Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bihongke or Sotanghon Soup (Bean Thread or Glass Noodle Soup)

If the term “bihongke” does not ring a bell to you, chances are you are not from the Southern Tagalog Region of the Philippines. There, most especially in the beautiful province of Batangas, “bihongke” refers to the soothing Filipino noodle dish, popularly called “sotanghon soup” elsewhere in the country. I do not have an idea, yet, how the funny name came about considering that the soupy dish uses “sotanghon” noodles and not “bihon” (thin rice noodle) which is usually cooked as “Pancit Bihon”, an all-time favorite stir-fried/sautéed dry (“guisado”) noodle dish among Filipinos.

As a backgrounder, “sotanghon” is the Filipino term for the bean thread noodles, sometimes referred to as cellophane noodles or glass noodles, made from mung beans or “mungo”. It is a thin, transparent, smooth and slick type of noodles popular in the Philippines as well as in other Asian countries. Aside from cooking it into a wonderful soup, it can be sautéed with crab and spices like in my "Alimasag Con Sotanghon" post and of course, as “pancit” on its own, or in combination with “miki” or egg noodles like in my “Sotanghon–Miki Guisado” post. While “sotanghon” is a noodle, don’t be surprised to find them inside most Asian spring rolls.

“Sotanghon” soup is my ultimate comfort food among noodle dishes. The soup is good for breakfast, snack or “merienda” and perfect during midnight snack when you have to stay or work really late. During rainy days or even when the weather is just cool and windy, it tastes and satisfies even better. Truly among the best food to take if you want to feel good.

For me, the key ingredients for the dish are good quality “sotanghon”, tasty mushroom (shiitake/Chinese black mushroom or wood ear), flavorful chicken and lots of garlic. The addition of some vegetables will further enhance the taste of the broth and thus will complete the dish.

To prepare, we need 1 pack of “sotanghon” noodles (250 grams), soaked in water until slightly soft, cut to manageable lengths and then drained and about a cup of dried wood ear mushroom (shiitake is much better), soaked in water until rehydrated, then roughly chopped and drained.

We also need about half of a medium-sized chicken, about 500 grams, washed and drained then boiled in water until just tender. The meat will then be flaked to small pieces discarding the bones. The broth should be strained and set aside.

The rest of the ingredients are as follows: 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 head of garlic, peeled and minced, 2 pcs onions, peeled and chopped, 1 pc carrot, peeled and julienned, 3 tbsp “patis” or fish sauce, 1 tsp salt or to taste, 1 tsp ground pepper, 3 tbsp minced green onions, 2 tbsp “atsuete” or annatto seeds (optional) and about 2 liters chicken broth. If the broth used in boiling the chicken is not enough, just add some chicken stock to complete the required quantity. The noodles will suck up huge quantity of broth so we need to have plenty to attain a really soupy dish.

In a large deep pan (“kawali”) or wok, on medium flame, heat the oil and fry garlic until aromatic, add the onion and continue frying until onion is translucent. Add the carrots and continue sautéing. Add the fish sauce and quickly stir fry to bring out the fragrant. Immediately after, add the wood ear mushroom followed by the chicken flakes and continue cooking. At this point, season it with salt and lots of ground pepper.

Then pour the broth slowly. Let it boil on high heat then continue simmering on low heat. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings. I usually adjust the taste by adding a little more “patis” and ground pepper. Add the noodles and cook for about 3 minutes more, until the noodle is al dente.

You can use “atsuete” or annatto seeds to impart color to the soup. I choose not to use mine anymore as the color contrast of carrots and mushroom already made the soup appealing. (Washing an “atsuete” oil laden dishes is not very fun. :-) ) Avoid over-cooking the dish as the noodle will become soggy.

Transfer in a deep bowl, sprinkle the green onions on top and serve piping hot. I love the soup more if accompanied with “hot pandesal” (popular Filipino bread roll) but since we don’t have it here in Sri Lanka, I have to satisfy myself with toasted sliced bread. :)

You can serve it with a mixture of “calamansi” or lemon juice, fish sauce and some more green onion on the side. We added some toasted garlic on top which makes the soup a real hit. Enjoy! c“,)

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