Monday, April 18, 2011

Food and Oral History: Pancit "Long-Life"

This recipe blog entry is dedicated to my Tito Filimar Blanco 
who passed away on Tuesday, April 12, 2011.  May he rest in peace.

My cousin Frances shows off the dish his dad,
my Uncle Leo, cooked
     On your birthday, you must have someone make this dish for you.  The dish is called pancit or pansit, which is the term for noodles in Filipino cuisine. Noodles were introduced into the Philippines by the Chinese and have since been adopted into local cuisine. The term pancit is derived from the Hokkien pian i sit (Chinese: 便ê食) which means "something conveniently cooked fast".

     If you have ever been to a Filipino party anywhere in the world, this dish will be there 99% of the time.  If it is not on the table, the host ran out of time to prepare it.  I think this dish best appeals to Americans because it is not too strange and exotic looking on the table.  The taste also does not have a distinct single strong ingredient to frighten away the baseline palette.  The dish consists mainly of the pancit noodle, vegetables and meat. 

     A signature pancit dish is identified by the pancit noodle and the sliver cut of the vegetables and meat.  The pancit dish that we usually cook in our family is called Pancit Canton.  When I was growing up, I recall being put to work and advised to chop vegetables.  This was a meticulous chore because the vegetables had to be sliced thinly, julienne style.  When I look back now, I recall long afternoons of patiently chopping away at the array of vegetables while catching up on the latest news of family and activities with my mother and grandmother.  Even now, I still feel the sense of accomplishment as I imagine the large piles of nicely chopped vegetables of my childhood.  Only one other feeling trumps the  creation of a vegetable pile of a twelve year old and that is watching my mother pour the vegetables into a sizzling wok.  Then the sound of the sizzle follows.  Then the smell encapsulates the final moment that precedes the anticipation.  Soon we will be eating.

     First you sautee the chopped garlic and diced onion in the wok.  Then you add the diced chicken/pork.  Once the chicken is cooked, you can add the vegetables. My father boils the chicken first and then pulls the meat apart in shreds.  If you add fish balls, you need to cook them first before adding as well.  You need to sautee your vegetables.  Once the meat is cooked you can add the vegetables.

     Since the vegetables are chopped in very thin slices, they will cook quickly.  You need to add chicken broth in order for the liquid to steam the vegetables.  You must sautee the vegetables first, then add some broth.  Cook the vegetables al dente, do not over cook.

     My mother removes the meat and vegetables from the wok and sets it aside.  Leave the broth in the pot.  The next step is key.  Although this step may seem simple, you can ruin the dish if you do not pay attention.  I recall a few soggy pancit moments where a family member was lectured in their failed culinary attempt.  Even though Ilocano was spoken, I am all too familiar with the tone of lectured scolding.  Add the pancit to the chicken broth.  When the noodles absorb the broth, the noodles are done.  If at first it does not seem the pancit is absorbing the broth, have patience.  If the noodles have absorbed the broth and they do not seem cooked, then add more broth.  Once the noodles are done, add half the vegetables and mix with the noodles.  Add the second half of the vegetables to the top of the dish when you are ready to serve.

     When you serve the dish - it is helpful to know of someone with a kalamansi tree so that you can have access to the juice from this potent, lemon-orange citrus with a punch.   To top off the pancit, squeeze some of the juice all over the pancit noodles before eating.  My father farms these trees in his back yard.  You will know my father really likes you if a)  he offers you a beer b) offers you a kalamansi tree from his grove of seedlings.  If you do not have kalamansi, then lemon will do, but you are really missing out.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to find kalamnsi juice in the local Houston stores, so keep that Filipino dad nearby!

     This is one of those dishes, I had to once again draw out of my mother.  She had to really think about what she did.  I hope she told me everything, but in case she forgot a step, you can always double check with other recipes online.  The important part of this dish is the timing and chopping.   
     My husband is now offended if pancit does not appear on the table for his birthday.  Everyone says that having pancit on your birthday represents long life.  As a matter of fact, when my family members are asked what dish they want for their birthday, you can be sure of the reply.  One of the dishes is always pancit.   "I want pancit long-life," is what they will say.
     As to wether or not you truly have a long life after eating pancit - this can be debated, but I have yet to see any argument to the contrary.  The dish makes people happy and it brings people together and I think that in itself will add a few years on you.

This is the first recipe I could find on the internet that closely resembles the way my mom makes the dish, minus the mushrooms.

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 lb. pork shoulder, sliced thinly
  • 1 chicken breast, deboned and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup green beans, julienned
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 3/4 cup dried black or shiitake mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 pkg (1 lb) pancit canton (Chinese wheat noodles)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Patis (Filipino fish sauce), to taste (optional)
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • lemon or kalamansi, cut into wedges

    If using mushrooms, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes, then cut into strips, discarding the tough stems. Set aside. Heat oil over medium-high heat in wok or large skillet. Saute garlic and onions until tender. Add pork, chicken and shrimp, and cook until browned. Add soy sauce, stirring to flavor. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Add cabbage, green beans, carrots and mushrooms. Cook until vegetables are tender, yet crisp, 5-8 minutes. Add noodles, mixing gently to prevent them from breaking. Cook until liquid is absorbed and noodles are done, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with black pepper and patis. Garnish with green onions and lemon wedges.

    Reference link:  
    Definition of pancit complements of Wiki:
    Pancit Canton Recipe from the Food Network:
    Tito Filimar's Obit:

    1 comment:

    1. I am so impressed with your description of this dish. Thank you so much for sharing!


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