Back in my misspent youth, I would often use the long breaks between my classes in DLSU to hop the jeep to Binondo for lunch. Among our favorite destinations there was the Panciteria Lido, which my Chinese buddies told me had been a fixture in their dining experience as long as they could remember. I of course had to agree with them and their honored ancestors - I loved the place! However my photography habit then always left me with money only for either one of two things --Asado Rice or the Chami Special. Fast forward quite a few years, and to my great surprise, I spotted a familiar name along President's Avenue. Panciteria Lido was still alive! Is the food still as good?
The answer is a resounding 'Yes!' Cat and I visited to sample the food and there found out the story behind Panciteria Lido, from its founding by Chinese chef Mr. Lido in 1936 to its new direction in franchising under current proprietor Annie Go. BF Franchisee, Mr. Paul Ting, notes that BF Homes was one of their first targets for a branch, based on the size of the community and its growing reputation as a foodie mecca. Cat and I tried the signature Pork Asado and the Chami Special, both exactly as I remembered them; the Poached Tofu; and also took home their Familia Feast which contains, aside from asado and chami, some frie dumplings, lumpiang shanghai, and buttered chicken. To top off our meal, we also tried their Syphon Coffee.
Our first course was the Poached Tofu, a soft, silky beancurd dish served swimming in a light but savory sauce. The tofu was very fresh and light, a perfect appetizer, side dish, or even a main viand if you're planning to eat light. Next came the Pugon-Roasted Asado. Though the Lido labels itself as a 'Panciteria,' its true signature dish is its mouth-watering Pork Asado roasted in a 'pugon', a wood-fired brick oven. Still using the traditional recipe handed down from Mr. Lido, this roast pork is basted with a secret Chinese sauce and baked to a succulent, juicy tenderness with just a slight hint of smokiness. It's not as sweet as the more Filipinized version of asado that you might get elsewhere; the flavors are more subtle, and so tender it almost melts in the mouth. Cat and I didn't believe we could finish the platter served to us, but we did!
The Chami Special was another nostalgic treat for me, a reliably hefty comfort food that I know will satisfy me even when I'm really hungry. I've always been more partial to Chami than to pancit canton or pancit bihon, loving the thick chewy noodles and the sweet-savory blend they're sauteed in. I've yet to taste the chami in Shanghai, where this noodle dish is said to have originated, but I've tried Hong Kong's version; let's just say that over here I consider only two restaurants to have chami as good as in HK, and Panciteria Lido is one of them. Their Chami is neither oily nor salty, two defects that often mar the noodle dishes of lesser restaurants. I commented to Cat that they probably don't use MSG, and found to our delighted surprise it's true: All of Panciteria Lido's offerings have no MSG added.
We finished our lunch with the Syphon Coffee. Now you normally wouldn't associate coffee with a Chinese restaurant--you'd think of tea, right? But the Chinese like their coffee too, and they like it fresh and strong. They use their own secret blend of coffee beans, and the full body and rich aroma remind me of Batangas' best. I usually sweeten my coffee, but this one tastes great even as plain black.
The contents of the Familia Feast--great for Christmas season--we served the next day to our family. The kids predictably loved the Buttered Chicken, lightly breaded chicken pieces flash-fried in a wok. I had to remind them I had a restaurant to review just to get a bite! The lumpia and dumplings also went fast, my Chinese sister-in-law commenting that the flavor was indeed, still very Chinese. And that's why I'm glad Panciteria Lido is now in BF. Because when I want that real Chinatown taste, I know where I can go.