Food for Thought: Pancit canton

Dive into the cultural, political, and personal significance of food

Person in thinking pose with a thought bubble overhead featuring an image of pancit canton
Long noodles, long life. Illustration: Alyssa Umbal / The Peak

By: Charlene Aviles, Staff Writer

Pancit canton is a stir-fried noodle dish with seafood and vegetables. The flavours of shrimp, soy sauce, and black pepper are a standout. The dish’s history traces back to Chinese traders, who brought it to the Philippines. Its name is derived from the Hokkien phrase pian e sit (“conveniently cooked”). As the demand for cigars grew with Spanish colonization, Filipinx factory workers had to work more and turned to quick meals like pancit canton. From there, restaurants popped up around the country to meet the demand.

Since I come from a big extended family, birthdays are extra special celebrations. Before COVID-19, my family flew to the US to attend birthday parties, giving us a chance to catch up with everyone. One birthday tradition we had was eating pancit canton together.

Our relatives show our love to each other through food. As soon as you arrive at a party, all the elders ask, “Have you eaten yet?” When I hear this question, I automatically feel at home. It’s not an official birthday celebration without pancit canton. Growing up, my mom would tell me the long noodles represented long life. When you serve someone a bowl of pancit canton, you’re essentially saying, “I hope you have many more birthdays to come.”

Due to COVID-19, I’ve been unsure about when I’ll get to reunite with everyone. Pancit canton brings back the nostalgia of childhood parties. Whenever I take a bite of the noodles, it makes me hopeful we’ll get to see each other in-person again soon.

Here’s how to cook pancit canton, according to the blog Panlasang Pinoy:

You will need:

  • 10–12 snap peas
  • ¾ cup carrots, julienned
  • 1 piece cabbage, chopped
  • 1 piece onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 4 oz pork, thinly sliced
  • 1 piece Chinese sausage, sliced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 ½ cup chicken broth
  • 8–10 shrimp
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • 250 g flour stick noodles 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Boil six cups of water.
  2. For 35–50 seconds, blanch peas, carrots, and cabbage.
  3. Put the vegetables in ice water for two minutes. Then, drain the water.
  4. Sauté onion and garlic.
  5. Sauté pork and Chinese sausage.
  6. Add soy sauce and oyster sauce.
  7. Add chicken broth, ¾ cup water, salt, and pepper. Let it cook for 5–10 minutes.
  8. Add shrimp. Season with parsley. Cook for three minutes.
  9. Add flour stick noodles. Toss until they absorb the liquid.
  10. Add blanched vegetables. Toss. Cook for one to two minutes.

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