Super saucy is an understatement in my household when it comes to describing the way my family eats. Growing up, my noodle-to-sauce ratio was always over the top. Regardless, I have yet to learn how to properly balance a serving of noodles and sauce. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; it’s definitely better to have more than what you need, as opposed to not having enough.
According to my mom, palabok was my favorite dish as a child. I did, unfortunately, go through a phase, during which my obsession with shrimp transformed into irrational feelings of disgust. I honestly have no recollection of how this might have happened, but thankfully, I outgrew this odd preference. Before this epiphany, I never fully enjoyed the experience of eating a plate of Mom’s famous palabok. I would always pick out the tiny pieces of shrimp and toss them to the side of my plate. Now, I ruthlessly scavenge through the giant pot of sauce, specifically searching for more chunks of what is now my favorite seafood.
Palabok can be served DIY style, and I believe that there is nothing more satisfying than garnishing a plate—putting toppings is my absolute favorite part of cooking. While I thoroughly enjoy preparing palabok, my favorite part about the dish is the company. Gathering a big group of people—no matter what their differences may be—in front of an assortment of ingredients always has a way of bringing everyone together. Growing up, palabok was mostly served at birthday parties or holiday celebrations, during which my parents always invited random acquaintances who eventually became like family after we bonded over the excitement of Filipino food and palabok, in particular.
1 pack of thin rice noodles (typically known as Bihon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb. ground pork
Boiled pork belly, thinly sliced
Smoked fish flakes
Pounded pork rinds
Sliced hard-boiled eggs
Shrimp, boiled or steamed
Sliced lemon, lime, or calamansi (native Filipino fruit; may be difficult to find, so anything citrusy can used as an alternative)
Soak the thin rice noodles in water for about 15 minutes and set aside. Heat up a pan and coat the bottom with cooking oil. Once pan is hot, throw in ½ lb. of ground pork. Cook for about 6-7 minutes. Mix the annatto powder in with the pork broth and add it into the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add in the shrimp cube. Watch the mixture, stir, and let it simmer. After a few minutes, gradually add in the flour.
While cooking the sauce, make sure to have a simultaneous pot boiling for the noodles. Finally, add the fish sauce and freshly-ground black pepper and stir until the sauce becomes golden brown and thick. Sauce is complete. Set aside for later.
Place the noodles into the boiling water and let it cook for a few minutes. Once they are done cooking, strain the noodles and place them on a plate.
Arrange the toppings into an array of bowls, which include: the thinly sliced pork belly, fried tofu, smoked fish flakes, pounded pork rinds, hard boiled eggs, boiled or steamed shrimp, scallions, fresh garlic. For a final touch, squeeze a little bit of lemon, lime, or calamnsi juice on top.