Photo by Justin Walker

Pansit (pronounced pan-SIT) simply means “noodle.” It’s the word that follows pansit that tells you either the type of noodle in the dish or the style of preparation. Here palabok refers to both. Pansit palabok is a luscious, buttery, bisque–like shrimp sauce tossed with white rice noodles and topped with tsitsaron, crisp-fried pork rinds. Loosely translated, palabok means “sauce,” and the original dish was made from ground shrimp heads and shells blended with annatto seeds, water, and cornstarch. I grew up with the kind that was made by opening a seasoning packet labeled “palabok.” You added water to make a gelatinous sauce that tasted mildly like shrimp. This version takes at least an hour and begins with an annatto-shrimp stock that is the foundation of the sauce. The traditional flavorings, which are sometimes referred to as sahog, include not just the pork rinds but also smoked fish, eggs, and scallions. To make the dish ultra decadent, you can add sea urchin, or hayop ng siotsin; the urchin’s rich, buttery flavor and bright orange color make the finished dish even more divine.


    • ½ cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter
    • ¾ cup (95 g) all-purpose flour
    • 2 to 3 cups (480 to 720 ml) warm shrimp stock (recipe follows)
    • Fish sauce
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 1 pound (455 g) raw jumbo shrimp, shells removed and reserved, shrimp halved lengthwise and deveined
    • 1 pound (455 g) squid bodies, cut into thick rings
    • 1 pound (455 g) palabok noodles (or rice noodles), cooked, drained, and kept warm
    • ¼ cup (25 g) crushed pork rinds
    • 1 cup (300 g) diced smoked tofu
    • ¼ cup (2.5 g) tinapa or bonito flakes
    • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  1. Shrimp Stock:
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 large white onion, sliced
    • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
    • Shrimp shells from 1 pound (455 g) shrimp
    • ½ cup (140 g) annatto seeds
    • 4 ounces (115 g) crab paste with bean oil
    • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns


    1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then whisk in the flour and cook, whisking continuously, until the flour and butter are totally combined and have turned a light blond color.
    2. Immediately whisk in 2 cups (480 ml) of the warm stock and bring the mixture to a boil, then stir and simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. If it gets too thick, add a little more stock. Season with fish sauce, then set the sauce aside and keep hot.
    3. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and squid and cook, stirring often, until the shrimp begin to curl and turn pink, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
    4. Put the warm cooked noodles on a serving platter and spoon the warm sauce over the center of the platter. Top the noodles with the cooked shrimp and squid, alternating shrimp and squid around the platter. Sprinkle on the crushed pork rinds, smoked tofu, and tinapa.
    5. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
  1. Shrimp Stock:
    1. In a stockpot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally and making sure not to let it brown, for 4 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and shrimp shells and cook, stirring continuously, until the shells turn pink.
    2. Add the annatto seeds, crab paste, lemon juice, fish sauce, bay leaves, peppercorns, and 12 cups (3 L) water and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 1 hour. Strain the stock, discarding the solids, and set it aside until ready to use or refrigerate it overnight. Reheat it gently before making the sauce.
    3. Leftover stock can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to a month.
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