I nervously merged onto the freeway from the quiet roundabout then craned my neck toward my blind spot to switch lanes. I had never driven in California before and the freeway felt so dauntingly wide. I was used to driving at a snail’s pace on perennially over-packed highways back home. As we sped past sixty-five, the glovebox started to rattle. The car obviously had seen better days. It had over two hundred thousand miles with a chip the size of a kidney bean on its windshield. The paint had mostly faded and there were dings and scratches here and there.

“The batteries are fairly new and I got new tires just this past fall,” Noel said while he tinkered with the glovebox. I met him through a common friend in school and we instantly hit it off. He graduated from the same Stanford program I was in, two classes ahead of mine.  He had just returned from a quick stint in Texas and was trying to sell everything he owned before moving permanently back to Manila.

“I badly need a car,” I sighed heavily. “Nothing fancy. I just need something that works.”

I was getting tired of all the walking I had been doing. I loved my solitary leisurely walks around campus but walking home from the grocery store a mile away with plastic bags full of diet soda, rice, and eggs wasn’t my idea of leisure at all. I had thought about getting a bicycle instead but — I say this with embarrassment and hesitation — I didn’t know how to ride one!

And I was getting tired, too, of the food choices around Palo Alto. The closest to Filipino food I could find that was within reasonable walking distance from my apartment was the sad egg rolls and chow mein from the very American Jing-Jing off University Avenue. I longingly craved for lumpiang Shanghai [loom-pee-yang shang-hahy] and pancit palabok [puhn-sit pah-lah-bohk]. Dishes too complicated for me to attempt making in my tiny graduate student kitchen.

I rolled down the window and a gust of cold wind whipped my face. The strength of the wind exhilarated me. The speed thrilled me. I imagined the convenience of having my own car. I imagined all the possibilities. The freedom and the flexibility.  “You won’t feel homesick as much anymore if you had a car,” Noel said and I totally agreed.

I bought Noel’s Mazda 626 that same afternoon. Apart from my thankfully short-lived buyer’s remorse and my sticker shock from the ridiculous insurance premiums, I did enjoy my Mazda a lot and I still remember it fondly to this day. It served me well throughout graduate school. I drove it up north to Santa Rosa when I interned there for the summer. I drove it along the winding California coast.  I drove it through the towering redwoods by the Russian River  and through the romantic vineyards in Napa Valley.  I drove it up and down San Francisco’s hills and to Daly City whenever I fancied a palabok fix, far too many times.

 

P-Glossary

 

Palabok means garnishing — fried pork belly, fried shrimp, fried tofu, crushed chicharrón, smoked fish, hard boiled eggs, and green onions — everything that’s laid on top of the bed of rice noodles doused with shrimp-flavored achuete-colored sauce. Pancit palabok is pancit luglog, which is noodles shaken in hot water and not stir-fried like pancit bihon [bee-hon]. Luglog [loog-log] means to dip and shake in water. Rice noodles that can be as thin as vermicelli or as plump as egg noodles are first soaked in water so they can soften. Then they are doused in hot water for a quick minute immediately before the pancit is served.

 

Pancit Palabok

 

Pancit Palabok Recipe, makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons achuete
8 ounces bihon or rice noodles
3/4 pound medium-sized heads-on shrimp, about 16 pieces
1 pound pork belly, boiled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fish sauce, more to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup chicharrón, crushed
1/2 cup tinapa (smoked fish) flakes
2 eggs, hard boiled and sliced
2 stalks green onions, green and white parts chopped
4 calamansi or limes, halved

Soak 2 tablespoons achuete in 1/4 cup water. Stir seeds vigorously with a spoon for about two minutes and let the orange color bleed into the water for about 30 minutes. Strain and toss seeds and set aside achuete water.

Soak rice noodles in 2 quarts water in a bowl for about 15 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside.

Remove the shrimp heads and shells but keep tails intact.  Do not toss shrimp trimmings but keep them to make shrimp stock. Devein and clean shrimps with running water and set aside.

Place shrimp heads and shells in a pot and add water, enough to just cover the trimmings, about 3 to 4 cups. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring trimmings occasionally.  Crush heads with a wooden spoon to extract the flavor.  Skim and discard any foam that rises to the top of the liquid. Strain the heads and shells. Measure 3 cups of shrimp stock, add achuete water and set aside.

Fry pork belly in a deep pan over high heat. Stir constantly until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but 2 to 3 tablespoons of pork fat. Reduce heat to medium. Add and saute garlic until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add shrimp stock. Pork or chicken stock can be used in place of shrimp stock. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and add fish sauce. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside shrimp sauce.

