Pancit means noodles; guisado means sauteed. Pancit guisado is the generic term for a wide array of dry (as opposed to noodle soups) noodle dishes cooked by stir frying the noodles with sauteed aromatics, meat, seafood and vegetables. Pancit guisado is to the Philippines what mi goreng is to Indonesia and Malaysia. The noodle itself can be anything from thin or thick egg noodles to rice sticks to chewy glass noodles, or a combination of two kinds of noodles. There may be pork, chicken or shrimp; the vegetables can be the most basic cabbage and carrot combo or may also include green beans, snap peas and cauliflower florets just to name a few. The seasonings can be salt, fish sauce, soy sauce or a combination of two or more of them.
If that does not capture the vastness of the term pancit guisado, there are regional variations that go by names like pancit habhab from Lucban, Quezon; pancit chami from Lucena City, also in Quezon and pancit bato from the town of Bato in Camarines Sur—all of which are essentially pancit guisado.
Let's break down pancit guisado into the three most basic groups:
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Made with thin egg noodles, pancit canton is the Filipino version of the Chinese chow mein. Just like chow mein, there are as many versions of pancit canton as there are cooks. Thin slices of pork (or chicken) and small shrimps are the most popular "meat component" and the seasoning is usually soy sauce.
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Pancit bihon (rice sticks) guisado
Bihon is a thin clear noodle and all pancit bihon guisado dishes are made with this noodle variety. Traditionally made from rice flour, in recent years, however, bihon made with other kinds of flour have appeared in the market. Although bihon is sometimes referred to as rice vermicelli, it should not be confused with the chewy vermicelli which is not made from rice flour.
To cook pancit bihon guisado, the bihon is soaked in water until softened, drained and cut with shears before the noodles are tossed with the sauteed aromatics, meat and/or seafood and vegetables.
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Pancit sotanghon (glass noodles) guisado
Sotanghon is vermicelli and is often listed in recipes as glass or cellophane noodles. It is chewy and very slippery. Just like bihon, sotanghon is soaked in water to soften before going into the pot. Personally, I prefer not to soak sotanghon in water—throwing it directly into the pan with a seasoned broth and cooking them together over low heat until the noodles have soaked up every drop of broth makes the noodles tastier.
So, if you go to a Filipino restaurant and see pancit guisado in the menu, you could be ordering any number of dry noodle dishes. To know what you're getting, it is wise to ask before ordering:
1. What variety of noodle used in the dish;
2. What meat or seafood are included; and
3. What seasonings are used?