This is your ultimate guide to making pancit bihon–a quintessential Filipino noodle dish made with rice vermicelli, pork, and vegetables. This version also uses shrimp and fish balls to make it extra special.
What is Pancit?
Pancit (pronounced as PAN-sit) is a Filipino word that refers to noodles. The term was believed to have been derived from "pian i sit" a Chinese Hokkien word that literally means "convenient food".
True to its name it is indeed one of the most convenient food in the Philippines. You can make it with pork, chicken or shrimp. It also has lots of vegetable options - if you're looking for a recipe to use up leftover vegetables then this is what you need.
Pancit Bihon vs Pancit Canton
Pancit bihon (also known as pancit bihon guisado) is made of rice noodles or rice vermicelli while pancit canton is made of yellow wheat flour noodles. Their cooking method is similar whereby the noodles are cooked in the broth rather than pre-cooking in hot water.
These two dishes have a lot of similarities in ingredients, especially with vegetables and other toppings but the sauce for pancit bihon is much simpler.
Here's what you need to make it:
The type of noodles for this version of pancit is also known as rice vermicelli, bee hon, or bihun in other parts of Asia. It is a THIN rice noodle (rice sticks) made of rice as its name implies. Note that it should not be confused with flat rice noodles which are usually used for Pad Thai and Vietnamese Pho.
When choosing noodles for Filipino pancit, I recommend using rice vermicelli made of rice and cornstarch/ tapioca starch instead of just pure rice (plus water). I find them sturdier and do not break easily during the cooking process. In this recipe, I particularly used a pack labeled as "Rice Stick Bihon (Noodles Vermicelli)".
Pork, Chicken or Shrimp
Use interchangeably or use them all at the same time. Yes, you can! Pork cuts you can use are pork belly, butt, or shoulder. For chicken, use thighs for a juicier texture.
My pancit bihon recipe almost always has cloves of garlic, onion, cabbage, carrots, snow peas, and celery. I love the flavor these vegetables give to this noodle dish.
Pancit Bihon Sauce
Rice noodles are generally bland and that's why it's perfect for absorbing any flavors. Here's what you need to make the bihon delicious:
I use Filipino soy sauce. Regular soy sauce with a hint of dark soy sauce works well too. Want an even more depth of flavor? Add fish sauce or patis.
Adds a layer of complex salty-sweet flavor. You can find this in the Asian section of grocery stores.
Broth–key to making a good pancit
A combination of homemade broth plus bouillon cubes for added depth of flavor is the key to making a good pancit bihon. I love using pork broth from lechon kawali as it's packed with collagen which sticks to the noodles and makes them extra slippery. But chicken broth can also be used as an alternative.
For the bouillon, my favorite is shrimp bouillon which adds a nice depth of flavor to the dish.
How to make It
My pancit bihon recipe has 5 phases. I recommend using a single pan/wok for cooking and boiling for fewer dishes to wash:
Here's the instructions:
- Boil the pork until tender - I want the meat really tender so I prefer cooking it separately.
- Soak the bihon noodles for 5 to 10 minutes - just until it's just hydrated.
- Stir-fry the vegetables and meat.
- Cooking the noodles in the broth and sauce.
- Combine the noodles and vegetables together and cook for a few minutes to finish.
Secret to Making the Best Filipino Pancit
Here are my personal tips for cooking pancit bihon successfully:
Cut the vegetables in uniform sizes
To cook the vegetables evenly, cut them in uniform sizes. This especially applies to carrots and celery which take longer to cook. Shred the cabbage or peel then cut into squares if you want it to stand out.
Cooked but crisp vegetables
Stir-fry the vegetables with a little liquid. Use the sauce mixture made up of broth and the seasonings. A couple of tablespoons is enough to lightly steam the vegetables. Say bye-bye to overcooked or undercooked vegetables!
How to cook the noodles
- Bring the broth to a "rapid boil" before adding the bihon rice noodles. This helps the pieces separate from each other and prevent clumping.
- Toss, don't stir - constant stirring can break the noodles and make it mushy. So toss the noodles using two large spoons. Do it every so often just to help the noodles soak up the liquid. If you toss or stir constantly, the noodles will break.
- Taste test to check doneness - this is the only way to prevent overcooking.
- Remove from heat as soon as noodles are cooked but still firm a.k.a. AL DENTE. It will continue to cook and soak up the sauce with the residual heat.