Fry shrimp in pork fat or oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir constantly until just cooked, about 4 minutes, and set aside. Fry tofu in pork fat or oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir constantly until nicely browned, about 7 minutes, and set aside.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Drop soaked rice noodles in boiling water. Stir constantly until cooked, about 1 minute. Drain noodles.

Place rice noodles on a plate. Ladle shrimp-flavored sauce on top and garnish with fried pork belly, fried shrimp, fried tofu, chicharrón, smoked fish, hard boiled eggs, and green onions. Sprinkle with calamansi and serve with fish sauce.

 

Pancit Palabok

Pancit Palabok

Pancit Palabok

 

Learn the alphabet of Filipino food through our glossary. So much is lost in translation, I know, but I hope this glossary will help those unfamiliar with Filipino food become more informed.

A is for Achuete
B is for Barako Coffee
C is for Camarón
D is for Dinuguan
E is for Ensaimada
F is for Fish Balls
G is for Gata
H is for Himagas
I is for Itlog na Maalat
J is for Jackfruit
K is for Kamayan
L is for Longganisa
M is for Mani
N is for Noche Buena
O is for Omelet
P is for Pancit Palabok

  • http://www.confessionsofachocoholic.com/ Bianca Garcia

    Hi Jun! I grew up in Malabon so I grew up eating pancit malabon (which I believe is palabok with thicker noodles?) – I didn’t really enjoy it when I was a kid but now I find myself craving it too! 

  • Grace Panganiban

    OMG Jun, just by looking at the pictures really make me hungry and crave for the dish. Your recipe looks simple and easy to follow and yet looks so delicious.

  • http://saberkite.com saberkite

    It’s 1:15 AM here in Manila and all of a sudden I am craving for pancit palabok. Short of ordering through delivery from Jollibee, I don’t know where else to get some haha.

    I think I can wait til the morning. Cheers Jun! :)

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     I’m sorry for triggering the craving! :-) I was in Jollibee twice last week when I was testing my recipe.  Their pancit palabok, fiesta noodles as they call it here, is still the tastiest and quickest fix to my palabok cravings.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     Grace, thank you for the compliments.  The recipe may seem long — there are so many garnishes! — but the technique is fairly simple.  I thicken the sauce  with a roux of pork fat and flour instead of the typical cornstarch.  Very, very tasty!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     Yes, Bianca! Pancit Malabon uses the same savory sauce but you’re right — it has the thicker rice noodles and it has shrimp and squid instead of pork belly.

  • http://www.xaieatsalot.com Xai Losito

    My oh my, palabok. I haven’t had these in a while and This post just inspired me to get me some at the store. Still scared to m are Filipino food, but I’m almost at a point where I can make it. Also, don’t feel bad about not knowing how to ride a bike…. I don’t know how to either and I hope you still don’t know how to ride one because I would feel very alone if you learned how to ever sine the writing of this drool worthy post. Hahahahahaha.

  • http://www.queensnotebook.com/ Betty Ann

    Hi Jun! Thanks for featuring Pancit Palabok and making it seem so easy! And as always, I love your photos and the stories you share with every recipe. Your Palabok reminds me so much of home, and I can just smell all the condiments, the calamansi and garnishings! Yum!

  • http://samanthafoodgeek.com/ Samantha

    Thanks for writing about this and as usual, for educating me on the name and the composition of the dish. I’ve always scarfed it down without ever thinking about making it myself- now I have an opportunity to try it at home. Beautiful photos as always!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     Thank you!  You have to try this recipe.   It may look intimidating at first — there’s so many ingredients — but  the sauce is simple to make.  You can cut the prok belly and chicharron and just do tofu and shrimp.  I hope you’ll try it!

  • Tracey@Tangled Noodle

    Pancit palabok has always been my favorite, if only because it was so difficult to find if I didn’t make it myself (and by ‘make’, I mean open a pack of Mama Sita palabok sauce mix). As you’ve so beautifully illustrated, there’s much to love about this dish: the slippery noodles, the savory sauce, the crunchy tinapa and/or chicharon, the velvety egg… Wonderful! 8-)

  • Jeannie

    Looks delicious! Love the mixture of so many flavors in a dish!

  • http://www.mynappytales.com abigail

    my all time favorite pansit! 

  • Authenticsuburbangourmet

    Loved your story.  This dish looks and sounds amazing.  Your photography is breath taking.  Hope you are doing well!  :-)

  • http://psychosomaticaddictinsane.wordpress.com Iya S. Santos

    KATAKAM-TAKAM!

    sarap nito with putong puti with cheese!

  • Anonymous

    Man, that looks so luscious and flavorful. I want some for breakfast! 

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  • Leah

    Jun, I love your stories as much as your recipes. As a grad student, my first car was a second-hand 1976 Mazda Glc. I drove this car as I moved from CT to MA to MD moving up my academic career. I was tearful when I had to finally trade it in for a Geo Prizm years later.

