Manila’s best pancit palabok

Pancit, probably the most popular Filipino merienda and birthday dish, is not one but many different dishes. There’s pancit gisado: stir-fried noodles with vegetables and meat. And then you have the complicated pancit palabok, also known as pancit luglog, also known as pancit Malabon.

[caption id="attachment_191790" align="alignleft" width="300"] The rich shrimp sauce that tops Pastora's famous pancit palabok (Images by:
NOEL B. PABALATE)[/caption]

The name pancit luglog comes from the way the bihon noodles, in a strainer, are shaken (luglog) to drain briefly after a few seconds in boiling water. Pancit palabok refers to the many ingredients (palabok) atop the noodles. Pancit Malabon, using fat rice noodles, is named after the seaside town where ingredients used are mostly seafood.

In the mid-1970s, Manila’s high society flocked to Rosie’s Pancit Malabon at the south end of the Philippine International Trade Exhibits row along Roxas Boulevard, built by Imelda Marcos for the World Bank-IMF 1976 convention held at the PICC. The exhibition huts still stand, and the original sign of Rosie’s is still there.

When hankering for pancit palabok, city folk depend on the tried-and-tested restaurants like Aristocrat, whose version uses thin noodles that could be eaten with putong puti (steamed rice cakes). The young ones would rather visit Jollibee, where the pancit palabok portion is barely enough to satisfy one’s hunger, but is freshly made and has real shrimp and chicharon.

People from Quiapo and many areas in old downtown Manila, however, remain loyal to a small karinderya (food stall) inside the Quinta public market. Pastora Special Palabok has been serving what could be the best pancit palabok in the city for as long as vendors and shoppers can remember, opening daily as early as 5 a.m. and closing in the evening after selling hundreds of plates of the delicacy.

[caption id="attachment_191789" align="aligncenter" width="576"] The dozens of ingredients used in this pancit restaurant in Quiapo.[/caption]

What makes Pastora’s pancit palabok special? The ingredients which have remained true to the original recipe developed by Aling Pastora, the original stall owner, who left the business to her loyal workers.

Here’s a list of the ingredients the cooks of  Pastora’s place atop the blanched noodles: Sarsang palabok (thick shrimp-flavored sauce), chicharong bulaklak (pork intestines chitlins), chicharong balat (ground crispy pork rinds), swahe (white shrimps), tokwa (bean curd), Adobong pusit (stewed baby squid), tinapang himay (flaked smoked fish), boiled egg, calamansi, and rendered pork fat.

When Pastora’s pancit palabok is mixed by the diner, the resulting mélange is not the usual orange, but a pinkish shade of gray from the Adobong pusit ink. Each forkful of noodles is coated with sauce that clings to every strand, sprinkled with bits of fish, peeled shrimp, flakes of tinapa, and powdery chicharong balat. A whole piece of chicharong bulaklak sits atop the mound, to be eaten separately broken into the noodles.

The best part of this feast is the price: P35 per order, P40 if you want extra toppings. Each order weighs almost half a kilo, a huge bargain any way one looks at it. Regular customers order several individual servings for special occasions, finding it cheaper than buying pancit sa   bilao elsewhere.

Pastora special palabok is at the Quinta Public Market along Carlos Palanca Street, Quiapo. Open daily from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.