Broth noodle ratio (prevent mushy bihon noodles)
Don't use too much liquid/ broth. Rice vermicelli are particularly thin and fragile. If it soaks up too much water it can become mushy and breaks easily.
My go-to ratio is 1:8oz which means I use 1 cup of broth for every 8oz (227g) of bihon.
Other Vegetables you can add
A great way to change the flavor profile of pancit bihon is by using different combinations of vegetables.
Here are other vegetables you can use plus tips on how to prepare them:
- Green beans - slice thinly so it cooks with the rest of the vegetables.
- Stalk Celery or Chinese celery (leaf celery) can be use interchangeably - cook the stalk with the rest of the vegetables then add the leaves just before the noodles finishes cooking.
- Napa Cabbage - slice into stalks so it cooks quickly. Cook it together with the celery and carrots.
- Bell peppers - use red, green or yellow. Add together with the cabbage so it doesn't overcook.
- Mushrooms like shitake, shimeji, portobello, button and even wood ear mushrooms.
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Make it extra special
If you're serving pancit bihon for Christmas, New Year, or special occasions, add a fish ball, fish cake, Chinese sausage, fried meatballs, and even squid balls. You can find all these in the hot pot section of Asian supermarkets.
Have leftover lechon kawali? Use it as a topping. I'm sure everyone will enjoy it!
Add chicken or pork liver
To prepare: Slice into serving pieces then marinate in a small amount of vinegar for 10 minutes. Rinse with water. This step lessens its strong earthy smell.
To cook: Add it straight to the boiling sauce right before adding the noodles. Cook and gently toss with the noodles.
Make it meatless
To make a meatless version of this dish, use tofu, plant-based sausages, or plant-based chicken. For the sauce, use vegetable stock and mushroom sauce as a substitute for oyster sauce.
What to Serve with Pancit Bihon
Storage and Leftovers
Leftover pancit bihon can last in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days stored in an air-tight container. Re-heat in a pan coated with oil or the microwave before serving.
Try these next...
Pancit Bihon (Filipino Rice Noodles)
- 200 grams pork (see note 1)
- 2 cups water
- 8 oz bihon/ rice vermicelli (see note 2)
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 small onion
- 1 carrot (julienned)
- 1 cup snow peas (ends trimmed, string removed)
- 2 stalks celery (sliced diagonal strips)
- 2-3 cups cabbage (shredded)
- 100 grams fish ball, fish cake or shrimp (or use both)
- 1 piece shrimp bouillon (or chicken bouillon)
- Boil pork in 2 cups of water with ¼ teaspoon salt until tender. Remove the scum as it arises. Once the meat is tender, transfer to a chopping board. Slice it into small strips. Reserve the broth.
- Soak bihon noodles in room temperature water (not hot) until hydrated for about 5 minutes. Drain and discard water.
- Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or large pan over high heat. Add shrimp and fish ball. Saute until it turns pink, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or large pan over high heat. Add sliced pork and stir-fry until slightly brown. Add carrots and celery. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir in cabbage, snow peas, and mushrooms. Pour 1 tablespoon of the sauce mixture and 2 tablespoons of the broth. Continue stirring until vegetables are cooked but still crisp. Transfer to a large plate including the liquid (if there's any).
- Add 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok. Add remaining garlic and onion. Stir-fry until translucent. Pour 1 cup broth, bouillon, and remaining sauce. Bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Add bihon noodles. Simmer until the bottom side has softened. Using two large spoons flip to the other side and cook until noodles are completely soaked in the sauce. TOSS (don't stir) every so often until liquid is almost dried out and noodles are completely hydrated. Taste test noodles to check doneness. If noodles look dry, add a bit more broth.
- Add back half of the cooked vegetables, shrimp, and fish ball. Toss everything together. Remove from heat. Transfer to a serving plate and top with remaining vegetables. Serve and enjoy!
Recipe Notes and Tips:
- Meat - use pork belly or pork butt/shoulder. For chicken, I prefer using boneless chicken thighs for a juicier texture.
- Bihon Noodles - also known as rice vermicelli, bee hon, or bihun. Available in most Asian stores and online like Amazon. I recommend using rice vermicelli made of rice and cornstarch instead of just pure rice. I find them sturdier and do not break easily during the cooking process.
- Filipino soy sauce - substitute with 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce plus 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce for depth of color.
- To make with chicken: You can follow the same steps as pork which require boiling or directly stir-fry sliced chicken pieces in hot oil until cooked through. Use water instead of broth for the sauce.