The Chinese influence on Filipino cuisine is perhaps most evident in the Philippines’ vast array of noodle dishes known as Pancit. Pancit Miki, Pancit Molo, Pancit Palabok—all Filipino noodle dishes, and all of Chinese origin. And although Pancit Molo is basically a wonton dumpling, it is still classified as pancit in much the same way that both ravioli (a dumpling) and spaghetti (a noodle) are classified as pasta.
But of all the incarnates of Filipino noodles, Pancit Canton has to be one of my favorites—if only for its versatility and quick cooking time. Pancit Canton is a relatively thick, dried wheat noodle that is more or less like Chinese chow mein noodles. Pancit Canton is usually first softened with a hot flavorful liquid (i.e. stock or water), and then quickly stir-fried in a wok with any number of vegetables and proteins (e.g. chicken, pork, shrimp, etc.).
So when making a batch of Bistek recently, I decided that instead of serving the saucy beef dish over rice (as is usual), I’d cook it in tandem with some Pancit Canton noodles. But don’t mistake this as a separate Bistek dish served on top or alongside a separate Pancit dish—here, they are actually fused together in the cooking method wherein the noodles absorb the essence of the Bistek.
In my Bistek/Pancit Canton hybrid, a mixture of soy sauce and lemon juice is not only used to marinate some flank steak, but the salty/sour mixture is then used to soften and flavor the noodles. And because Pancit Canton is usually served with extra calamansi or lemon wedges for spritzing the noodles, the lemony Bistek marinade was a natural fit in the finished dish.
After enjoying the meaty spoils of my Bistek Pancit Canton, it got me thinking of all the other saucy Filipino dishes that would easily lend themselves to being absorbed into noodles. Say, for instance, a saucy chicken adobo cooked with Pancit Canton, or even a soupy Pinakbet. Heck, dropping the dried noodles in a pot of hot Sinigang would even make for a great Filipino noodle soup. More experimentation is on the horizon, I think. But for now, here’s the recipe for a tangy and meaty Bistek Pancit Canton:
Bistek Pancit Canton
1-1.5 pounds flank steak, cut against the grain into thin strips
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh calamansi juice, or lemon juice
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1 red onion, cut into thinly sliced rings
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup beef broth
8 ounces dried Pancit Canton noodles (preferably Excellent brand—that’s not an adjective, the brand is actually named “Excellent”)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Place the flank steak in a large resealable zip-top bag and pour in the soy sauce and calamansi juice. Marinate the steak in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or even overnight.
Drain the flank steak in a large fine mesh sieve set over a large bowl, and reserve the marinade in the bowl. Heat a large wok, or saute pan, over high heat until a drop of water immediately evaporates upon contact. Swirl the oil into the pan, then add the drained flank steak to the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Cook the flank steak, undisturbed, for about 1 minute, then stir-fry for 1-2 minutes more until the steak is nearly cooked through. Transfer the steak to a large platter and set aside.
Add the onion rings to the pan and stir-fry until the onions wilt and begin to soften, 3-5 minutes. Toss in the minced garlic and cook until the garlic just begins to brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Pour the reserved marinade, along with the beef broth into the pan and bring to a boil. When the liquid comes to a boil, add the dried noodles to the pan and toss until the noodles soften and absorb all of the liquid. At first, it may be difficult to toss the dried noodles, but keep agitating the pan and spooning the hot liquid over the noodles until they soften.
When the noodles are soft and all of the liquid has been aborbed, return the meat to the pan, add the green onions, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.