Chicken in soy sauce
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What: Legend has it that bam-i (“bam-ee”), a stir-fried Cebuano noodle dish that uses both egg and bean thread (glass) noodles, was invented by a cook who ran out of noodles while cooking for a party. Some historical sleuthing, however, reveals bam-i’s close relation to Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean noodle dishes likely brought over by immigrants from Fujian, China. Bam-i is rich and filling, with its base of noodles plus 10 to 15 ingredients comprising meat (bits of pork and pig liver), poultry (shredded chicken breast), seafood (shrimp and squid), vegetables, and herbs, plus a mushroom locally called tengang daga, or “rat’s ear” (tenga = ear, ng = of, daga = rat), because of its appearance.
Good to know: The Chinese associate noodles with long life, and bam-i’s Southeast Asian cousins are sometimes referred to as “birthday noodles.” In Cebu, bam-i is likewise festive food, typically served to symbolize long life during birthdays and special occasions. Thankfully, the influence of Cebu’s huge Filipino-Chinese community has made this dish available everywhere—a guarantee that you can chow down on bam-i even if it’s not your birthday.
Where: Unfortunately, at a roadside eatery you may receive a soggy brown mess of noodles and unidentifiable bits when you order bam-i. You want this dish cooked fresh and served hot, which is why we like the specimen at Banilad Sports Club (63- ; Paseo Saturnino, Banilad, map). Share a platter after a round of tennis, while lounging by the pool, or while watching a game of rugby in the al fresco dining area.
When: Daily, 7am-11pm
Order: Bam-i for breakfast is hard to imagine, but bam-i for lunch, dinner, or anytime in between is totally OK. The Sandtrap’s bam-i (Php 230) arrives as a platter good for three or four, so we’re glad we brought some friends along. The bean thread and egg noodles hold their own textures among the myriad ingredients: springy shrimp and squid, hearty bits of pork and chicken; crunchy carrots, snow peas, cabbage and other greens. Soy sauce and pepper keeps the overall flavor simple, but the starch and grease could be overwhelming without the slices of limonsito (a Philippine citrus fruit) squeezed liberally over the dish as a counterpoint. We washed it all down with the ubiquitous ice-cold San Miguel beer; for a good nonalcoholic pairing, try a watermelon shake with ginger.
Alternatively: Even if you’re in Cebu to escape from it all, you can still experience good bam-i: Costabella Tropical Beach Hotel (Buyong Rd., Mactan Island, map) serves it at its Brisa (pan-Asian) restaurant, where it is best enjoyed with fresh fruit juice and a decadent mango tart. Closer to the city, you can’t go wrong with the bam-i guisado (“ghee-sah-do,” meaning stir-fried) at Chika-an sa Cebu (032-233-0350; Salinas Dr., Lahug, map). It’s big on flavor, big on texture, and big enough to share.
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