Before I receive a surge of hate mail from devoted Lucbanins, let me assure them that Lucban remains the true birthplace of the Pancit Habhab. If I got my facts straight, the unique noodles to this day can only be sourced from this Quezon town. Although dried “Lucban Miki” is now readily available in supermarkets everywhere, no other place can reproduce this product as well as the artisanal noodle makers who have been making it for decades.
After Buddy’s has infiltrated the Metro Manila market, Pancit Habhab- as well as the “small but incredible” Lucban Longganiza (small pork sausages heavily flavored with garlic)- has become popular not only with the locals and learned tourists, but also with Manilenos who have tried the Buddy’s version and were easily hooked by its unique taste.
As a pint-sized foodie, I had my first taste of Habhab at the old panciteria in the middle of town, eaten in true Lucban fashion: the braised noodles smoking-hot and placed on a banana leaf, consumed by slurping (daintily, if possible) the pancit straight into my mouth. Later on, the banana leaves were replaced with more modern dinnerware, but the pancit remained the same. We would buy the dried noodles and try to replicate the dish at home, but it was difficult getting the right texture and flavor: The sauce garlicky and peppery, perfectly accented by the accompanying spiced vinegar; the noodles firm (not mushy) and loaded with umami (Tagalog translation: Malinamnam).
Although I also enjoy the more commercialized versions of Habhab, there is that certain flavor that I look for from my early pancit-eating days. Funny that I would find my favorite Pancit Habhab in- of all places- Tayabas, Quezon.
I honestly have no idea how my Dad found this place, but I am thankful that he did. The house, void of signage and any form of marker, is just one in a row or apartments lining the street going into Mauban (the next town, and my Dad’s hometown). During one of his weekend trips to the beach house(with my cousin Kuya Bubut, most probably), he must have had some early-morning “munchies”, and chanced upon the giant wok atop a wooden table. Soon, the rest of the family has been introduced to, in my opinion, the tastiest Pancit Habhab I have had in a really long time.
On a recent trip from Mauban, we passed the usual route going into Tayabas, on the way back to Manila. Having skipped breakfast, we were looking for a quick snack before having a proper lunch elsewhere. We stopped, naturally, in front of the now-familiar house.
The giant wok is covered, protecting the delicious pancit from the elements and keeping it warm. I look inside and spy that the sahog (small slices of meat or vegetables mixed with the noodles) is all-meat. It was a delightful (for me, at least) mix of pork parts, chicken and- surprise, surprise- quail eggs. I wondered how this would affect the flavor, having been used to the more classic formula of pork and sayote. I sprinkled some spiced vinegar and slurped away.
It was, as usual, as good as Pancit Habhab can get. The noodles were cooked perfectly and moist, the garlic, red chili and black pepper-infused vinegar bringing out the tasty meatiness of the dish. The price (P5 for a single serving) has not changed since we started eating there, as well as the quality and portioning. It is not going to fill-up the average man, but for that price, it is a pretty decent meal.
In between habhabs (Tagalog slang for "to slurp"), I learn from the tindera (sales lady) that the pancit is cooked by his brother-in-law, Kuya Boyet (she actually gave me his last name, but I was too busy keeping myself from inhaling the noodles through my nose). I remember telling her a number of times how good the pancit was, as Boyet’s wife (who was busy with household chores behind the selling area, which was actually the garage)looked on and gave a tiny, proud smile. I am a firm believer that people who are excellent at what they do deserve recognition, no matter how small or subtle the praise.
I love it when a home cook finds that one special dish and makes it the best he/she can ever make, every single time. Boyet’s excellent Pancit Habhab is proof that you do not need a diploma from the Culinary Institute of America or pricey, imported ingredients to turn out great-tasting food. All you need is a mastery of your chosen ingredients, a love for food and- in Boyet’s case, at least - a giant wok.
“Kuya Boyet’s” Pancit Habhab
(the road going to Mauban)
(the road going to Mauban)