Aside from the typical heartwarming soups and stews, one of the most popular comfort foods in Filipino cuisine is pansit or pancit (noodle-based dishes). Introduced into the country by the Chinese, pancit gets its name from the Hokkien pian i sit which means “something conveniently cooked fast.”
Noodles have been around a long time and have since been adopted into local cuisine. Familiar favorites include Mami, Bihon, Guisado, Sotanghon and Palabok, which can be found pretty much everywhere in the country. Whether it’s the type of noodle used, the variety of toppings that goes into the dish, a special sauce / secret ingredient or the method of cooking, different provinces manage to put their own unique spin on the dish. Here are a few of the more unique ones I’ve encountered during trips.
Pancit Cabagan is a delightful medley of stir-fried fresh miki noodles and mixed vegetables. Topping it off is a generous serving of quail’s eggs and crispy lechon de carajay or fried pork bits. This pancit dish swims in a thick soy-sauce based savory broth that gives it its tasty flavor that both locals and vistors love. This is best eaten hot, as the sauce can make the noodles and crispy pork bits soggy if you don’t consume it at once. The pancit is named after the town of Cabagan in Isabela province from which it originated, but it’s also available in other provinces in the Cagayan Valley. This is by far my favorite type of pancit in the Philippines. Anything topped with fried pork bits has my vote. The cover photo above was taken in Josie’s Panciteria & Restaurant in Cabagan, Isabela. The second is another variant of Pancit Cabagan that uses hard boiled egg, lechon kawali bits and less sauce from MJ Snack & Pancit Cabagan Restaurant in Nagtipunan, Quirino.
And here’s another variant of Ordinary Pancit Cabagan (without toppings) from 6 to 8 Panciteria in Basco, Batanes.
PANCIT BATIL PATUNG
Pancit Batil Patong or Patung, a specialty of Tuguegarao (also available throughout areas in the Cagayan Valley region), is made with miki noodles and sautéed meat (either pork, beef or carabeef) and topped with bean sprouts, other vegetables, a fried egg and some chicharon bits. It’s served with a sauce of fresh onions, vinegar, toyo and calamansi on the side that you’re supposed to mix into the pancit depending on your preference. Match this with hot chocolate and kakanin for a great breakfast or with softdrinks for a heavy merienda. If directly translated, Batil Patong means “beat the egg” for Batil and “placed on top” for Patong which explains the egg on top.
Batac, Ilocos Norte
Ilocos Norte’s miki noodles is a savory reddish-orange noodle soup with white miki noodles and a hard-boiled egg topped with crunchy chicharon bits. The miki broth gets its distinctive color from achuete or annatto, a coloring agent with a subtle flavor used in dishes like kare-kare and Pancit Malabon. For an authentic experience, head to the streetside eateries like Mami Bel’s near the Batac Church, which sells bowls of miki noodles for P20 (ordinary) and P25 (special). They also sell other pancit variants like Mami, Pancit Bihon and Pancit Canton. If you’re really hungry, you can order a double-double Batac empanada from the stalls across the streets, and drizzle it with vinegar, to go along with your noodle soup.
Vigan, Ilocos Sur
This miki dish shares similarities with its Ilocos Norte counterpart. The noodles are prepared by hand, the dough is rolled into thin round sheet and cut into flat strips and dried in open air. The Vigan miki noodle has the same ingredients as egg noodle it is a mixture of flour, egg and salt. Popular as street food in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, you can sample this in the Vigan Plaza, along with the famous Vigan empanada and okoy (deep fried shrimps).
Naga City, Bicol
Kinalas is Naga City’s homegrown noodle soup dish that makes use of a broth made from cow or pig cheeks, which is boiled until the meats falls off or is easily flaked, thus “kinalas”. Slices of the meat swim the soup topped with green onion and kalamansi on the side, and topped with gravy! If you’re feeling adventurous, you can ask the chef to add pork brains to your noodle soup. Make your own chili or vinegar sauce to add a bit of a kick.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
A Filipino version of the famous pho noodles of Vietnam, Chalong is a noodle dish that uses rice noodles and your choice of meat. Options include beef, pork or buto-buto (beef bones). The noodle soup is served with garnishes like bean sprouts, sprigs of mint, basil, and lime on the side for you to sprinkle on top of your soup. The herbs add a pleasant aroma and healthy flavor to the dish. For those on a budget, head to Bona’s Chaolong House and Restaurant, which serves affordable chaolong options at prices easy on the pocket. They also sell French Bread, a baguette with meat and vegetable fillings, which goes great with the dish. For a more authentic taste of Chaolong (and larger servings), head to Viet Ville in the Vietnamese Village in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, a small community settled in by Vietnemese refugees in Puerto Princesa.
LA PAZ BATCHOY
La Paz, Iloilo City
No trip to Iloilo would be complete without sampling the famous La Paz Batchoy, a heartwarming soup dish that hails from the district of La Paz. The broth is garnished with pork innards, crushed pork cracklings, vegetables, shrimp, chicken breast or beef loin, shrimp broth, chicken stock and miki noodles. You can enjoy the famous batchoy in popular chains like Ted’s and Deco’s around Iloilo or head to the La Paz Public market for a more authentic experience at Netong’s. La Paz Batchoy goes pretty well with puto, which restaurants usually serve on the side as a combo meal.
I haven’t come across any unique pancit dishes in provinces in Mindanao, except for Pastil in Tawi-Tawi. These mini-empanada like patties are filled with pancit bihon (rice noodles) and can be found in small snack houses around Bongao. The patties themselves are a bit on the bland side, but they taste pretty good when dipped with hot & spicy vinegar. If you’re not that hungry, two to three pieces of this (which cost only P3/piece) can make a light snack or breakfast.
Originally from the coastal town of Malabon in National Capital Region, pancit Malabon is a variant of pancit loaded with seafood and Malabon’s specialty – duck eggs! Pancit Malabon is made with fat rice noodles and topped with shrimp-achuete sauce, shelled small shrimps, squid rings, shelled oysters, and boiled duck eggs cut into wedges. Popularly brought as potluck contribution during parties because it can feed a lot of people, this type of pancit is a staple at panciterias in the metro.
A local specialty in the province of Lucban, Quezon, pancit habhab is traditionally served in a cone shaped from banana leaves and eaten without utensils. It is made of sautéed miki noodles and topped with veggies, slices of pork, and shelled shrimps. It’s celebrated during the Pahiyas Festival. (Forgot to take a close-up shot before eating).
There are many other pancit variants which I have yet to try including Pancit Bam-i from Cebu, Pancit Bato with Dinuguan, Seaweed Pancit (with noodles made from seaweed), and Buko Pancit (where coconut strips are substituted for noodles). I’m sure there are many other local and regional specialties that I haven’t even heard of. Any suggestions on what to look out for?
NOTE: This article was adapted from my article “Oodles of Noodles” which was first published in Zest Inflight Magazine in 2012.