Monday, June 6, 2011

Pancit Palabok: The Pride of Quiapo


The Philippines is composed of 7,107 islands and each island offers its own unique cuisine. It’s a tropical country rich in fruits and vegetables available all year round. Not to mention seafood in your own backyard with the Pacific Ocean bordering almost every island. Sounds like a tropical paradise? Just wait until you sample our food.

I wouldn’t want to overwhelm your taste buds with anything too ethnic. So for your introduction to the gastronomic delights of Filipinos, let’s first travel to the mainland so to speak, the city of Manila. Manila is a bustling metropolis, home to over 14 million people. Right in the heart of this city lies a district called ‘Quiapo.’ This was the center of commerce when the Philippines was still under Spanish rule during the latter part of the 16th century, where you can get around through intricate intersections of canals, rivers, and marshes. Our very own Venice. Today it’s mostly known for housing the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Church where thousands of devotees pay homage each year on the 9th of January and of course for its greatest culinary contribution, the Pancit Palabok.

With today’s busy lifestyle it isn’t convenient to drive through traffic or brave the commute to Quiapo for this delicacy. Luckily, whenever the craving hits you, the chain ‘Little Quiapo’ has made it available anytime at the convenience of being located at an area closer to home. It’s like bringing Quiapo to you without losing the originality and flavors of the dish.

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to make this dish from scratch and I would watch her impatiently as she prepared each and every ingredient with such meticulous care it made me want to savor each bite when it was finally served. Pancit Palabok is named thus because of its bright orange sauce made from annatto seeds (locally known as ‘atsuete’) soaked in water, shrimp juice, fish sauce and ground black pepper. It has a rich array of toppings such as fried tofu, hard boiled eggs, shelled shrimps, smoked fish (tinapa), squid, spring onions, crushed pork rinds and fried garlic. These are all on top of Chinese rice noodles cooked in boiling water. It’s also called ‘luglug’ depending on which part of the country you are in. It’s so named because of the sound the noodles made when the bamboo steamers were dipped in boiling water back in the time when we didn’t have any of the kitchen gadgets we couldn’t possibly do without nowadays.

Pancit Palabok is usually eaten with ‘tokwa’t baboy.’ Loosely translated as tofu and pork, it’s fried tofu with boiled pork mixed together with soy sauce, vinegar, and black pepper with the usual suspects such as garnishes like chopped green onions and sliced white onions to add the extra element in taste. Aside from tokwa’t baboy, we also have either ‘puto’ (I’ll go more into detail about puto next time because it’s got a whole delicious story to itself), which is a sweet steamed rice cake, or a slice of toast smeared with butter on the side.

Filipino cuisine, to sum it up, is an array of complex ingredients that combine the sweet and savory in one dining experience that culminates into perfection.

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