Thin Wheat Line: Inay's Pancit Is Universally Likeable

Thin Wheat Line is a weekly survey of noodles in Seattle.

Noodle: Pancit

Source: Inay's Asian Pacific Cuisine, 2503 Beacon Ave. S., 325-5692.

Price: $6.75 as part of a combo plate (rice plus two dishes)

I always feel a little hinky ordering pancit at a Filipino restaurant. Not that there isn't a good reason why pancit -- to be technical, pancit bihon -- is a classic, well-loved dish throughout the Philippines. Who doesn't love a stir-fried noodle, after all, especially when it's cooked up with Chinese sausage, chicken, and mixed vegetables? No, my unease comes from simple pride. I've come to enjoy my role as the white guy who likes eating [insert pig part, lesser-known sea creature, or stinky preserved vegetable here], a role that I exercise with waiters around town every week. So to go into a new restaurant and order one of the three dishes that white people always order? It feels a little like asking the clerks at Scarecrow Video where they've shelved Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

The salve for such a deep wound to my vanity: Inay's pancit is good.

There's a reason pancit bihon, like chicken adobo and lumpia, appeals to so many non-Filipinos. A dish whose origins are Chinese, its flavor comes from soy sauce and lime, unaffected by bagoong (shimp or anchovy paste), the whiffy seasoning that scares many Americans away from other Filipino classics like kare-kare and pinakbet.

Inay's, the most recent incarnation of a restaurant that has migrated off and back onto Beacon Hill over the years, serves turo-turo ("point-point") style, with a steam table and heated case for fried fish that you order from.

The more of the pancit I ate, the more I liked -- in fact, when I tasted the thicker, blander noodles at nearby Kusina Filipina just afterward, I liked Inay's pancit very much indeed. The cooks use the thinnest gauge of rice noodles, which have a tickly, almost feathery quality to them. And each time I twisted up a hank on my fork, flecks of meat and crisp snow peas, carrot threads, and julienned onion came tangled up in the noodles.

The steam table offered bagoong-free bistek (beef braised with soy, ginger, and garlic) and chicken caldereta, but I preserved my manhood by ordering a combo plate of pancit with a robustly shrimp-paste-tinged pinakbet. I'm sure the woman at the counter was impressed by my non-white-guy-ness. She kept cool about it, though. In fact, she didn't congratulate me once.

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