Musings on the Philippines’ National Merienda: Pancit Guisado
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Musings on the Philippines’ National Merienda: Pancit Guisado

Musings on the Philippines’ National Merienda: Pancit Guisado

Food & Entertaining | June 9, 2021
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Feast your eyes on the Pancit Guisado, a Filipino noodle dish that has been making waves across the country since… well, forever! This is it, pancit!

If we Filipinos were to take a national poll and vote for the country’s favorite savory merienda, I’m willing to bet the big winner would be Pancit Guisado. It’s everybody’s go-to comfort food for those in-between meals when the tummy is grumbling, and the body needs immediate sustenance and fortification. Next to banana-cue and banana turon, no doubt the undisputed champions in the sweet category—pancit in all its permutations of canton, bihon, miki-bihon, sotanghon, mami and even palabok—would be the top contenders.

Centuries ago, the Chinese traders introduced Pancit as the poor man’s dish in the Philippines, but then it has now become a Filipino staple such as adobo or sinigang. With Pinoy ingenuity and creativity, a wider range of ingredients and toppings are used in pancit dishes all over the country today, and the possibilities are endless.

Why do we Filipinos love pancit so much? Let me count the ways.

Photo from Nina Daza-Puyat.

Pancit is Affordable and Accessible

Pancit is perhaps the most common offering in any school cafeteria, office canteen, or turo-turo, particularly as a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. For the hungry student or office employee on a budget, a plateful of hot pancit is always the cheaper, more satisfying option compared to a fast food burger or fried chicken meal.

A kilo of canton wheat noodles costs 150 pesos and can yield up to 12-15 servings of cooked pancit, depending on how much meat (and/or shrimps) and colorful vegetables are tossed into the mix. Bihon rice noodles cost even less, and that’s why these two types of noodle dishes are the most popular party staples in any celebration or large gathering. Pancit ordered from one’s favorite panciteria is often served in trademark bilaos of various sizes, and can never be without sliced calamansi halves dotting the bamboo tray’s perimeter.

Photo from Sapporo.

Pancit is Filling and Satisfying

A well-made pancit consists of a perfect balance of protein and vegetables, making it a complete meal unto itself. The starchy noodles bulk up during digestion and satisfy hunger pangs like no other. Made with either wheat flour, rice flour, cornstarch or mung bean starch, pancits are loaded with energy-giving carbs that release those feel-good endorphins in the body. Aside from being physically satiated, eating one’s favorite pancit dish, especially when made with love by someone special, can stir up warm, loving feelings of nostalgia.

Pancit Tastes Good and it’s Fun to Eat

Pancit noodles may be round or flat; fat, medium, or thin. They can be swimming in a flavorful broth, simmered in a thick sauce, or tossed in a delicious guisado. Garnishes can range from simple and common items such as fried garlic and spring onions to more special toppings like chicharon, bagnet, or lechon kawali. Pancit condiments can vary too, and must take pride of place beside the dish—take your pick from a buffet of calamansi, soy sauce, patis, red chilies, hot sauce, chopped onions, or even a spicy vinegar for that extra kick.

Yum! Photo from Nina Daza-Puyat.

Whatever you’re in the mood for, you can count on pancit for that pleasant feeling of slurping soft strands. From the mouthfeel to the flavor and aroma, they are simply so fun to eat!

Just a random thought: Isn’t it curious how we Filipinos never learned to eat pancit with chopsticks, unlike most of our Asian neighbors? Just a fork, or even a fork and spoon together, will do nicely.

Pancit is so Versatile and it can be Prepared in Many Ways

Pancit is one of those dishes that can be scaled up or down. It can have as little sahog if one is on a budget, or it can be loaded with all the good stuff if one wants to indulge. Usually though, some protein is included such as pork, chicken or shrimp, from which the simmering stock is obtained, but there can also be chicken liver and gizzards, other types of shellfish, or tough cuts of beef softened for hours, in the mix.

Pancit expert Marvin Gaerlan once ate oodles and oodles of pancit for 100 days straight in an effort to document the endless noodle offerings in different eateries all over the Philippines, ranging from the classic and traditional, to the most unusual and outlandish.

On his Pancit Love Instagram feed, this Pancit Nerd describes noodle dishes he has tasted in Philippine regions, from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. If you’ve only eaten the garden-variety type of pancits, you’ll be surprised at how creative Filipinos have become with noodles.

So many innovative ways to prepare Pancit! Photo from Nina Daza-Puyat.

Some examples: Pancit Lomi from Lipa, Batangas is a gooey soupy concoction of fresh egg noodles topped with pork meatballs, liver, and kikiam. There’s also Pancit Bato from Bato, Camarines Sur, which are saucy flat egg noodles sometimes garnished with a ladleful of Pork Dinuguan. Pancit Batil Patong in Tuguegarao boasts of fresh Miki noodles simmered with ground carabeef, liver, Chinese sausage, mixed vegetables, and then crowned with a poached egg. Hi-Bol Mami from Laoag, Ilocos includes beef tripe, heart, tendon, and wait for it… cow’s bile—a spin-off from the Ilocano favorite, Papaitan.

Pancit is a Communal Dish that’s Meant for Sharing

In Chinese cultures around the world, it is a well-known tradition that eating a noodle dish on one’s birthday brings good luck and long life as symbolized by the elongated, continuous strands of noodles. Here in the Philippines, that practice has also been adapted by Filipino families who must serve any type of pancit on one’s birthday. Most pancit recipes are good for at least 6 to 8, and can usually be multiplied to feed a small army. It’s a communal dish that’s meant to be distributed and enjoyed among family and friends and partaken together in a spirit of camaraderie.

Personally, I believe that good fortune comes not because one ascribes to a superstitious belief, but from the love, warmth, and happiness that ripples around the table when sharing a big platter of soul-soothing pancit.

Photos by Sapporo and Nina Daza-Puyat

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A proud home cook and cookbook author, Nina is in love with the cooking process. She believes there's something magical about bringing random ingredients together to create a cohesive dish that's delicious, nourishing, and satisfying. She likens cooking in the kitchen to a dance, with its many movements, rhythmic sounds, and stimulating smells, all working together in perfect harmony and synchronicity.
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