With the holidays in full swing, this month’s Ethnic Exploration was hard to squeeze in. We have to stay true to schedule though, so here is the 2010 finale. Food can take you places, and this time, we’ve gone to the Philippines. We have made a couple of very traditional Filipino dishes before (adobo and lumpia), so maybe we are not brand new to the cuisine, but there is a lot of good Filipino food out there. We just barely skimmed the surface. A trip to a local market, and we were armed with a few must-haves to create another meal. It was easy, and it was good. And we can’t wait to share it with you.
Each and every month, we are more and more convinced that Los Angeles is a true melting pot. We stumble across new and diverse neighborhoods every day. Usually they are right next to each, separated only by a street. Of course this is not to say that these are the only places people of like background tend to live, though Los Angeles does tend to be somewhat segregated in ways. The southern part of Echo Park, a section of town east of Hollywood, has been named Historic Filipinotown as it was one of the first areas that Filipino people began to buy homes and start business in the early 20th century. Today, there are rough estimates that only 10,000 of the 400,000 Filipino residents of Los Angeles live in Filipinotown. The ethnic makeup of the area has changed over the years, but the name still remains, complete with signage along Highway 101. Interestingly enough, Filipinotown is not where we ventured for goods this time. Instead, Glendale was the place.
Glendale is actually very well known for its strong Armenian and Iranian communities, but somewhere in there lies a Filipino gem–Arko Foods International. Arko is a treasure trove of prime ingredients for anyone looking to do a bit of cooking. Stocked to the brim, if you need a hard to find ingredient, it is most likely there. The produce section was very small, but there were great items–peeled and fresh taro, banana blossoms, chili leaves, yam leaves. Walk over to the frozen food section, and you’d find horseradish leaves, jackfruit, pandan leaves, jute leaves, and various meats such as chicken and pork longanisa and pork tocino. Even specialty items like beef blood and papit seasoning. The fresh meat and fish section dominated the back wall, and customers waited patiently in line for their picks. The middle aisles were packed with imported and local dry goods such as chicharon, sweet sugar palm, canned squid, sardines in coconut milk, mangosteen in syrup, spiced coconut vinegar, pastis, pan de sal and pan de leche and hopia baboy. The cold, prepared food aisle offered delicacies such as buko pandan, chicken and pork embotidos, rellenong bangu, ube cakes and halo halo. You could even score Filipino beers from Red Horse and San Miguel. Finally, the hot prepared food counter–also known as turo turo for “point point–lined the front corner of the store with a dozen people swarming around the glass. They eagerly relayed their orders to the employees behind the counters who piled steaming scoops of food into plastic containers.
The plan was to make pancit bihon–a noodle dish usually with shrimp, chicken, beef or pork. There were only a few items we needed, and they were the rice stick noodles, dark soy sauce, fish sauce and a bag of chicharron. A couple of containers of food would make for a nice snack before the actual meal. The line was long, but the wait only took about 10 minutes. (If you head to Arko, make sure you grab a few of the plaintain lumpia. They make for the perfect dessert!) Unfortunately, the store’s management would not allow us to take photographs in the store, so here’s hoping the descriptions will suffice. This is a first time that management has denied us the ability to take pictures, so we apologize for not being able to show you everything that took place. Visit the store to see it all for yourself and, of course, pick up a few items.
Back in the kitchen, the making of the dish was easier than expected. This is basically a one wok meal. Having never made pancit before, it seemed like a good idea to defer to people with more expertise. The recipes for pancit all seemed pretty easy, which is very encouraging for the next time around. Our version does not include chicken or a homemade chicken broth. Instead, it is all shrimp, and the shells have been left on the shrimp to add a bit more flavor. In terms of the other chosen ingredients, we followed heed and purchased Lauriat brand dark soy sauce and fish sauce called pastis. Both are Filipino varities, and when you’re cooking in a particular arena, it’s nice to use the products of the region or cuisine. Fish sauce remains the one ingredient that can easily turn up the American nose due to its aroma, which can range from very pungent to only slightly pungent. It is an indispensable ingredient for many Southeast Asian, Korean and Japanese foods though, so if you want to maintain an authentic flavor, grab a fish sauce that suits you.
The other specific purchase made was Excellent brand rice sticks. At most Asian markets, rice stick noodles are easy to come by. There are a million brands, and of course, there are varying textures and sizes for each one. Excellent is a highly recommended Filipino brand that also toots its own horn. On the package, you’ll see the words ‘Once tasted, ever wanted’. If that’s not reason enough to buy them, what is? Finally, the chicharron. There was no real reason to buy these guys except to add a little crunchy garnish to the dish. You may have noticed the coconut vinegar. It has no purpose in this dish at all, but it looked like a fun find for less than $2. If that’s not reason enough to buy it, what is?
Pancit Bihon – Serves 4 to 6 (adapted from RasaMalaysia.com)
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned and shell on
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
8 ounces rice sticks
32 ounces chicken broth
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1. Heat a swirl of vegetable oil in a wok. Once hot, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions have softened, approximately 5-7 minutes. Stir often to keep the garlic from burning.
2. Add the shrimp and toss to coat them in the garlic and onions. Once pink, slide everything onto a separate plate and set aside.
3. If necessary, add a tiny bit more oil to the work and then toss in the cabbage and carrots. Cook until the cabbage wilts and the carrots soften, approximately 3-5 minutes. Scrape onto the late with the shrimp and onions.
4. Pour the chicken broth into the work and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add in the rice stick noodles, soy sauce and fish sauce. Reduce to a simmer and cook until most of the water has evaporated and the noodles are dark brown in color, approximately 25 minutes.
5. Slide the shrimp and vegetables back into the work and toss everything together to mix well. Sprinkle the green onions on top and serve. Garnish each plate with lemon slices and chicharron.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.
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