pancit palabok. And so this pancit malabon just felt like the poor man's version of the former rather than something special in its own right.
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I can't tell you how to make pancit malabon because my own family's pancit has always been pancit bihon . . . which I actually like the least of all the pancit possibilities. =P I think it's because I don't like bihon noodles, which are very, very fine, and vastly prefer patis (fish sauce) to toyo (soy sauce) as the salty element in my sauces. It wasn't until I got older that I discovered the wide world of pancit, with different tastes and different textures to suit any preference.
But pancit bihon is one of the most easily "hacked" and it's a one-pot meal, so it's what I'll tell you how to make here. Start by soaking some pre-cooked dried bihon (rice vermicelli) noodles in lukewarm water until they are soft. This takes about ten minutes. After draining the soaking liquid, cut the noodles up a bit. The idea is that you shouldn't have to twirl them around your fork like spaghetti when its time to eat. You should be able "to shovel" pancit bihon into your grateful mouth, if you know what I mean.
Then in your wok (or whatever you've got!), do a stir-fry, starting with diced onion and garlic, then adding thinly-sliced (but not ground!) pork, chicken, and/or baby shrimp. (Don't stress over the ingredients. Use what's handy!) Put a heap of shredded carrot and cabbage--or again, whatever vegetables you have--in toward the end, so they shrink but still have some "bite" to them. Finally add the noodles and toss everything together. This is when you add a few tablespoons of toyo and/or oyster sauce--or anything you think would tie all the flavours together and give the noodles a yellowish or brownish tinge. (I realise you must all want the "authentic" family recipe, but pancit is like fried rice in many ways: you really can throw in whatever you please and still have something yummy.)
Serve with wedges of calamansi (Philippine lemon) that diners can squeeze onto their servings as they please. (I never do, though. =P)
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If you like reading about Filipino food, please consider entering my Philippine Literature Giveaway for Merlinda Bobis's novel Banana Heart Summer, which is Option #11. It has got nothing on pancit, but it has got so much other food that you'll never notice!
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