How to Cook Filipino Pancit Bihon (Guisado)
A stir-fried rice noodle dish that comes together quickly, pancit bihon is a staple at parties and a merienda favorite. Here’s a guide with a vegan and/or gluten free option to prepare this Filipino favorite.
(Please visit my Instagram page for a video of this recipe.)
After ten years it was time to update the images for one of my favorite noodle recipes, pancit bihon. The original post is here and while the recipe remains mostly unchanged, I thought some notes might help those new to pancit bihon–or pancit guisado as it’s also called–to see how easy and flexible the preparation is. But first a brief introduction to pancit.
What is Pancit Bihon (Guisado)?
Pancit (pahn-sit) is the Filipino word for noodles and bihon (bee-hon) is an Asian term for rice noodles. Guisado means sautéed so with all these components together we have sautéed or stir-fried rice noodles. While there are countless noodle dishes in Philippine cuisine, pancit bihon might just be the most popular of them all. It’s a party favorite but it’s humble and easy enough to make a regular appearance at the table during the week.
Pancit Bihon Components
- Noodles – This is the only part of pancit bihon that will accept no substitute. Rice noodles are the hallmark of this dish but the good news is that they are available everywhere these days. This is my favorite brand to use but any variety of rice noodle will work. Some brands will be labeled “rice stick noodles” or “rice vermicelli”. Philippine brands will be made with a combination of rice and cornstarch and this is perfectly fine. I favor the Excellent brand (linked above) for its more delicate texture. Others like a more toothsome noodle and while this is my preference for pasta, I like a softer bite in my bihon. Sample a few brands to discover your favorite. (Super Q is another popular Filipino brand and Dynasty Mai Fun Rice Sticks is the most common variety in American markets.)
- Protein – The most popular meats to use in pancit bihon are pork, chicken, shrimp and Chinese sausage. You can use one or a combination of the above or skip the meat entirely. You can use ground pork or pork pieces, leftover roast chicken–there are no strict rules. For the pancit bihon pictured here I used leftover rotisserie chicken and skipped the sliced and fried Chinese sausage that is a popular addition for many Filipinos (as pictured in my original post).
- Vegetables – Besides the aromatics, garlic, onion and scallions, the most popular vegetables for pancit bihon are cabbage, carrots and snow peas. Again, here you can do as I do and use what you have. I most often use onion, celery, carrots and cabbage because they are what I always have. The key is to julienne the vegetables so they cook quickly and blend well with the noodles.
- Stock – One of the best tips I’ve learned from my mother in preparing pancit bihon is to soften the noodles using chicken stock. This is not absolutely necessary–water works just fine, too–but soaking the dried rice noodles in flavorful liquid makes for a better finished product. My mother used homemade chicken stock but it works just as well to use store-bought. Feel free to use vegetable broth as a vegan option.
- Seasonings – A noodle dish with Chinese roots, the main seasoning in pancit bihon is soy sauce but in my family we use both soy sauce and fish sauce to up the umami factor. If you’re vegan, you can leave out the fish sauce entirely. Over the last few years I’ve seen oyster sauce paired with soy sauce for bihon so this is an option but I’ve yet to try this. As another vegan and/or gluten-free alternative, you can use liquid/coconut aminos and/or tamari as a substitute for the soy sauce and fish sauce.
- Toppings – Scallions and calamansi (Filipino lime) are the most popular garnishes for pancit bihon. A drizzle of fresh calamansi juice adds welcome brightness to the noodles and while this Asian citrus may be hard to find, fresh lemon or lime wedges would work equally well. I like to top my noodles with ground pepper and when I’m feeling fancy I add sliced hard-boiled eggs and/or crushed chicharron.
How to Cook Pancit Bihon
Like most stir-fry dishes, pancit bihon happens quickly. Cook the protein then the vegetables and add the broth and dried noodles. Once the noodles have absorbed the stock and softened everything is tossed together. Alternatively, the rice noodles can be soaked in the hot chicken stock separately while the rest of the dish is prepared. This saves a few minutes but I prefer to cook everything in the same skillet for easy cleanup so this is the method I share below.
Pancit bihon is typically served alongside a variety of meat dishes and rice but if you ever try it you’ll find that it’s a meal on its own and deserves top billing at any table.
Filipino Pancit Bihon (Guisado)
A stir-fried rice noodle dish that comes together quickly, pancit bihon is a staple at parties and a merienda favorite.
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 onion, diced or sliced thinly
- 3-4 ribs celery, sliced thinly (or snow peas or green beans)
- 2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1/4 – 1/3 wedge cabbage, sliced thinly
- 2-3 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (can sub same amount soy sauce or tamari)
- 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (coconut aminos or tamari if gluten free)
- 8 ounces rice noodles (I like the Excellent brand)
- Protein of choice, if using (See Below)
- 2-5 tablespoons olive oil (or vegetable oil)
- Garnish: lemon or lime wedges, ground pepper, scallions
Protein Options (Choose one or more, if using)
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (or use leftover roast chicken)
- 2 cups leftover cooked pork
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (or cooked shrimp)
- 2 pieces Chinese sausage, sliced
Prepare the Protein (if using): Note that if you're using leftover cooked meat, you can skip this step. Heat two tablespoons oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add your raw meat of choice (ground pork, shrimp or chicken) and cook for a few minutes (less for shrimp). Season with salt and pepper while you cook. Transfer the cooked meat to bowl and set aside. (Alternatively, I like to poach raw chicken breasts in the stock and shred the meat before adding to the noodles. The stock can be reused to soften the noodles).
Sauté the Vegetables: In the same skillet/pot, add another tablespoon or two of oil if needed, followed by the onion, celery and carrots. Stir-fry for three to five minutes over medium-high heat, adding the chopped garlic at the last two minutes. Also add the fish sauce and soy sauce (or alternative ingredients) while you sauté the vegetables. Transfer to the same bowl as the protein and set aside.
Prepare the Noodles: Pour the chicken stock in the same skillet and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the dried rice noodles. The dried noodles will be stiff so you will need to coax the strands as they soften to get them in the stock. There should be enough stock to cover the noodles. If not, you can add a little water. After around six to eight minutes the noodles will have absorbed nearly all of the liquid.
Stir-Fry the Pancit: Once the noodles have softened, add back the vegetables and protein, turn the heat back up to medium or medium-high and toss with the noodles. It might be easier to use two spatulas here. Add another tablespoon or two of oil if necessary. Also feel free to add additional soy sauce if you feel the noodles need it. Toss for a few minutes until the noodles are steamy and the meat and vegetables are well-incorporated. Plate and garnish with lemon or lime wedges and ground pepper.