REMINDER. Whenever in Isabela or Cagayan, never laugh at a man with a bowl of noodle, you might get challenged to a pancit duel!
The Northeastern side of the Philippines is not called Pancit Republic for nothing. Whether coming in from Nueva Vizcaya in the South or Apayao in the North, these provinces are just overloaded with panciteria decked in every street corner. Isabela and Cagayan may be inhabited by almost the same groups of people and speak the same language but when it comes to which has best pancit, the story is never the same.
I am a self-proclaimed yummyeologist and I was certainly up for the challenge to discover the gastronomic secrets of these celebrated noodles. Confident, I was asked by my hosts Wilson and Lala Arugay, “Is that all you’ve got? A huge tummy and a blabbermouth? You might not make it to the next bowl!” Saving my gluttony pride, I answered, “That’s it, Pancit!”
Let the Pancit Duel begin. 1…2….3!
Tuguegarao’s pride is Pancit Batil Patung. It traces its name from the way it is prepared, batil means to whisk or beat and patung is to place on top. Made out of handmade wheat noddle wallowing in rich broth, the pancit is tossed with cabbage, mung bean sprouts and julienned carrots. Sautéed ground carabeef and pork liver are topped on the mountain of noodles, topped further by a poached yolk. A portion of the broth from the sautéed meat are dripped with egg white, ladled out and briskly whisked into a soup.
Unlike the usual soy sauce-calamansi tandem in many provinces, here, it is further mixed with spiced vinegar, shallots, minced leeks and a little chili. It is either poured into the bowl of noodles for added flavor or taken with a spoonful after each mouthful of noodle.
The dish is sometimes served with sprinkled crushed pork rind cracklings or fried chorizo. Tuguegarao’s Pancit Batil-Patung is very flavorful but the most ceremonious among the pancit versions.
Tuguegarao’s intense rival in the domination of pancitdom is Isabela’s Pancit Cabagan, a little close to 30 kilometers from where we had our last bowl up north. Cabagan noodles are also handmade but slightly thinner than what is used in Batil-Patung.
The tender and bouncy noodles sit on a thick and flavor-bursting broth. It is topped with slices of crunchy lechon carajay (crispy pork belly), strips of stewed pork liver called Igado, a popular Ilocano dish and hard-boiled quail eggs. Best eaten with a twist of calamansi and little chops of chili for that awesome sour and spicy kick in the palate. For added layer of flavor, whisk a small amount of mixed soy sauce, spiced vinegar and sliced onions.
Pancit Cabagan is bold and rich in flavor. It’s a delicious battle of sweet, sour and spicy made full-bodied by notes of salty meat. It’s a celebration of flavors.
Where To Eat:
Feli-citas (National Highway), Josie’s Panciteria (National Highway), Doks Panciteria in Tuguegarao also serves good Pancit Cabagan
The culinary profile of Philippines is never complete without China’s pancit. After rice, pancit is undeniably the next staple, however it is prepared or served. Both Tuguegarao’s Pancit Batil-Patung and Cabagan’s Pancit Cabagan have its own following as much as each panciteria claims to have the original and the best. It is a continuous battle to fame but one thing is for sure, they both have earned distinctive positions in Philippine culinary space.
My hosts Wilson and Lala were right, I made a suicidal decision to live the day on pancit. Bloated but happy. Guilty but unremorseful. I ended the day without a decision which one has the best pancit, all I remember I was willing to trade my soul for a bog roll!
Betwixt and between the arthritic 40 and a horrendous body mass index of positive 30, escapism and yummyeology are my real-life double post-graduate degrees conferred with the highest honors.
I lived nearly half of my life in fancy suitcases, jetsetting between reality and fantasy... read more