Pancit mi-ke is love!
Illustration by Jaymee L. Amores
Pancit mi-ke is love!
NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - June 26, 2020 - 12:00am

When the sun came up very early on Father’s Day last Sunday, Omeng, the face-masked delivery boy of the village grocer, was knocking at our gate. (The pandemic has created the need for a grocer for those who are extra-careful of the virus in Gulod.) He was carrying a medium-sized brown paper bag that contained what would be our breakfast — the ingredients for pancit mi-ke.

Pancit mi-ke is a simple soupy noodle dish. In its simplicity are memories of the past, memories of my late father who cooked this dish with gusto. Every happy occasion at home when we were kids was always with niluyahang manok or pancit mi-ke. The first was so much easier to have on the table because we had free-range chickens grazing in our backyard. And we had papaya, talbos ng sili or malunggay that we could just pick at home or ask for free from the neighbor’s lot. But the pancit mi-ke, a specialty dish of my father, we needed to buy. So when we saw our father cooking pancit mi-ke, it meant he earned extra that week. It was a cause for celebration.

Last Sunday was a cause for celebration. It was Father’s Day. There was spring in my mother’s every step when she sorted the ingredients in the paper bag. She unloaded first the half-kilo of dressed chicken and rinsed it clean in the kitchen sink. She started to boil the chicken in a pot, the way my father did it — with a dash of salt, a sprinkle of coarsely pounded black pepper, and love. Anything done with love becomes delicious.

While waiting for the chicken to boil, she washed one by one the vegetables before cutting them. My mother, like my father, is a purist when she cooks — she does not like many hands in the kitchen. Using her fingers, she broke both ends of each of the Baguio beans (green beans) and pulled the thread-like part in the midsection of the vegetable. She did the same with the sitsaro (snow peas). She knew too well that if her husband were to prepare the legumes, he would do the same.

The chayote was next. I remember the ritual of my father about the chayote. Before peeling and dicing it, he would cut its top and rub it against the exposed part to take out the white sap of the vegetable. “Makati yan sa lalamunan ‘pag di natanggal ang dagta (It can irritate the throat if you don’t remove the sap),” he would say. And my mother did just that.

The lone carrot was julienned, the way my father liked it. Half cabbage was used and sliced. Same thing with pechay Baguio.  I could hear the sound of the blade of the knife running through the cabbage leaves. I could almost hear my father whetting the kitchen knife against a stone or the bottom of a saucer to make sure it was always sharp.

A small amount of kinchay (Chinese celery) was also chopped. Two bulbs of onions were also peeled and sliced. A head of garlic was crushed in an almires (mortar and pestle) before each clove was diced. And it would not be pancit mi-ke without the two pieces of Chinese chorizo, sliced thinly. In a colander, my mother washed the yellow mi-ke noodles. By this time, the chicken was ready for shredding.

When all ingredients, including fish sauce and ground pepper, were ready, the cooking began. There was excitement on my mother’s face the minute she held a ladle and turned on the stove. First, the garlic danced in the pan to the tune of the bubbling cooking oil. Before it reached medium brown, the garlic found a dance partner in the sliced onion. It was a symphony so good I thought of my father longingly. I remembered him in the days of our want, how he would smile as he sautéed garlic and onion to prepare the prized pancit mi-ke. There was so much reverence in our then makeshift kitchen when he cooked using the firewood stove he himself crafted. The smile on his face, burned by the sun in the rice field, guaranteed that we would have a feast.

The Chinese chorizo (my father called it langonisang pula) was put next. Its fat created more flair in the pan, the Oriental aroma wafted invitingly. The shredded chicken joined in the dance, slowing the sizzling tempo. My mother mixed everything on the dance floor, err, the pan. She, too, was humming as she seasoned everything with fish sauce and a sprinkle of ground pepper. No measurements needed; she knew exactly how much to put of each condiment by heart. She knew the breakfast on that day was extra special — to honor her late husband by cooking his signature dish. So, with love, how could she not replicate my father’s pancit mi-ke? If only she was not immunocompromised to the virus, she would surely bring a bowl of it to her husband’s grave, the way she would bring him half of her burger every time she ate in McDonald’s. Always the bigger share for her husband.

Cooking is an art. It brings out the soul of the one doing it. In the process, the kitchen becomes the altar where prayers are heard for the creation of a sumptuous meal. It becomes, too, a silent witness to the artistry of the cook. A dish, elaborate or simple, is always a labor and flavor of love.

My father always, always treated cooking with reverence and fortitude. As a farmer busy the whole day in the field, he hardly worked in the kitchen. But when he did, he made sure his creation would leave a mark in the palate. His nilagang pata was slow cooked for four hours using firewood. His bulalo, eight hours; suman, nine hours. His duck caldereta with peanut butter was spicy and bitingly good, even the bones were tasty. His adobong buto-buto, cooked for five hours, was so good some neighbors trooped to our house to partake of his kitchen magic. But his pancit mi-ke, though so much shorter in time to prepare, was always a hit among his children. The noodle dish meant love to us — in it were hard work, sacrifices and the desire of my father to create a semblance of plenty in our home. Perhaps because of all the dishes he knew to cook oh-so-well, pancit mi-ke was the most affordable. It was rich and within reach.

Like it was within reach of my mother’s equal kitchen prowess to recreate the pancit mi-ke of her husband on Father’s Day. My mother, this time, was already putting the carrot slices into the pan. Followed by the chayote and legumes, then the cabbage and pechay Baguio. They were sautéed for a minute before she brought into the pan the caldo (chicken stock). She smiled.  With the ladle as her wand, she was casting magic that moment. It was the kind of magic everybody was waiting for that moment in time.

From little bubbles, the boiling gave way to big ones rising from the pan. Time to pour the star ingredient — the mi-ke noodles. The yellow noodles were happy to join the splurge. For a while, they silenced the pan but everything came to a boil again after a few minutes. My mother tasted it — she closed her eyes in delight.

She turned off the stove. Then sprinkled the pan of pancit mi-ke with kinchay. She covered the pan with a lid. And after a few minutes, we opened our hearts and appetite to a breakfast feast on Father’s Day.

It was the season of plenty again at home.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend!)

FATHER’S DAY
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