Pancit is a staple dish that completes your traditional Filipino feast. Visit cultural or religious fiestas across the metro all the way to the country’s most remote provinces and you will surely find pancit.
Although preparing huge pots of pancit has become an indelible part of Filipino culture, the beginnings of this popular fiesta food are not just confined to a specific region—or to the country itself, for that matter.
Once a Chinese Merchant’s Meal
Most people refer to pancit as Filipino noodles, but history reveals that the word itself does not have a Filipino origin. The term originated from the Hokkien word “pian e sit,” which means, “something conveniently cooked. Ancient Filipinos had strong trade ties with Chinese merchants long before the Spaniards conquered the islands. Historians agree that pancit arrived on Philippine soil as a Chinese merchant’s meal meant to ease homesickness as they dealt with Filipino tradesmen. When their food supplies ran out, they were likely to have made their own noodles and substituted rice flour for wheat.
When the Spanish ruled the land, the native dish became a popular “takeout food”. Women who worked in factories were the first customers of panciteros. Because they usually didn’t have time to cook for themselves, pancit, the ready-to-eat meal, became their ultimate go-to food. As more customers flocked to noodle nooks, eateries then became the first noodle restaurants. Today, many established restaurants offer the original savory goodness of the once ordinary-Chinese-merchant’s meal.
The Long List of ‘Long Life Noodle’ Dishes
Through the years, the Filipino pancit evolved and many new variations grew in popularity. Sotanghon Guisado, Pancit Luglog, Pancit Batil Patong, Pancit Habhab, and Lomi are just few of the popular dishes around today. The two main variants of pancit that will never be absent in fiesta tables, though, are Pancit Canton and Pancit Bihon. The latter has a thin, almost clear rice noodle, while Pancit Canton uses an egg noodle, which appears like the noodle commonly used in spaghetti. Both dishes are often garnished with pork, chicken, or shrimp; and vegetables such as cabbage, bell peppers, onions, carrots, and celery.
Pancit reflects not just Filipino passion for food, but culture as well. The dish is closely associated to ancient Filipino superstitions that the dishes signify long life and health, and that they should not be cut short to preserve the symbolism. This is why it is most common for Filipinos to serve it during birthdays, New Year’s celebrations, and baptisms.
Though originally from the Chinese, pancit has become a signature Filipino dish because of the many variations Filipinos have made to the simple dish.