The Filipino version of Chinese noodle soup, chicken mami is ultra flavorful when you season the ingredients separately. And use chicken bone broth. Always.
I read somewhere that it is only in the Philippines where Chinese style noodle soup is known as “mami”. That was after a Chinese immigrant named Ma Mon Luk started hawking chicken noodle soup in Manila. Later, when he had set up a humble restaurant, he called his noodle soup mami. According to an article, “It was said that the new name—mami—was a combination of his name Ma (which meant ‘horse’ in Chinese) and mi, meaning noodles.”
Ma Mon Luk’s noodle soups and siopao (steamed buns) became legend. Copycats sprouted and called their version of Chinese-style noodle soup mami too. That should give you a pretty good idea of just how well entrenched Ma Mon Luk is in Filipino culture.
My brother and I grew up with Ma Mon Luk chicken mami and siopao. When we were too little to finish a bowl each of the steaming noodle soup, the contents were split in half. But that was oh, so long ago. I can finish an entire bowl of mami and a whole siopao by myself, thank you!
Ma Mon Luk was so much a part of my childhood (Speedy’s too!) that, when Sam and Alex were younger, we brought them there. We loved Ma Mon Luk so much that it felt important for us to share the experience with our daughters.
Sadly, the girls’ first Ma Mon Luk experience wasn’t so good. They didn’t like the smell and look of the place, and they weren’t impressed by the food. But, again, that was long ago. Just the other day, Alex was talking about Ma Mon Luk’s siopao with a lilt in her voice that says she has overcome her not-so-good-first impression of the place. These days, she talks as though Ma Mon Luk’s siopao is THE siopao.
Oh, but I am rambling. This is about my chicken mami, not Ma Mon Luk. I just thought I’d take a little time musing about how the Filipino version of the Chinese chicken noodle soup got its name. But enough of that. Let me describe MY version of chicken mami.
The most common chicken mami is rather plain. Just noodles, boiled chicken meat and finely sliced scallions to garnish. That’s the way Ma Mon Luk does it to this day. Because the broth is so good, you don’t mind the lack of color and variety of texture.
Personally, I’d rather do way with the plainness. Why stop at noodles, chicken and broth when mushrooms and vegetables can be added? Not only do they add color and textural contrast, they add nutrients too. So, to today’s bowls of chicken mami went julienned carrot, thinly sliced shiitake and bok choy.
Were the vegetables and mushrooms simply dumped into the pot of hot broth? Yes, they were blanched in the hot broth. But not the noodles.
For best results, every component of the chicken mami must be seasoned separately. The vegetables and mushrooms soak up some of the saltiness of the broth, and that’s quite enough to boost their flavors. But the noodles? Not all noodles are created equal. Some are bland, some are too salty and some are seasoned just right. You have to know the characteristics of the noodles you are using to decide how best to prepare them.
When using dried egg noodles that require cooking in boiling water, I prefer to add salt to the cooking liquid. Fresh egg noodles are often too salty (and they may smell strongly of ammonia too) and are best blanched in plain boiling water. The noodles leave some of the saltiness behind when drained and much of the funny smell is lost along the way too.
The chicken, I prefer to braise in generously salted water. I scoop it out when it is just done (I am not a fan of overcooked meat) and then I add more water to the pot along with a bunch of roasted bones to make the broth if I don’t have chicken bone broth on hand. The seasonings of the broth are adjusted every half hour until all the flavors from the bones have been extracted and the liquid turns into a tasty pool. The technique is known as layering flavors. It’s something I suggest you do not skip so that you can create an unforgettable bowl of chicken mami.
- Place the chicken thighs in a pot and pour in just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and allow to boil for five minutes.
- Scoop out the chicken thighs and rinse to remove any scum attached to them.
- Discard the water and clean out the pot.
- Return the chicken to the pot and, again, pour in enough water to cover them. Add a tablespoon of salt and a few pinches of pepper.
- Bring the water to a simmer and braise the chicken thighs for about 15 minutes.
- Scoop out the chicken and move to a plate to cool.
- Pour the chicken bone broth into the pot and bring to simmering point. (If you don't have chicken bone broth, the cooking time for the chicken mami will be longer. Throw in raw chicken bones into the pot and pour in about six cups of water. Add more salt and pepper. You'll want to throw in a whole shallot too as well as a few cloves of garlic. Simmer the bones for 30 minutes.)
- Meanwhile, prepare the noodles. If using fresh, blanch and drain. If using dried, cook in lightly salted water then drain.
- When the chicken broth is simmering (or, if making chicken broth from scratch, the broth is ready), taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Place the mushrooms and vegetables in a kitchen spider and blanch for about a minute.
- Divide the noodles, mushrooms and vegetables among three bowls. Debone the cooked chicken thighs, tear up the meat (or slice with a knife) and divide among the bowls too.
- Pour simmering chicken bone broth into the bowls.
- Top the bowls of chicken mami with sliced scallions and toasted garlic before serving.