When I think of New Year’s traditions in my family, two things come to memory: my parents loudly banging pots and pans when the clock struck midnight and the sotanghon we would have for breakfast in the morning. A Filipino chicken noodle soup probably isn’t the first thing you might think of for a breakfast meal, but it’s something I’m so used to eating during the holidays that I almost forget it can be described as a tradition.
Noodles were introduced into Philippine cuisine by Chinese settlers, bringing with them the superstition that they symbolized long life. Noodles were incorporated into what would become different types of typical pancit dishes—which is basically Filipino chow mein. Served with a squeeze of calamansi (Filipino lime), the dish would be eaten on birthdays for good luck. My grandmother passed away when my mom was born, so her aunt was the one to make birthday pancit for her back in the Philippines, as well as sotanghon during Christmas and New Year’s.
When my mother arrived in the States the early ‘70s, she brought many Filipino culinary customs with her. Along with pancit, chicken adobo, lumpia (egg rolls), and puto (rice cake) were all birthday delicacies, becoming dishes my hungry non-Filipino friends would ask her to make over the years. But the sotanghon breakfast was always reserved for Christmas and New Year’s, accompanied by a cup of hot cocoa (nothing fancy, always Swiss Miss or Nesquik), pandesal (Filipino bread rolls) and sometimes suman (rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves.)
While pancit can be made with different types of noodles—ranging from a thin vermicelli to a thicker, canton style—sotanghon is typically made with thin, glass noodles. The dish consists of fresh garlic, onions, carrots, and celery sauteed in olive oil. Chicken and broth, which creates the sabow, or soup, are added before the sotanghon noodles, which are soaked in warm water while you saute the rest. Paprika may be added for color, and the dish is topped off with green onions. “That’s it—it’s so easy!” my mom always says, which is true. As long as you can find the noodles, you can make sotanghon practically anywhere.
Having a Filipino mom and an Italian dad who is a chef, food has always been a big part of my upbringing. I’ve traveled to different countries and tried many types of dishes, but I still haven’t made my way to the motherland. So, my mom and her cooking is the one tangible connection I have to my Filipino heritage. And while I think I’m a pretty good cook, I still haven’t attempted to make any of my mom’s dishes, including the lucky sotanghon. Why? I’m afraid it won’t taste as good as hers! Maybe this New Year’s will be the first time I try.