During my childhood, Filipino food was something I only ever ate at my Gigi and Poppop’s house — empanadas filled with raisins, potatoes, and peas sealed with perfectly twisted edges, paella colored yellow with saffron, and puto, steamed rice cakes shaped like muffins. It was a part of me that I never brought to school, never packed for lunch, never shared. Only after I left high school did I regret that I compartmentalized my Filipino-ness, after I had already formed much of my identity.

When I moved to Boston for college, I dearly missed Gigi’s cooking and felt that I had nothing to show for my Filipino-ness — no language to speak, no travels to the motherland. I turned back to the food to reconnect. Over Thanksgiving break, I helped Gigi roll lumpia shanghai — small, thin egg rolls filled with pork and shrimp — and became mesmerized watching her cook my favorite Filipino dish, pancit. She cooked pancit with patience and intuition, measuring with her heart and trusting her gut to make small decisions, like when the vegetables were perfectly crunchy but still cooked through. She did all of this and plated it without a taste test, with confidence and muscle memory that spoke to her true culinary skills. It’s a dish that takes a long time to make, possibly several hours with all of the cutting and preparation. In fact, my Gigi once complained that she spends a whole day cooking food, just for it to be eaten in half an hour.

Jessica Gomez

Pancit is similar to other Asian stir-fry dishes, like lo mein and Pad Thai, but tastes more like umami and vinegar than sweet and salty. My Gigi makes pancit bihon, which uses thin rice stick noodles, but pancit canton is made with thicker noodles referred to as flour sticks. The noodles are mixed with pork, shrimp, chicken, cabbage, snow peas, carrots, and celery leaves and stir fried with chicken broth, soy sauce, and oyster sauce.The first time I tried to make pancit, it took me about three hours, and I loved every second of it. But putting time into cooking has always been something I love. I loved that the recipe required the vegetables to be French cut and the meats to be thin sliced. I loved deshelling the shrimp and slicing the celery leaves. I loved the red and golden packaging on the rice sticks, which Gigi had shoved into my arms as I said goodbye to her over winter break. “The other brands break,” my Poppop said. I’ve never bothered to learn how to properly cut an onion because I love my slow and methodical way, even if the rest of the dish takes me half that time. And I love that Filipino recipes aren’t “fast and easy” the way that American food is.

In my attempt to get pancit right I constantly texted Gigi, asking for guidance. “Do you cook the shrimp before you mix? How much more chicken broth? Are the celery leaves cut right?” This generational teaching process is reflected in Tita Janeth’s story, the owner of Pinoy Kabayan, one of very few Filipino quick-service restaurants in downtown Boston. She came to the United States with little culinary experience and used advice from her parents that eventually helped her open a business. Janeth is a first generation Filipino immigrant from Ilocos, a region on the same island as Manila. When she moved to Boston, she found that no one made the food she was used to making, so she decided to make it herself.

“I spent a lot making overseas calls to my parents to guide me on my cooking, most of which I still use today,” Janeth said. “I started sharing my cooked food during the summer of 2001 for a Filipino potluck gathering, where a few friends asked me to cook for them. This began my catering business until 2012.”

After years of experimentation and perfecting, Janeth seems to have her pancit recipe down. “My secret is the cookware. And I don’t saute the vegetables; I put everything all at once,” she said. “Set it and forget it, eight to 10 minutes and pancit is done.”

The second time I made pancit, it took me less than an hour after prep; the methods and ingredients and techniques seemed to stick somewhere deep in me, in my blood. It was much more flavorful and moist, because I hadn’t cooked off all of the flavor from the chicken broth and the oyster sauce. Like Janeth’s story, it was a journey of trial and error, of training my instincts.

I followed a recipe out of a cookbook my Gigi had given me along with the rice sticks, Philippine Cooking in America by Marilyn Ronada Donato. Reading from a book as opposed to my phone felt intimate, like I was preparing pancit exactly the way that Gigi does. On the cover page there is a note written from the author to Gigi, but feels like it was written to me: “This book was written with someone like you in my mind . . . . To your health!” 

Jessica Gomez

Pancit Bihon

  • Prep Time:40 mins
  • Cook Time:20 mins
  • Total Time:1 hr
  • Servings:4
  • Medium


  • 1 lb chicken
  • 1 lb pork
  • 1/3 lb shelled medium shrimps slit into two
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 finely sliced medium onion
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 1/3 cup snow peas
  • 1 cup french cut or shredded carrots
  • 1 1/3 cup snow peas
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups canned chicken broth
  • 1/2 lb rice sticks
Jessica Gomez
  • Step 1

    Cook chicken and pork as desired. I slice my chicken and pork and then pan fry it, but you can also boil using 1 ½ cups of water and cook for 15 minutes. Slice into thin strips afterward.

  • Step 2

    Rinse rice sticks under cold water. In a separate pot, add rice sticks to boiling water and cook until soft, about 8 minutes.

  • Step 3

    In hot vegetable oil, sauté onions until transparent, then add garlic until browned. Add chicken and pork and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Then, add shrimp, soy sauce, and oyster sauce, stirring and cooking for 5 minutes.

  • Step 4

    On medium-high heat, add snow peas and cook until bright green, about 2 minutes (don’t overcook, these add a large bit of flavor). Add cabbage, carrots, and celery leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of broth and stir, cook for 2 minutes.

  • Step 5

    Add rice sticks, cook over low heat for 3 minutes while stirring. If the mixture is too dry, moisten with more broth. If the mixture lacks salt or umami flavor, add more soy sauce and/or oyster sauce.

  • Step 6

    Transfer to a platter, garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg and finely cut scallions if desired. Serve with lemon wedges and soy sauce. Serves 4 to 6.