By Maria Sofia Fusco and Elvira Lacdao Pamintuan
When I’m three thousand miles away from home, nothing grounds me like the smell of my Lola’s cooking. Missing her warmth and presence, my aunt (her daughter) and I requested that she send us a recipe she’s made us throughout both of our lives:
Pancit Bihon, a staple Filipino noodle dish.
Recipes from your Lola aren’t given out freely, they’re earned with age. Yet as the kitchen filled with the fragrance of garlic, carrots, and cabbage, I recalled being a little girl, waiting for my Lola to finish cooking, barely tall enough to sit at the table.
Three generations (and more) of pinay, enjoy.
by my Lola, edited for clarity
Pancit Bihon is similar to pad thai, but is cooked in chicken stock, giving it a comforting and garlicky flavor. When you try Pancit Bihon you’ll wonder how there aren’t Filipino restaurants in every neighborhood — I’ve been wondering it myself my whole life. If there was, Pancit Bihon would always be my 3 am Seamless order.
8 oz. bihon (rice stick)
3-4 garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion (white onion ok, too) sliced
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup coarsely shredded white meat chicken or pork (dark meat may be used if preferred)
1 cup chopped bok choy or cabbage
1/2 cup chopped celery stalk and leaves
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup string beans cut about 1 inch diagonally to look nice (Lola insists this not be edited out)
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp ground black pepper
drizzle of fish sauce
drizzle of sesame oil (gives added flavor and fragrance but optional)
Lemon wedges for topping (we used fresh Calamansi – filipino citrus fruit – from my aunt’s garden)
1/4 cup cilantro or fresh parsley or scallions for topping
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoon vegetable oil on medium heat, fry the garlic till slightly brown (watch carefully garlic burns fast). Add the onion, cook till translucent, then lower heat.
Add the chicken (sauteing for 5 minutes), use a ladle (or tongs) to turn to and fro in the pan, add the carrots, string beans (cook 5 minutes), then throw in all green veggies. Pour in some chicken stock from time to time if needed to keep ingredients cooking.
In the meantime, wash the bihon, put in a shallow pan or dish, pour the rest of the chicken stock and soak for about 10 minutes (you can shorten this time by heating the stock first before pouring into the bihon).
When the bihon is softened, put the pan with the chicken veggie mixture back to medium high heat, add the bihon with about half a cup of the soaking stock, mix well until the noodles are softened, add the soy sauce and fish sauce, drizzle with sesame oil if using. Try tasting the mixture and add more pepper, soy sauce as needed according to your preferred taste. But always add very small amounts at a time.
Serve on a platter serving dish, top with chopped parsley, cilantro or green onions, decorate with lemon wedges. Pancit is good eaten with a drizzle of lemon.
Extra Wisdom from Lola — too sweet to omit.
Sofie, there are many variations of pancit.
You can mix bihon with sotanghon which is mung bean noodle but sold as vermicelli in the US. You can also mix bihon with the larger yellow noodle called pancit canton which is flour noodles.
Good luck. Love it that you are into cooking. Make the most of your free semester. Nothing like being young and fancy free. I wish I could turn the hands of time. But no, I do cherish being a mother and a grandmother!
God love you and protect you.
Remember to pray every night.
Maria Sofia Fusco is a Filipino-Italian American and NYC native currently living in California on an unexpected pandemic-gap-semester. She is studying Economics and Global Affairs at Yale University, and unofficially studies Tik Tok and the lyricism of Nicki Minaj on her own time.
Elvira Lacdao Pamintuan is a Filipino immigrant, grandmother, mother, and the first female OB/GYN doctor at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, Delaware. She is a fantastic cook, thoughtful advice giver, and beloved matriarch.