Possibly, no definitely the best way to see Manila “on foot” as their leaflet suggests and I completely agree. It’s literally experiencing Binondo or Chinatown one bite at a time.
I am of Chinese descent but I don’t really know my way around Chinatown. My parents would occasionally take us there for lunch or dinner when we were growing up but really, I am clueless as to their whereabouts.
Binondo is like a maze, although the street names are all very familiar, I have no sense of where they are in relation to each other. Leave me there and I am helpless.
I grew up with home cooked Chinese food. Not the stuff that you eat in “Cantonese-style” Chinese restaurants in the metro, but simple home cooked meals that really is more everyday stuff to me than “Chinese”.
So taking this tour was somewhat nostalgic and enlightening. We journeyed through old and new adventures. There were food that I grew up with and there are those I encountered for the first time. The places we walked through were likewise familiar, yet unfamiliar.
Binondo Today and Yesterday
Our gracious host, Ivan Man Dy met us at the Binondo Church located across the Plaza Calderon dela Barca along Quentin Paredes St.
At the Plaza across the church, we talked briefly about how the early Hokkien (Fookien) immigrants arrived from Fujian province in China during the Spanish rule and the time when Binondo was the main center of business and finance in Manila with mainly the Chinese, Chinese mestizos, and Spanish Filipinos anchoring the bustling banking and financial community many decades ago.
Today, the community is still vibrant as ever and continues to keep alive its heritage.
After a brief reminder of our history, we walked over to a café above Eng Bee Tin where we were served a bowl of “kiampung”, which literally translates to salty rice.
This rice dish is a mixture of pork, chicken, dried shrimps, mushrooms and peanuts mixed together in soy sauce and topped with caramelized and spring onions – a simple dish that reminded me of my childhood, my grandmother, actually. Opened and run by a group of volunteer firemen headed by Gerry Chua, all of its proceeds go to the Binondo and Paco Volunteer Fire Search and Rescue Brigade. So if you find yourself in the area, head on to Café Mezzanine and eat up a storm, every bite you take is a contribution to a noble cause. Located at the corner of Ongpin and Yuchengco (former Nueva St) Sts., it opens its doors at 7am and closes at 10pm.
Dong Bei Restaurant
We then walked over to a hole in a wall that serves perhaps the best dumplings in town.
At the storefront (as you enter) there will be someone making fresh dumplings by hand for everyone to see.
Owned by new immigrants Ivan calls “bagong salta” (new arrivals) from Northern China, they serve prominent dishes from that region.
Heavenly with the sauce!
The steamed Kutchay dumpling is a blend of minced pork, kutchay and fresh shrimps – juicy pork dumpling flavored with kutchay and fresh crisp shrimp adding another dimension to the taste of the dumpling. This is truly a wonderful blend of flavors and is heavenly with the soy-vinegar sauce. I loved it so much, I bought some frozen ones to savor more of it at home. Heard that they also make a mean dish of hand-made noodle with Soybean sauce. Must get myself back there to try it.
Another favorite and a first for me is fried siopao from a small take-out stall along Benevidez St. Yes folks, this siopao is not steamed but pan-fried. This might be the best tasting siopao I had ever tasted in my life. Not the typical asado filling, this is more like bola-bola siopao but much more tastier. Definitely a must-try.
Aside from the siopao, I also bought to munch some sugar sprinkled bicho-bicho (Chinese crullers). This was a favorite and truly a blast from my past!
There’s more and best to experience it first hand. The Big Binondo Food Wok. Go book a tour today. And oh… make sure you’re hungry.