Pancit: The History of this "Long Life" Noodle (2024)

Pancit is as crucial to each Filipino feast as rice is to every complete Filipino meal. WithSantacruzan (among other regional fiestas all over the country) looming over the month of May, stuffing one’s face with numerous variations of the said noodle dish is a delightful certainty. Yet while preparing (and consuming) big cauldrons of pancit is second nature to any true-blue Pinoy, the origins of this iconic party food are not exactly confined to a specific region (or to our country, for that matter).

From a Chinese Merchant’s Baon to a Filipino Favorite

Even foreigners who’ve been to our shores refer to pancit as Filipino noodles, but the word itself is neither Filipino in origin nor did it necessarily bring to mind images of long, thin strands of rice or wheat.

The name comes from the Hokkien “pian e sit,” which literally translates to “something conveniently cooked” (i.e., fast food). It probably arrived in our country as a Chinese trader’sbaon meant to tide him over in his homesickness as he plied his wares to the natives. Once his stash ran out, he may have tried to make his own noodles using rice flour as an alternative to wheat. Given how rice noodles are easier to cook than either rice or wheat noodles and are highly versatile vehicles for various toppings and sauces, the clamor for pancit quickly caught on.

During the Spanish occupation, the indigenous noodle dish was essentially the nation’s first “takeout food,” with panciteros (Chinese food hawkers who sold pancit) catering to the cigar factories’ working women who had little time for housework or cooking. The demand for the convenient, ready-to-eat meal soon led to the vendors establishing permanent roadside eateries to service both working and traveling customers, the resulting panciteria’s thus becoming our country’s first covered restaurants.

More than a National Dish: The Many Variations of Pancit

Nowadays, pancit is a fixture at many significant milestones such as weddings, baptisms, graduations, and most especially during birthdays, where their inherently Chinese symbolism as edible harbingers of a long life (provided you don’t cut the noodles before you eat them) are frequently invoked. It continues to be enjoyed by generations of Filipinos in various forms, with sotanghon, bihon, canton, or miki as the most commonly used and consumed noodle variants.

Pancit also goes by a lot of names, each one indicating either the dish’s color (pancit puti or white pancit), how it is eaten (pancit habhab), where it is sold (pancit istasyon), alleged inventor (pancit Henoy), or its place of origin (pancit Malabon).

Pancit: The History of this "Long Life" Noodle (2)

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The following are just a handful of the ways that each region or province in our nation’s vast archipelago has incorporated their trademark produce with pancit to result in a fiesta staple that is all their own.

Pancit Canton

This pancit variant is so popular that it compelled certain conglomerates to develop an instant version of the stuff. Wheat noodles are stir-fried with soy sauce and ginger, and then tossed with a bevy of toppings from your usual squid, shelled shrimp, and vegetables to the fish balls, sliced pork, and fried, neon-orange tinted quail eggs that are emblematic of the famed Chinese birthday noodles.

Strangely enough, Pancit Canton has no roots whatsoever in Guangdong- formerly Canton- China. There has yet to be a conclusive explanation behind its misleading name, but it was most likely thought of by an enterprising pancitero seeking to lure in customers looking for an “authentic” Comida China experience.

Pancit Bihon Guisado (Sautéed Rice Noodles)

Also a contender for the most popular noodle dish, this type of pancit uses bihon or thin rice noodles. Its name comes from the root word “guisa,” which is Tagalog for sautéing, which in this case is in a pan with meat, vegetables, and soy sauce.

Sotanghon Guisado

Similar to Bihon Guisado, translucent sotanghon (mung bean or glass noodles) is also sautéed with a savory sauce, and some hefty toppings. In the past, sotanghon noodles were imported from HK or China and were expensive, so these were served only during special occasions.

Pancit Luglog

Also referred to in some circles as Pancit Malabon, this dish uses thick rice noodles that are dunked in hot water to soften them prior to adding the lip-smacking, unctuous orange sauce (“Luglog” means “to dunk in water”). Littered with fresh shrimp, squid, and even shucked oysters fresh off the northern fishing town of Malabon, this pancit is legendary and is a known staple in office and classroom parties alike.

Pancit Batil Patong

Tuguegarao’s official contribution to the pancit world derives its name from the two ways that eggs are used in this delicacy. Miki noodles (which, incidentally, are also made from eggs) are stir-fried with carabao beef, bean sprouts, topped with a fried egg (“patong”) and served with an accompanying bowl of whisked egg-drop soup (“batil”).

Pancit Habhab

This pancit earned its moniker from the way that it’s eaten. “Habhab” is the term that Lucban inhabitants use to refer to the practice of placing their famed pancit (made of miki noodles sautéed with pork meat, liver, shrimp, and vegetables as well as a dash of cane vinegar) on a banana leaf, and then maneuvering the leaf to dump the pancit straight into one’s mouth.

Pancit Lomi

This pancit dish originated in Lipa, Batangas back in 1968, and was invented by restaurateur To Kim Eng. A bowl of lomi typically has thick egg noodles, pork liver, fish balls, kikiam, and quail eggs, all swimming in a thick broth and occasionally topped with a whisked egg. This pancit dish is such a significant part of the Batangueño’s life that they celebrate a Lomi Festival every June, alongside the capital’s Foundation Day itself.

Pancit Langlang

These bowls of flat miki noodles with onions, shredded adobo meat, and chicharon drenched in flavorful broth can be found all over Imus, Cavite. Jose Rizal himself praised this soupy dish in El Filibusterismo, with one of his characters referring to it as “the soup par excellence!”

