In one week, the Year of the Wooden Horse will be upon us. We’re not Chinese but the Chinese New Year has always been a big thing in the Philippines (at least in Metropolitan Manila) for as long as I can remember. We were in Chinatown last Sunday and boxes of tikoy (nian gao) were everywhere — they were even being sold on the sidewalks. The festive atmosphere was in the air with lanterns and signs adorning the streets, lamp posts and window shops. I didn’t buy the boxed tikoy though. I bought two packs of rolled tikoy, one filled with peanuts and the other with beans, and we nibbled on them at home later while watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with Sam stretched out on the floor, Alex and Speedy on one couch, and I on the other couch, all wrapped up in Sam’s red blanket because it was such a chilly night.
But I digress. I was talking about tikoy and the Chinese New Year. Growing up, there would always be someone gifting us with boxes of tikoy and I remember how my lolo (grandfather) sliced the sticky rice cake, dipped the slices in beaten eggs before they went into a pan of hot oil (see how to cook tikoy). Unlike today when tikoy can be bought in Chinese delis practically any time of the year, tikoy back then was a seasonal treat.
And it is that season when I pause and think about the Chinese, how even before Spain colonized the Philippines, in small waves over several centuries, the Chinese traded with the Filipinos and eventually established settlements in the coastal areas.
It is no wonder that many aspects of Chinese culture, including their various cuisines, have become integrated in our local ways. Take pancit canton, for instance, the Filipino name for Chinese chow mein. We have localized the name, we have modified some of the ingredients with locally grown produce but pancit canton is still essentially chow mein.
This chow mein with roast pork belly, inspired by something we like to order at the Chinese take-out just outside our village, is a blend of Chinese and Filipino, my way of personally ushering in the Year of the Wooden Horse.
- 1 cup well-seasoned meat broth - preferably homemade
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 carrot - julienned
- 1 bell pepper - cut into strips
- about a cup of cauliflower florets
- 1 small onion - thinly sliced
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic - minced
- 100 grams dried egg noodles - prepared according to package directions
- 1 cup roast pork belly - chopped
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- Make the sauce. In a small sauce pan, stir together the broth, soy sauce, sugar, pepper and starch. Cook, stirring often, until thick and no longer cloudy. Set aside.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok. Add the carrot, bell pepper, cauliflower and onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and sugar. Stir fry for about a minute. Add the garlic and stir fry for another half a minute.
- Add the noodles to the vegetables, stir and toss until the noodles are glistening with oil.
- Add the roast pork belly, pour in the oyster sauce and the previously prepared sauce. Stir and toss just until everything is heated through.
- Drizzle in the sesame seed oil, toss a few more times and serve at once.
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