[CULTURE: Food] History and Origin of Batangas Lomi
“Lomi” is just one of many noodle dishes called pancit (alternatively spelled, pansit) that have become part of Filipino cuisine. The word pancit is likely of Hokkien origin and loosely means “convenient food1.” The word “lomi,” meanwhile, sounds suspiciously close to the to the Chinese noodle dish “lo mein,” a dish of “tossed or mixed noodles... and often includes vegetables and some sort of protein such as chicken, beef, pork, seafood or tofu2.”
The closeness of the names apart, it has to be pointed out that the Chinese “lo mein” is, however, a dry noodle dish. In contrast, the Filipino lomi, in whatever incarnation, has broth and is, therefore, a sort of noodle soup.
Among the more notable variants of the pancit lomi is that which has become known as “Batangas lomi,” although this type of lomi was first introduced and initially became increasingly popular in the City of Lipa. What notably sets the Batangas “lomi” apart from other variants is the absence of vegetables.
This is probably because the original recipe for the “lomi” first created in Lipa included “home-made noodles, meatballs, slices of pork, liver and quekiam 3 | 4,” but none of the vegetables one finds in other versions of Filipino lomi. Even the copycats who started offering “lomi” in their own restaurants stuck to the basic recipe, so it was without vegetables that this noodle dish started to grow in popularity.
The creation of the “lomi” is attributed to the immigrant To Kim Eng, originally from southern China but who had settled and raised a family in the city of Lipa. To Kim Eng loved playing mah-jong with friends and in the late 1960’s began serving this new noodle dish he called the “lomi.” Word about the noodle dish started to circulate by word of mouth so that before long, To Kim Eng started receiving orders not only for “lomi” but also for other noodle dishes. In 1968, he and his wife Natalia decided to open the restaurant Lipa Panciteria5. Up to the present day, the panciteria6 is considered by some as the cathedral of the original “lomi.”
In the 1980’s, other panciterias offering lomi started building their own reputations for excellent “lomi” — Three Kids’ and Mr. Wok’s come to mind, among others — and these reputations grew merely by word-of-mouth. Because going to the “lomi haus7” would become as much a social as well as a culinary event, demand for “lomi” continued to grow and remain strong. “Lomi hauses” eventually became ubiquitous as they started sprouting in the garages of houses, in nipa shacks or in open yards.
In the city of Lipa, it came to the point that there was always a “lomi haus” not far from one’s home. The tastier one’s “lomi” was, the quicker and wider a “lomi haus’s” reputation spread, but naturally by word-of-mouth. A well-established reputation drew customers not only from far and wide but also from diverse social classes.
In the present day, probably because of the stiff competition, innovators have begun topping “lomi” with ingredients not found in the original version of lomi — anything from fried chicken to pork rebusado or, perhaps, chicharon8. “Lomi” joints can be found not only in just about every neighborhood in Lipa but also in other towns of Batangas as well — and even as far as Metro Manila, where enterprising Batangueños make sure the beloved “lomi” is never far away from fellow Batangueños who have made their homes in the Big City.
Just please, no vegetables.
Notes and references:1 “Pancit,” Wikipedia.
2 “Chow Mein vs Lo Mein: What's the Difference and Common Recipes,” published July 2021, online at San-j.com.
3 Alternatively spelled “kikiam,” is a “Filipino variation of the “ngoh hiang,” a Chinese dish of minced pork and prawn seasoned with five-spice powder, rolled in a bean curd wrapper, steamed and fried until crisp and golden.” “Kikiam Recipe (Ngoh Hiang),” by Bebs, published 2021, online at Foxyfolksy.com.
4 Lomi ingredients from “Lomi King: Savoring the Taste of Royalty,” by Hermogenes B. Panganiban, Ph.D., published by WDI Publishing.
6 A “panciteria” is usually a modest Filipino restaurant that specializes in noodle dishes.
7 “Haus” is the Filipinized version of the English word “house.” A “lomi haus” was really just a panciteria that became known for its “lomi” rather than its other noodle offerings.
8 “Chicharon” is pork crackling.