  • Jill

    It was my Grandmother’s 2nd year death anniversary a few days ago, and we remember her ever so fondly because of her magic in the kitchen.  One of the tastiest dishes she made best was pancit palabok (pancit luglug in kapampangan).  I remember her method ever so vividly- she would remove the heads of the shrimp in its raw form and saute that with a little oil and garlic while mashing the heads and filtering through a sieve, that made for a very tasty and delicious sauce base.  She would thicken it with powdered glutinous rice instead of cornstarch like most restaurants.  The sliced camias is what completes the dish, aside from her chopped homemade chicharon (pitichan in kapampangan, with the laman in the middle) and lots of fried garlic, hard-cooked egg and lots of green onions.  Mmmmm, brings back so many fond memories of her and her cooking.  Thanks for writing a post about pancit palabok and your wonderful photos, as always.  More power and all the best to you, Jun!

  • Jean

    Jun, you always make filipino food look so appealing. Pancit palabok is one of my favorite foods but quality varies so much from place to place.  You made me smile at the mention of Jing Jing since it’s one of the first Asian places I found upon moving to the Peninsula.  Nowadays, I have to drive to Daly City to get my Asian supplies so when I do go, I stock up! Your pancit looks perfect. I have no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy it.  Hope all is well! 

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     Jill, thank you for writing about your grandmother and how she made pancit luglog.  It really was a joy to read.  I am so happy to know that the post made you think about her and her cooking.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     Leah, I thought I had an old car — 1988 Mazda 626 — but yours was even older! :-) CT to MA to MD? It had served you well.  Thank you for the lovely note!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

     I’m so sorry to tell you Xai that I now know how to ride a bike. :-) I don’t know why I always felt embarrassed.  I think it’s the expectations that “boys” should know how to ride bicycles. To hell with the stereotypes!!

  • http://twitter.com/thedailypalette The Daily Palette

    Thanks for this, Jun!  I’m a big fan of palabok and I couldn’t stop thinking of this since you published this post!

  • http://nina.aninias.com/ Nina Aninias

    It’s a great thing I saw your fantastic photos via another pinster… hope you don’t mind if I adapt your recipe, maybe give it a twist or two (if I can, since this already looks so yum!)… I blog via http://nina.aninias.com... promise I will give you credit :) Cheers!

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  • Anonymous

    OMG!!! I love your blog, your stories, your photographs and your recipes!!! (pinned the palabok and queso ice cream on my pinterest!) I was also born in Manila, but moved to the US in my high school years, so I can totally relate to the nostalgia … Anyway, you have inspired a fellow Filipino blogger :) (although I do fashion blogs) Keep it up, you have a new fan :)
    Remy
    http://theobsessedfiles.org

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Remy, thank you for the lovely note! So happy to meet another Filipino transplant here in the States.  Best of luck to your blog!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Nina for writing.  Go ahead and try the recipe. Let me know how it goes.

  • http://www.redrocknoodlebar.com.au/our-menu/ brisbane takeaway

    Wonderful recipe and detailed! I was thinking it is more complicated to make Pancit Palabok but if i stick to this im sure it is easy enough :)

  • cd

    i love the food and especially the photos that accompany each recipe!! its a drool-gasborg!!! :) keep up the awesome work!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you for writing. I hope you’ll come back and visit the blog and try out the recipes.

  • Kristinekomlosy

    Hey Jun! I made this today and it was a big hit! Thanks so much for the recipe. I just had a problem when putting the flour and whisking it and adding the shrimp stock gradually while continually whisking it. The flour did not blend perfectly. I had lots of small round flour. don’t know why that happened. Maybe next time i’ll just use cornstarch? What do u think?

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Kristine for writing back.  Happy to hear your palabok was a hit! I think pouring the stock all at once creates the lumpiness.  Pouring it gradually while whisking it helps in making the sauce smooth.  Cornstarch is a stronger thickening agent than flour, which you can also use.

  • Kristinekomlosy

    You’re right! I did gradually pour the stock but what i should have done is to pour a lil bit, whisk for awhile, pour some more and whisk until its all blended. I’ll do that next time :) People have asked for your recipe and I led them to your blog :) Thank you!!!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Kristine, thank you for letting your family and friends know about the blog!  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!!

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  • aloha

    I had a pancit palabok party once. i lined the table withall the ingridients for palabok. by the time you reach the end of the table, you would have created your own style of palabok. ala mongolian baga. it was easy for me, fun and the guests had a real good time doing their palabok! just sharing!

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  • Tina

    Pansit Plabok is love! I love it more than spaghetti. Whenever we have a celebration at home we see to it that we have palabok. ;)

    Tina

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