These days, most of us need only visit the nearest grocery or convenience store to get our instant noodle fix. But with so many scrumptious renditions of the “original fast food” to be had throughout the Philippines, an impromptu road trip to sample as many of them as possible might be an ideal way to cap off the summer.

This article was originally published in 2013.

References:
Aquino, Mike. (2013). The Republic of Pancit. Retrieved March 25, 2014 from http://ph.she.yahoo.com/the-republic-of-pancit-094352930.html.
Fenix, Michaela (ed.). (2008). Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Filipino Cuisine. Anvil: Pasig.
Lumen, Nancy. “Republic of Pancit.” (2005). The Investigative Reporting Quarterly. Retrieved March 25, 2014 from http://pcij.org/i-report/1/pancit.html
Tayag, C. “Long Live the Pancit!” The Philippine Star. 10 May 2012.

Pancit: The History of this "Long Life" Noodle (2024)

FAQs

Pancit: The History of this "Long Life" Noodle? ›

During the Spanish occupation, the indigenous noodle dish was essentially the nation's first “takeout food,” with panciteros (Chinese food hawkers who sold pancit) catering to the cigar factories' working women who had little time for housework or cooking.

What does the pancit symbolize? ›

For Filipinos, pancit is a simple dish that symbolizes a long and happy life because it is usually served on birthdays or special occasions.

Is pancit Filipino or Chinese? ›

Pancit: influence of the Chinese in Philippine noodles. Pancit (or spelled as pansit) is a Filipino version of a noodle dish that was contributed by the Chinese traders during the pre-Hispanic times of the Philippines. Every part of the Philippine archipelago has its own version of pancit.

Does pancit mean long life? ›

It is often served during birthdays and special occasions because for filipino's it symbolize long life and good health. So try not to cut short the Pancit who knows the legend might come true. Aside from the symbolism, it is perfectly delicious.

What is the story behind Pancit Canton? ›

The dish's history traces back to Chinese traders, who brought it to the Philippines. Its name is derived from the Hokkien phrase pian e sit (“conveniently cooked”). As the demand for cigars grew with Spanish colonization, Filipinx factory workers had to work more and turned to quick meals like pancit canton.

Why do Filipinos love pancit? ›

Filipinos have made this Chinese influence truly their own. The pancit sits well among local palettes because it's versatile, economical, and flexible. To this day, pancit continues to develop new variations, whether through ways of making the noodles, ways of cooking the dish, or ways of reflecting the times.

What is the history of pancit? ›

Pancit has been around since pre-colonial times, brought over by early Chinese traders centuries before the Spaniards arrived in 1521. As time went on and more countries came and went, it would undergo its own evolution to become a truly Filipino culinary tradition.

What is a fun fact about pancit? ›

The name comes from the Hokkien “pian e sit,” which literally translates to “something conveniently cooked” (i.e., fast food). It probably arrived in our country as a Chinese trader's baon meant to tide him over in his homesickness as he plied his wares to the natives.

What is pancit called in English? ›

In the Filipino language, pansít is the generic word for noodles. Different kinds of noodles can be found in Filipino supermarkets which can then be cooked at home.

What are the two types of pancit? ›

Pancit Noodles. There are two styles of Pancit-Pancit Canton and Pancit Bihon. The main difference is the noodle type. While Pancit Canton uses a lo mein style noodle made of wheat flour, Pancit Bihon favors use of thin rice noodles, sometimes called rick stick or rice vermicelli.

What is the superstition of pancit? ›

Postpone Serving Pancit

Don't serve pancit at a wake or else you'll extend the mourning period. Instead, eat pancit after a wake so that the bereaved family members will live longer lives.

What is the superstition about longevity noodles? ›

A Symbol of Longevity and Prosperity

The unsevered length of these noodles is not a mere culinary preference but a deliberate choice to represent the eater's life — the longer the noodle, the longer and more prosperous the life envisioned.

What are long life noodles beliefs? ›

The “long-life noodles”

These noodles, it is believed, ensure a long and prosperous life. Hence the name. They are called yi mein or e-fu noodles, depending on the dish they are served in. These long spongy egg wheat strands are a must-have during the.

What is the toxin in pancit Canton? ›

ethylene oxide issue. Pancit Canton became a trending topic on Philippine twitter after European nations issued separate health safety warnings against Lucky Me! instant noodles due to “high levels of ethylene oxide.” Pinoys couldn't help but weigh in on the subject.

What does pancit symbolize? ›

In Filipino culture, eating noodles during one's birthday symbolizes long life.

What is the difference between pancit and pancit Canton? ›

In the past, pancit canton was the more common of the two. The difference between the dishes is the type of noodle used. Pancit bihon includes a thin translucent rice noodle while pancit canton incorporates an egg noodle, similar in appearance to the familiar spaghetti noodle.

What is the meaning of pancit? ›

Pancit (Tagalog pronunciation: [panˈsɪt] pan-SIT), also spelled pansít, is a general term referring to various traditional noodle dishes in Filipino cuisine.

What are noodles a symbol of? ›

Long noodles are a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture, making them a popular dish during festivals and special occasions. High season: A worker prepares the dough before the noodles are cut.

What is the significance of noodles in Chinese culture? ›

Though noodles are part of everyday life in Chinese culture, they also hold a lot of symbolism when eaten during significant events. In China, noodles are frequently eaten during the start of the Lunar New Year and on birthdays. In fact, they symbolize longevity and good health for the year ahead.

What does the slang word pancit mean? ›

On that note, it is a legitimate word that is found in the Malay dictionary. However just like many English words adapted to form Singlish, Pancit carries a local street meaning too. It means tired.

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