Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (2024)

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (1)
The Chicken Mami by Ma Mon Luk. Please note: it is as
simple as chicken, garlic and spring onions.

"Din pe na ay...tsin ho tsia e mami...tio khi Chinese Mami House." - immortal Hokkien words that still resonate to this day while I remember the Chinese eyed girl wearing a Cheongsam, carrying a bowl of soup endorsing the leading brand of instant mami those days. We so much love eating mami and eating it in its proper venue, the old Chinatown noodle house despite the rumors that its food ingredients being derived from unspeakable sources, that it actually did take quite sometime for the instant version to take hold in the Philippine consumer mindset. However, because of the fast and confusing city life, we have already traded the once comforting ability to just sit for a while and enjoy a light bowl of soup and noodles by going instant. What the bowl of mami meant had been compromised through the ages that even the current noodle houses that boast of a cleaner environment came out with soups claiming authenticity yet the diner who had tasted the original can detect that something is missing. Is it the estero of old? Is it the garbage that floats the Pasig river? Is it the muck that continues to decay in the streets of Binondo? Oh, I know. It's the cat...the unspeakable ingredient. Whatever it is, something is missing.

In order to better understand the essence of mami, one has to go back to the soul of it, hence, the history lesson.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (2)
Ma Mon Luk Quiapo: one of the more original
branches of the chain.

So everyone knows about he Ma Mon Luk story, and it's all about the entrepreneurship of a poor man from Guangdong who went to the Philippines to supposedly marry the daughter of a rich Chinese businessman. Wrong decision was made on part of the rich family not to go ahead with the marriage for the poor Cantonese man became the rich restaurateur who originated the mami. But in this story already lies the basic secret of the mami: poor and entrepreneurship -- for the poor Ma Mon Luk using the ingredients that he could only afford to start a business with the little money he had came up with the best noodle dish he couldcome up with. And it starts with chicken.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (3)
Ma Mon Luk Quezon Boulevard: The look
and the flavor is srill original.

But it is not any ordinary chicken. It is OLD chicken -- meaning, a chicken that had lived its life from laying eggs throughout its short lifetime. If one notices as one steps in the restaurant of Ma Mon Luk (try it -- the Quezon Boulevard branch) there is this pervading smell of fishiness, aptly described in Tagalog as "malansa" which even in English cannot be accurately translated. As horrible as it may sound, actually this smell is what makes the dish palatable! One cannot describe why such a description lies so much irony for as much as horrendous the adjective could be that it should elicit reactions of disgust, instead its patrons want more. Is it some drug? Is it marijuana? What made it? Is it cat (which is the rumor)? This smell, think about it, is what makes the same kind of reaction as one could get from Beluga caviar. To those who have tasted it, it smells like old fish, yet the perfect fishiness with the texture of the eggs as they pop along with the egginess of it is perfect! It is white truffle -- smells bad actually, but when accompanied with olive oil or butter and brushed in vegetables of light meat, imparts a more umami aroma which makes the dish palatable. This controlled degree of fermented flavor, is what makes the Ma Mon Luk flavor.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (4)
Ma Mon Luk in Aurora Boulevard, Cubao before
the onslaught of businesses. Shame I
didn't take a picture when I used
to visit this branch.

Is it generally found in Ma Mon Luk? I claim yes! In the 1990's, Ma Mon Luk used to have six branches and in the 1980's I used to frequent their Aurora Boulevard, Cubao branch which is rival to next door's Panciteria Hong Ning. And in that branch where the cooks are more exposed preparing this dish, one can see that they have scissors cutting meat into strips as they drop them to make toppings for the noodle soup. The same smell could be detected waffling in the air. When one looks at the final product, the meat is dark and somewhat the fibers are distinct -- this is the trademark of culled chicken and it is the best to make soup for in the muscle lies the flavor and the marrow is darker making the flavor more distinct.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (5)
Auguste Escoffier

Which then leads us to the lessons of Escoffier, the reputed 19th century chef of kings and popes and from whom originated the dish Peach Melba which is named in 1906 to Dame Nellie Melba, the famous Australian soprano whom he was a fan. Escoffier said in his book, The Escoffier (only goes to show how big he was that he named his cookbook after himself and such became the bible of French cooking), "a good dish starts with the broth". And its true, for it is the broth that is the basis of soups, sauces, deglazings and almost any savory dish that requires liquids. Therefore, as early as the cook may start his routine in the kitchen, the pot that is first set in the kitchen is a large pot of water from which he will make broth. And the recommendation? A whole animal set aside for broth -- the old chicken is the best for this purpose.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (6)
And Escoffier found a colleague under the
person of Ramon Ma Mon Luk.

As one would find out, it is with good broth that a good chicken mami would emerge. If the broth is perfect, the chicken mami would be perfect, but botch the broth and the whole thing would be a disaster.

