Lumpia, Pancit, atbp. is a Filipino-Asian find
213 Muddy Branch Road, Gaithersburg
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Style of cuisine: Filipino-Asian
Entrée prices: $6.95-$8.95, weekday lunch buffet $6.49, weekend buffet $12.50
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Pancit, lumpia and adobo can only mean Filipino food. So says Navy retiree Louie Ortega whose wife Cho commands the kitchen at Lumpia, Pancit, atbp in Festival at Muddy Branch. Atbp. is the Tagalog (the official language of the Philippines) equivalent of et cetera, indicating that more than these two favorites will be found here.
Growing up in the Philippines, Cho Ortega, an eldest child, learned how to cook from her mother, a home economist, then polished her skills during the 20 years she has lived in the U.S. After a course on catering banquets at Montgomery College, she started a catering business in Gaithersburg in 2000, and sold Filipino food at festivals from Takoma Park to Olde Towne.
Encouraged by family, clients and friends, Ortega opened her restaurant in January. She modified the traditional recipes, lowering the fat content, for example, to satisfy health-conscious diners.
Geography is destiny in the evolution of Filipino cuisine. Chinese traders, intermarrying with the native Malay population, introduced noodles, pancakes, spring rolls and soy sauce. Arabs brought cumin and coriander. The Portuguese added Western influences. Olive oil, tomatoes and garlic appeared during the 370-year Spanish rule. A half-century under Americans left its mark as well.
We are delighted one Saturday evening to discover Lumpia, Pancit’s extensive buffet and friendly, accommodating staff. The quickest introduction to an unfamiliar cuisine is a buffet. We plunge in, starting with embotito, pork meatloaf enlivened with banana ketchup, and wonderful fresh lumpia. Unwrapping the paper, we slather the crepe inside with a thickened soy sauce.
‘‘The more you put on, the better it tastes,” declares Louie Ortega.
With a dip into a big steamer of rice, we fill our plates with famous chicken adobo, marinated in soy sauce, spices and vinegar (a perfect meeting of Spain and the Orient), and surprising laing, taro leaves simmered in coconut milk with shrimp, pork, chile and spices. Fried vegetable lumpia are paired with vinegar sauce and thinner fried beef lumpia with hot and sweet sauce. Egg rolls have met their competition.
Innards are a taste I have not acquired, so I pass on the liver-sauced pork, lechon paksiw, but our hardy men love that and dinaguan, a hearty pork stew with vinegar and beef blood.
Barbecued beef strips are familiar, and kaldereta, a Mediterranean-style beef stew with potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and carrots, wins fans.
Two soups beckon: sinigang, tempered with tamarind and coconut milk, and turola, a clear broth with ginger.
Bistek needs no translation, and escabeche, tilapia filet cooked with sweet and sour sauce and vegetables, is welcome.
Kare-kare, beef oxtail stew with peanut sauce and green beans, is a Filipino festival favorite. Pinakbet melds eggplant, okra and longbeans.
Mildly-flavored pancit bihon, thin rice noodles stir-fried with chicken, carrots, snow peas, cabbage and green beans, and pancit palabok, thicker rice noodles with pork and tofu sauce, egg, shrimp, garlic and scallion, clear the palate.
At the dessert table, ginataang halo halo has us guessing. We learn it is a melange of coconut milk, jackfruit syrup, glutinous rice, plantain and yam. Turon, pan-fried plantain in a pastry wrapper with jackfruit and caramelized sugar, is satisfying. Coconut-covered pichi pichi and steamed kutsinta are representative rice cakes.
Tea and tropical juices (extra), like buko (young coconut) or calamansi (lime), enhance the meal.
Lumpia, Pancit’s maghapong almusal, or all-day breakfast, consists of fried rice and scrambled eggs with a choice of tocino (sliced cured pork), longganisa (pork sausage) or daeng (salty, boneless marinated milkfish).
Merienda, a holdover from the Spanish days, means serious between-meal snacks. Among these are pancit mami, a pho-like chicken noodle soup with shredded carrots, cabbage, green onion, hard-boiled egg and seasonings, and pancit lomi, a thicker noodle soup with shrimp, fish balls and the same vegetables.
Any time of day, Lumpia, Pancit, atbp. offers a unique dining experience.