May 20, 2024

As kids, my father would bring us to the old Dainty Restaurant owned by Ng Ah Chin alias Ah Kong where he would look at the menu board to see what supposedly was the best seller for the day.
In between meals including the “police rice” were the “labas” for the day for jueteng and depending on the win, one would be able to eat the most mouth-watering pancit with pandesal, the best it could ever be.
“Pian-e-sit,” is Chinese Hokkien to mean “something easily cooked.”
Noodles are easy to cook and then and now is “pantawid-gutom”. If one has a versatile imagination, toppings like squid, shrimp, vegetables, fish balls, pork liver, quail eggs and soy sauce make the dish complete.
To the chagrin of Ah Kong and manang Marcela, almost the entire police force would sit at the stools and take their coffee on the house, which, of course, was everyday. The barako was a legend among coffee connoisseurs although some say the secret ingredient was either the gin or marijuana mixed in it and for others, the unwashed socks of Ah Kong.
The story goes that one time, a police corporal had his usual coffee and once done, brought out money and said that since he has become religious, “Mula ngayon, ako na magbabayad ng kape ko.” Appeased, the owner said “Okay, sir. Mula rin ngayon, hindi ko na duduraan ang kape mo.” Yuck. Lesson: Don’t ask for freebies in a coffee shop.
Merienda could also be “plywood” (flat thin bread with marmalade), “fried chicken” (ensaymada rolls) or monay, pudding or Kiangan bread with strawberry jam.
The habit of going to Dainty continued even if papa was gone. This time the daily grind was with my senior law partners Nanding Cabato and Tom Rufino, both judges and in the happy hunting grounds.
Table no. 1 was reserved for lawyers, politicians and other kibitzers. Once you sit down the waiters, (mine was Mando) would bring my light coffee as the brew for the original was too strong for my taste and it was an “upper” which would have your eyes wide open till the wee hours of the morning.
On the other side of the street, Luisa’s Café transferring from the original Lakandula is another kind of noodle, home and handmade by Chongloy and his bakers. They make their own noodles using rice flour as an alternative to wheat. The best way to take it is chicken mami or a combination of meat, siomai, eggs etc. and best taken with sam-luk.
Below Luisa’s was Joey Rufino’s Star Café, a bit classier. Star was the “upper house” while Dainty was the “lower house.” Their own version was a favorite and was the favorite of Ka Luding and his friends. When they were in town, politicians from Manila would troop to the second floor and enjoy the canton mix they have. The canton, by the way, did not originate from Guangdong – formerly Canton, China, though they say it comes from our Tsinoy forefathers.
At Diego Silang Street is Rose Mami House, which serves affordable and delicious mami, the noodles of which come from Chong-loy. Small place but people queue to eat for 15 minutes. No time for banter there or you would cause a revolt among the waiting hungry patrons.
There used to be a sotanghon, bihon, miki factory in La Trinidad near the house of Ng Pee where we would go and buy in bulk for parties.
In Quezon, pancit habhab is dipped in vinegar.
Of course, Fortune Seafood Restaurant has its own Chinese birthday fried noodles and for the underground economy, the pancit bihon at the carinderia section of the Hangar Market was taken with pork chop and rice, while the roaming vendors would sell the same quality noodles at affordable prices for everyone.
Pancit has become a fixture in weddings, wakes, baptisms, graduations, and most especially during birthdays, where their inherently Chinese symbolism as edible harbingers of a long life, provided, you don’t cut the noodles before you eat them says Chi Jian Li when we lunch at Mandarin Sky, Banawe, QC.
Then the businessmen came developing an instant version of the stuff and called it instant pancit canton of many variants and flavors.
So, this is it. Pancit for long life!
Sigh.