What about noodles? Did anyone ever notice that as one enters the restaurant that the noodles were all ready made and lying on the side of the vat of broth ready to be picked with a giant pair of tongs to be thrown in a colander which would be dipped in a separate large pot of boiling water, giving it a few shakes, to be drained to land in a bowl? If one orders takeout, the noodles are separate from the soup as also with the accoutrement, but the noodle is in a plastic bag, warm but oily. The reason behind the separation between boodle and broth is obvious as one does not want soggy noodles when it gets into your office or home. But the noodles -- oily and just al dente. One can only surmise this is fresh noodles from the corner wet market that came in the morning, yellowed with food coloring and salty. But such noodles are half of the flavor of a Ma Mon Luk mami.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (7)
As limited as the menu may be, the place
is jumping!

And toppings? I have seen so many blog entries that describe mami toppings with hard boiled egg, snow peas or even other vegetables. While I have no reservations as to what individuals may want in their mami and Divine Providence knows that no one will be harmed by putting different items on this beloved noodle dish thinking its mami, let's admit it - it's not. Obviously, some of these writers were probably not even old enough to know what Ma Mon was like in its heyday and whether they have even set foot in one. While I wasn't born yet when Mr Ma Mon Luk died of throat cancer in 1961, I had the privilege to eat in his establishments and at least having eaten in branches that unfortunately are closed now. But let's keep it simple and original. The toppings are sliced chicken meat (originally cut with scissors and still is), toasted garlic and chopped spring onions. One may add toasted onions if desired, but that's it.

Vegetable - and sometimes this is even eliminated at take out - the Chinese pechay known as Baguio pechay known as the plain Bokchoy in the US. A good alternative is the Shanghai Bokchoy which has a greener leaf and a good bite. But both will do and actually, can be done without.

So as a tribute to the late great Mr. Ma Mon Luk, the recipe.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (8)
Ramon Ma Mon Luk mausoleum in
the Chinese Cemetery. Note
the crown emblem.

Chicken Mami (in the style of Ma Mon Luk)


  • 1 whole old culled chicken (Asian stores sold as "old chicken")

  • 1 head peeled and chopped garlic

  • 1/2 head peeled and sliced onion (red is best)

  • 1 bunch sliced and chopped green onion

  • 1 package egg noodles (Asian stores sold as "Tsi Tan Mien", can also use with good flavor Shrimp - "Siya", Chicken - "Tsi")

  • Salt and Peppercorns to taste

  • Optional but enhances flavor: MSG or "Maggi/Knorr seasoning"


  1. Using 1/2 of the garlic, sauté with oil over medium heat in a large stockpot. The garlic should be aromatic and lightly brown but not burnt. It is better that the garlic is on the white side than burnt side and therefore, if the garlic is in any way becoming black, throw in water right away. If not, saute the chicken a bit in its oil.

  2. Put in water - lots of it - about a gallon or so. Under medium heat, wait for it to boil and as this happens, skim the developing foam and throw it away.

  3. As it begins to boil, cover and leave to tenderize the meat.

  4. Meanwhile, during this time, one can sauté the garlic separately on a pan until it is brown. Do the same for the onions and set aside.

  5. After an hour or so of boiling, the chicken meat may be tender by this time. Remove the chicken and set it aside to cool.

  6. Once it is cool to handle, remove the chicken meat using a knife. One would notice that it is difficult to remove most of the meat and the lean is thin but darker.

  7. The bones are put back in the broth where it is allowed to boil and extract all the flavors of the bones especially the marrow. Salt to taste. Put a tablespoon or so of peppercorns to extract the flavor of the spices. Do not ground the peppercorns as this would result in a murky broth with pepper bits. Season with MSG or Maggi/Knorr seasoning (very helpful in bringing out an umami dimension), if desired.

  8. If the broth is almost ready, using a smaller pot that could fit the bottom of a colander, boil water. Once the water starts to boil, get a ball of egg noodle and place in colander and set in the boiling water. Cover and allow the noodles to cook for about three minutes (see package).

  9. On the final minute prior to the noodles being done, place two or three Bokchoy leaves to cook in the heat of the steam.

  10. Drain immediately and place in a deep serving bowl. Add slices of the chicken with toasted onions, toasted garlic and spring onions. Ladle in two or three ladles of soup. Serve while hot.


  • I leave to the reader how much salt to put in the broth but the original Ma Mon Luk broth has a tendency to be on the salty side. Likewise, the amount of peppercorns used are left to the reader's discretion but I emphasize that we want to extract the pepper flavor without making the broth murky.

  • Burnt garlic destroys flavor! So it is important to carefully monitorwhile sautéing the garlic prior to addition of chicken or water.

  • Skim, skim, skim! The trick of a good broth lies with removing the congealed blood proteins as the water begins to boil. This adds to the bed flavor of the broth and adds to the broth's easy spoilage.

  • In the US, we do not have fresh miki noodles. If one looks at the label of miki noodles bought fresh in the local wet market (aka "palengke") the label states salt and vegetable oil along yellow with food color as its ingredients. To have the similar flavor, one might choose to salt the boiling water and also an eighth cup of vegetable oil to do the trick.

Recipe: Chicken Mami ala Ma Mon Luk Style (Chinese Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup) (2024)
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