You have probably seen the shirts and posters with the caption ‘Got Rice?’. Filipinos love rice. Give us rice and we will be happy. But we also love noodles and we have countless recipes on noodles. This is one of the most popular so I will share it on this post.
A Bit of History
Noodles were introduced by the Chinese settlers in the islands probably around the 16th century. The term pancit is derived from the Hokkien pian I sit which literally means ‘convenient food’. You can say it was that time’s version of Mc Donald’s. Restaurants specializing in noodles are called ‘panciteria’. Right on that term, I can see an amalgamation of Spanish and Chinese influence since panciteria is more of a Spanish than Chinese term.
There is also a common belief handed down by the Chinese that noodles symbolize long life and good health. This is why pancit is regularly served on birthdays and special occasions. But there is a rule: the noodles must be cooked unbroken.
Like any food that was brought over from other countries, the Filipinos customized it and made it their own using local ingredients and local preferences.
Here is the Filipino Pancit Bihon recipe. Hope you like it.
- 1 lb pancit bihon (rice noodles) – if you cannot find pancit bihon, any type of thin rice noodles is OK
- 1/2 lb chicken cut into small pieces or cooked and shredded
- a handful of snow peas
- 1 cup julienne carrot
- 1 cup green cabbage – sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup celery stalks sliced thinly
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 medium-sized onion – chopped
- 2 cloves garlic – minced
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 to 3 cups chicken broth or water – can vary depending on the noodles you use
How to Cook Filipino Pancit Bihon
Serves: 8 Prep time: 20 min Cook time: 30 min
Most of the work in pancit cooking is cutting time. The cooking process itself is only a half hour or so. You can easily prep the ingredients a day before if you are cooking after a day of work or if you have a party and have to cook several dishes in a limited time.
- Soak bihon noodles in water for about 10 minutes (this can be done while cooking)
- Get a big pot or wok.
- Saute the garlic and onion in cooking oil for 2 – 3 minutes until the onions are translucent
- Add the carrots and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until tender
- Add the snow peas, cabbage and celery and simmer for 2 minutes
- Add the chicken, soy sauce and 1/2 cup of broth, stir and cook for 2 minutes
- Remove the chicken and vegetables to a bowl and leave the broth
- Add the rest of the broth, pancit bihon, mix, cover and cook until the broth is gone and the noodles are done. Make sure the noodles do not become too soggy. This can be about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Put back the chicken and vegetables and mix. Simmer for a minute or two until the liquid completely evaporates and the sauce coats the noodles evenly.
- Serve hot with lemon slices.
Variants of Pancit Bihon
One thing I do with it is I add sliced Chinese sausages. I add it before step 3 and cook it in a little water to make the oil come out. This may not be available in regular American grocery chains but I have seen it in Costco so there is hope. The Chinese sausages are a little sweet so it adds a sweet and salty flavor to the noodles which I like. Spanish chorizo can also be used instead of Chinese sausage.
You can use diced pork or a combination of pork and chicken. You can add cooked, peeled shrimp, sliced hard-boiled eggs and make it look festive. If you want, you can add fish balls or shrimp balls cooked in a little oil and cut in half. The fish or shrimp balls are available in Asian groceries.
You can pretty much add any vegetable that can be used for stir-fry. You can also opt out of the chicken and use mushrooms or tofu as well as use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
You can make white pancit and use fish sauce or salt instead of soy sauce. I like the caramel color though so personally, I always use soy sauce.
How to Serve Pancit Bihon
You can eat it as a meal by itself or you can combine it with a meat dish. Filipino Pork BBQ in skewers is a popular choice. It is also good with fried chicken in which case you can use less meat in the pancit itself.
The rice noodles and vegetables make this dish rather easily spoilable so this may not be a good choice if you are going to the beach or a picnic outdoors where it will be exposed to the heat and sun. You will easily know by the sour smell when it goes bad. I’ve been to outdoor picnics where I could see people whispering about the suspicious tray of pancit. It is better to be safe than sorry especially if you are feeding a crowd of people.
As I said above, squeeze a slice of lemon before you eat it. The contrast between salty and sour makes it very good. In the Philippines, this is a popular ‘merienda’ or afternoon snack bought from a roadside food stall.
My Best Memories of Pancit Bihon
My best memories of pancit is having my mom cook it on my birthday or on the town fiesta. Being predominantly Catholic, each town has a patron saint and there is one day of the year allocated to that saint. The whole town celebrates it as a feast day and in the older days, this is a free-for-all buffet. Imagine people walking around all day, visiting different houses and sampling their food. Pancit is popular on this occasion because it is relatively inexpensive to make and you can stretch it by adding more noodles than meat/vegetables.
During the town fiesta, the town plaza holds games that kids and adults can participate in. Nowadays, I don’t think it is done anymore especially in the towns that have become densely populated and not so intimate.
What do you think?
I hope I have given you a good introduction to pancit bihon and I hope you will try the recipe. You can tailor this dish to your preferences and make it healthier or more salty or sweeter. Do not be discouraged if you make it the first time and the noodles turn out dry (fix by adding more broth or water and cooking more) or soggy (not easily fixable but still edible). Take notes and the next time you cook it I am sure it will be delicious.
If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to me through the comments. ‘Kain na!’ (Let’s eat!).