Filipino Food: Pancit Bihon

Because Filipino cuisine has finally taken its rightful place on the NYC food stage, I frequently find myself sharing thoughts about it with friends and family. Admittedly, I am not a trained chef nor have I actually been to the Philippines. But there are a few undeniable facts that give me license to open my mouth on the topic:

1. My parents were born in the Philippines, which means that I have Filipino blood running through my veins;
2. In addition to my very Filipina mother, I grew up in a house overflowing with Filipino "titas" and one invariably irritable grandmother, and they all were great cooks;
3. I was raised on a steady diet of white rice, fish sauce, and banana ketchup; and
4. My ideal salty snack is a bag of shrimp chips--if that ain't Filipino then I don't know what is.

Since my Mom passed away 4 years ago, I've been trying to recreate some of the food that made me dance around the dinner table as a kid. Some dishes have proved harder than others, but only because I think that my Mom was part alchemist. The easiest dish that I've made--and comes close to the version my Mom served--is Pancit Bihon.

Pancit Bihon is a staple at Filipino gatherings, whether it's a small dinner party at a friend's house or a large wedding with all the bells and whistles. It is a noodle dish made with chopped carrots, cabbage, garlic, and onions, flavored with soy and fish sauces, and has pork and/or shrimp.  

Rice bean noodles (one 8 oz package or five small bundles in an eight bundle package)
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, julienned
2 cups shredded cabbage (can use store bought/precut cole slaw cabbage)
4 cloves minced garlic (can use frozen cubes; 1 cube = 1 clove)
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
1 tablespoon fish sauce (aka patis)
12 large cooked shrimp, head and shell removed, and chopped (optional)
1/4 lb cooked pork shoulder, shredded or chopped (optional)

lime slices*
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped onion or garlic chives

Soak rice bean noodles for at least 20 minutes. With scissors cut up noodles while soaking in bowl. Drain and set aside.

Heat up butter in a wok or or large simmering pan over a medium to high flame. Add red pepper flakes. Add carrots and saute for 1-3 minutes. Then add onions, cabbage, and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes. Remove about 2/3 of the pan's contents and place in a bowl. Heat up the soy and fish sauces in the pan, then add the noodles. Toss the noodles in the pan to evenly flavor them. Add the cooked vegetables back to the pan and toss around evenly. 

Serve with lime slices, chopped cilantro, and chopped onion or garlic chives.

*Calamansi is a fruit that is similar to lime but not readily available in the U.S. I substituted it with lime in this recipe, but if you are lucky enough to find some near you, please use the real thing!