Ode to my city’s ‘pancit batil patong’
When Chef Joe Bastianich invited his mom, Lidia Bastianich, to teach young and aspiring home cooks in the popular cooking show “Masterchef USA” how to properly prepare a classic pasta dish, one contestant, Howard Simpson, apparently was not paying attention, or could not comprehend the meaning of “classic” and added his personal flair to an agnolotti.
Well, as you would expect, it didn’t end well for poor Howard, who even had the audacity to ask if the judges would rather have the same type of dish presented to them.
I’m no chef — far from it — but I have been around the city of Tuguegarao long enough to see how the hilarious and downright crazy revisions to the classic pancit batil patong came to fore.
Batil patong is the dish that put Tuguegarao on the map (along with the title “Hottest City in the Philippines”). It is a stir-fried noodle dish with ground carabao meat, bean sprouts, celery, spring onions and a variety of other veggies, topped with an egg (well done or malasado, depending on your taste), optional liver, and a side of beaten-egg soup reminiscent of the Oriental nido soup you see listed on restaurant menus. It is a must-try dish for typical food lovers as well as those just passing through.
As the years went by, a pancit revolution seemed to be taking Tuguegarao by storm. It started off with the addition of chicharon or lechon kawali to the batil patong mix, followed by chorizo, hot dog and then chicken skin and gizzard.
There was really nothing wrong with the additions because the variety of new ingredients complemented the dish overall. But then it started to get crazy: Panciterias here and there started adding balut, chicharon bulaklak, pig brain, seafood, fried chicken, and, the most absurd and greatest injustice for me—white sauce.
Seriously!? One might as well feed the public carbonara, because you can call that dish anything you want but it is not batil patong in its strict sense.
Well, I guess the reason for all the hullabaloo is that food is just as dynamic as any other human construct, and there might be no harm in trying to put a little modern flair to a classic dish.
But still! There’s a reason the pioneers and the classic panciterias in Tuguegarao—like Cherry’s and Eva’s—have been around for decades, because no matter how modern we try to make the dish, nothing will ever beat a straightforward, no-nonsense taste of the classic batil patong.
As Chef Lidia Bastianich said: “Classics are called such for a reason.” It is like coming home from a long and tiring vacation and tasting your mom’s home cooking once more.
* * *
Janro Narag, 26, was born and raised in Tuguegarao and obviously likes his pancit batil patong cooked the traditional way.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.