The Cirque’s in Town

It was a weekend of heavy downpour but we made it to Rizal Park to catch Varekai, a Cirque du Soleil touring show currently staging in Manila till July 24.  All I can say is if you haven’t gone to see it yet, I recommend that you get yourselves some tickets.  It’s worth it.  Having seen Zaia in Macau, I wasn’t sure if a touring group would be as impressive.  The show proved me wrong.  I would like to think that the effort is on par if not more – from the tents to the seats to the stage, not to mention the props, costumes and the cast and crews that they brought with them – quite a production. Known for its mind-blowing yet gracefully choreographed acrobatic stunts, wonderful music and colorful costume, this French Canadian entertainment company has always been more than your average circus act.  An amazing circus show that found its way here is certainly a waste if missed.

We decided to book an overnight at Hotel H20 and check out the Manila Ocean Park the next day.

The hotel is conveniently located inside the Park and is just across the show venue.  Glad we did as the rains did not let up and we actually had to drive from one parking lot to the next or end up with shoes soaking wet.  The hotel was interesting albeit a bit inconvenient when we had to walk to Manila Ocean Park sans a covered path to get to the hotel.  We booked a Bayview room and we were greeted with this in the morning.   😦

While we’re at it – shows-wise, I mean.  Cinemalaya starts this weekend through July 24.  Looks like an impressive line up of Filipino Indie films that’s showing at the CCP and Greenbelt 3 theaters.

Useful Info:

Hotel H20 and Manila Ocean Park
Luneta, Manila (behind the Quirino Granstand)

Getting there:

Xiao Long Bao: Dumpling of all Dumplings

Credits:  Quickpage by Joanne aka 2girlsand poodle from the You Are Awesome Kit.  Alpha by Life Little Surprises kit.

If you haven’t heard of Xiao Long Bao, it’s about time that you do.  You absolutely must try this at least once in your life. This delectable steamed soup dumpling is named after the small bamboo basket it is steamed in.  Inside the dumpling are pockets of minced meat and gelatinized broth made of chicken, pork or cured ham.  When steamed, the gelatin melts inside the dumpling and the soup bursts into deliciousness in your mouth.

Best with vinegar and ginger slivers

The graceful way I eat this is to bite a small hole into the dumpling and sip out the juice before taking the whole dumpling.  A word of caution… wait a few minutes to cool the dumpling before devouring though – the last thing you want is to ruin the whole experience by burning yourself.

My first encounter with this Shanghainese specialty was in 1991, in Taiwan – the very first branch of Din Tai Fung, I recently learned.   And for a very long time, I could only dream of it.  It took me 10 long years to feast on these babies again, this time in Shanghai.  It took perhaps another 5 years for Xiao Long Bao to make its way to the Philippines.  Eat Well is a favorite and very recently, Crystal Jade opened its doors in Greenhills supposedly offering excellent xiao long baos.  The long line turned me off so I have yet to judge for myself.

Din Tai Fung. Singapore. Packed!

Recently however, I came full circle when a few months ago in Beijing and more recently in Singapore, I saw myself in Din Tai Fung for a treat of my favorite dumpling (and more).  Din Tai Fung has become known for their delectable dumplings for decades and opened up franchises in many Asian countries but sadly not in the Philippines (yet).  I saw that they’ve expanded their dumplings to more than just their signature Xiao Long Bao.  They now have chicken, fish and even a vegetarian dumpling.

Though I was a bit disappointed with the vegetarian dumplings, their signature dish remains to be my favorite and

Clockwise:  Cucumber appetizer, Fried Pork Chops on fried rice, Almond Jelly on crushed ice, xiao long bao with vinegar and ginger slivers.

I so totally enjoyed their pork chops and almond jelly dessert.  So really even if XLB made them what they are today, it isn’t just all about dumplings at Din Tai Fung. If you find yourself in a neighborhood with  Din Tai Fung near you, don’t hesitate at all.  Click here to see where they are around the globe.

Where to get XLB in the Philippines:

Eat Well Delicious Kitchen (sounds tacky but they really serve up delicious meals)

At The Fort
Unit C, Ground Floor, Net Quad Building,
30th-31st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
For Reservation and Pickup only: +632 856-9408
At Greenhills
Missouri St. cor. Connecticut St., Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines
Phone Number: +632 722-8518


Crystal Jade
Unit 117-121 (near Haagen Dazs and Goodwill Bookstore)
V-Mall, Greenhills Shopping Center
Greenhills, San Juan City, Metro Manila

Phone Number: +632 570-6910, 570-6912


The Binondo “Wok”ing Tour

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.

An “old-time” favorite of the family

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

Ivan showing the group a “grandma” slipper that is almost in the brink of deletion.

Our gracious host, Ivan Man Dy met us at the Binondo Church located across the Plaza Calderon dela Barca along Quentin Paredes St.

It is today a well-known landmark in Chinatown.  Because the saint once served there as an altar boy, it is also known as Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz.

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.

Café Mezzanine

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

Fried Kutchay Pancake

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.

Fried Siopao

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.