EAT YOUR WAY AROUND BINONDO. If one knows where to look, Binondo can be the ultimate foodie adventure. The offerings can be as trendy as sipping caramel latte at Starbucks near Plaza Calderon de la Barca or as traditional as eating dimsum in one of Chinatown’s famous holes-in-the-wall. More than history and culture, a trip to Binondo is about food.
OLD MANILA WALKS. Ivan Dy, Old Manila Walks’ celebrity tour guide and an authority of things about Manila introduced us to some of the eateries and delicacies in the district he knows and loves so well. It was our second time to join Old Manila Walks. Two years ago, Ivan led us to an engaging Afternoon Stroll in the San Miguel District where we awed at the all-steel gothic marvel of San Sebastian Church and experienced a fine-dine merienda at the Legarda Mansion.
One of the things we like about walking tours with Ivan is that we learn well-researched trivia about the things we see, smell, hear, touch and taste while in the trip. This time we experienced nibbling around Manila’s Chinatown through the wildly popular BIG Binondo Food WOK.
TSINOY COOKING. Food tells much of a place’s history, geography and peculiarities. In Manila’s Chinatown, the cuisine has all the multi-cultural features of Tsinoy cooking –basically, Chinese with Spanish and Filipino underlay. According to Ivan, most of the Filipino-Chinese or Tsinoys were descendants of the early Hokkien (or Fookien) immigrants from the Fujian province in China. It was in Isla de Binondo, a tract of land across Intramuros where most of the Chinese immigrants settled during the Spanish rule.
The Tsinoys introduced an exhilarating mix of Asian ingredients and variations in food preparation that influenced the Filipino food taste. Peculiarities rooted in tradition created a unique food culture that has become synonymous to Binondo.
BINONDO FLAGSHIP DISHES. When one goes to Binondo, he is expected to bring home packs of sweet Hopia as pasalubong. This delicious pastry to die for consists of thin, flaky layers of smooth dough with monggo (mung beans) paste or mashed ube (purple yam) as filling. We’ve learned from Ivan that in the olden days, mongo and baboy (lard) were the only hopia varieties available. Today, the hopia comes in langka, pastillas, quezo, and macapuno flavors.
Another Binondo flagship dish is the siopao or steamed pork buns. Ivan guided us along a labyrinth to a stall that caters to over 100 siopao lovers a day. This little stall served us fried siopao that was swiftly heated in a frying pan. What makes this siopao special and worth the hunt were the soft, silky soft bun and the succulent meat filling.
OLD BINONDO DINING NOSTALGIA. Dining in Binondo is nostalgic of old Manila. During this culinary tour, we experienced dining into a themed-café, a cozy restaurant and an unassuming hole-in-the-wall joint. Firemen hats hang on the wall of Café Mezzanine as it pays tribute to centuries of volunteer Fire-Fighting in Old Manila. We’ve learned from Ivan that a portion of the customer’s bill goes to a foundation supporting the volunteer fire-fighters.
Northern style dumplings are freshly made before the customer’s eye at Dong Bei Dimsum. In this hole-in-the-wall joint, we sampled tasty dumplings while Ivan educated us about its origin and how it got to the Philippines from Northern China.
LUMPIA AND ART DECO. New Po Heng Lumpia is set amid a homey ambiance in the Art Deco-inspired Uy Su Bin Building along old Calle Rosario. Here we were served with Hokkien style lumpia or spring rolls made up of slivers of carrots, lettuce leaves, dried seaweed and a pinch of crush peanuts bundled together in lumpia wrapper with a compliment of sweet sauce.
FEAR FACTOR CHALLENGE. People from the Canton were known to eat everything in their midst especially when it moves. What others may find exotic was a common fare in this Chinese province today known as Guangdong. In our culinary tour of Binondo, Ivan dared us to try a Cantonese delicacy that looked like a chocolate flavored dessert. Everyone in the group had their own reactions after taking the first bite.
EPILOGUE. For us, sampling the familiar and not so familiar taste is what the Big Binondo Food Wok adventure was all about. But for those who are less adventurous about trying unfamiliar food, McDonald’s has several branches in Binondo.