The Big Binondo Food Wok

There’s always something fascinating I find with Binondo. Its being Manila’s Chinatown definitely sets it apart from the city’s other districts, it almost feels like another foreign place, but then it’s just unmistakably very Manila. The Big Binondo Food Wok is one of the “walking tours” of Old Manila Walks conducted by Ivan Mandy. The tour takes guests around the streets of Chinatown and allows them to take in the sights and sounds while enriching one’s mind with bits of history lessons and trivia and while nibbling on unique Binondo treats.

Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09)

The tour started off with a brief introductory history lesson at Plaza Calderon dela Barca, which was continued across the street at the historic Binondo Church. Ironically, as Ivan Mandy points out, the baroque Catholic cathedral is Chinatown’s most prominent landmark. It, however, features a bell tower that has pagoda-like characteristics.

The first food stop was Eng Bee Tin‘s second-floor cafe, which is also called the volunteer firemen’s coffee shop. The cafe pays tribute to the volunteer firemen of Chinatown. The earnings of the place are donated to the firemen. There, we had kiampong or salted rice, which didn’t turn out to be that salty, but really tasty nonetheless, eaten together with fishball soup.

The next food stop was Dong Bei Dumplings, the now acclaimed hole-in-the-wall restaurant of a couple from Northern China which serves authentic Chinese cuisine distinct from the Canton-type of Chinese food most of us are familiar with. Guests will be served, well, dumplings. I’ve been to the place twice before, so I knew what was coming. Nonetheless, Dong Bei dumplings are always a unique treat.

Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09)

Walking a few blocks from Dong Bei, guests will be treated to tea eggs from a stall along Salazar Street. It’s the first time I tried these eggs out. Tea eggs are made by boiling the eggs in a mixture of special tea leaves and soy sauce for at least two days.

Another block from the stall selling tea eggs, we were treated to siopao with a fried bottom at another stall. The siopao had a filling of ground pork and chives, which tasted similar to the dumplings we had in Dong Bei, instead of the usual asado or bola-bola.

A few meters from the stall, we were treated to hopia from Ho-Land Bakery. (I’m not that much of a fan of hopia so I stepped out and just took street pictures).

The last stop was an eatery inside an art-deco building along Quintin Paredes, where we were treated to a different kind of fresh lumpia. By that time, I was already quite full, as would perhaps any other guest after indulging in the previous treats. Anyway, the lumpia filling was made up of finely chopped carrots, and other vegetables, and oddly enough, sugar.

Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09)

The tour appears to be largely catered to foreign tourists (or perhaps because the tour group I was with was composed mostly of foreigners), and Filipinos who are unfamiliar with Binondo and Chinese food. For those who have been to Binondo a couple of times before, and are expecting to see and taste things they haven’t tried before, the hopia, lumpia or siopao might not be that exciting. I was personally expecting something more daring and unfamiliar. Notwithstanding that, the rest of the tour is highly enjoyable and informative. One of the best things, for me, is that you can have second servings of the food. You may contact Old Manila Walks through their contact page.

Around old and downtown Manila (Part 7)

After having lunch at Binondo, we decided to proceed to Divisoria, which was less than a dozen blocks away. I wasn’t planning on purchasing anything, but I ended up buying a pair of inexpensive short-sleeve barongs, one in white and one in red. After strolling around Divisoria, we went all the way back to Binondo and walked along famed Ongpin Street with all the shops selling Chinese wares and goods. We also dropped by the Estero, a row of eateries beside a creek that crosses Ongpin. After walking the entire length of Ongpin and beyond, we eventually found ourselves in Quiapo.

Around old and downtown Manila (Part 6)

From Intramuros, we crossed Jones Bridge another time on foot, this time proceeding to Binondo, where pedestrians will be greeted by the Filipino-Chinese friendship arch at the starting end of Quintin Paredes St. Upon descending form the Bridge from the Intramuros side of the Pasig, one shall be at Plaza Moraga, which according to this website, was the site of the first ice cream parlor in the Philippines (useless information, sorry). To your right, you will see Escolta, which as many of us might know, was once upon a time the premiere shopping and business center in Manila. That day, the entire place was just deserted.

We passed through the arch and walked along Quintin Paredes till we reached the end where a small plaza and a statue of Roman Ongpin can be found, and of course, where Binondo Church stands. There was a mass baptism going on at the church when we were there.

After taking random photos at Plaza San Lorenzo, we proceeded to this hole-in-the-wall, almost run-down restaurant in one of the back streets of Binondo, Dong Bei, which served authentic and fresh Chinese dumplings. The place is run by an immigrant couple from northern China, and their menu card claim that since many of the Chinese in the Philippines come from southern China, our concept of Chinese food is largely limited to Cantonese cooking, so one should try them out because they are different.

We had a plateful of their staple, steamed dumplings, I forget what they are called exactly, but they’re stuffed with ground pork and some green vegetables. These dumplings are prepared right within the servers’ own table at the dining area. We also ordered xinjiang chicken, which are cubes of chicken deep-fried and specially-flavored with, what, some northern Chinese spices and sesame seeds? It was good. It was my second time at the place, the first one was more than two years ago during an impromptu walking tour withIvan Mandy and a brod, Ivan Henares.

Around old and downtown Manila (Part 5)

From Intramuros, we found ourselves along the banks of the Pasig River again, which has been paved by the city government with clay tiles. The riverbanks park is, however, deserted save for some street dwellers washing their clothes and taking a bath in the river.

Across the river from this side of the Pasig, one can see a handful of old and abandoned buildings in what used to be considered the downtown of Manila, and some other relatively old high-rises in Binondo. One can also see the tall orange cranes of Port Area beyond Tondo.

Downtown loitering

After bringing a brod of mine and his wife to their testing centers for their first day of medical board exams last Saturday, I continued driving through Recto till I made a left somewhere and found myself pleasantly lost in Binondo. Somehow, I found myself along Escolta. I decided to park along the famed bygone avenue and just started walking.

Regina Building along Escolta

At the end of Escolta, I found myself walking into Sta. Cruz Church to say a few prayers before walking off to Plaza Carriedo. Soon enough, I found myself walking along Avenida Rizal, which has just been re-opened to vehicular traffic. It was early in the morning, so shops weren’t open yet.

There’s something peculiarly pleasant with walking around these parts of Manila and re-imagining them as places your parents and grandparents use to frequent, as places mentioned frequently in books by say, Sionil Jose and in other similar literature.

Sanay namang sumuroy-suroy

I tagged along a fellow blogger-finalist in the PBA and a brod of mine in the Upsilon, Ivan, to one of his spontaneous trips to Intramuros and Binondo last Wednesday.

We first stopped by Bahay Tsinoy in Intramuros to meet up with Ivan’s friend in the heritage conservation circle, Ivan Man Dy. He toured us around the museum for free and gave me a brief lecture on the Chinese’ part in the shaping of the Philippines’ and the Filipinos’ identity, which I’m familiar with anyway ever since I wrote that term paper about the Mano Po “series”.

We then walked off to San Agustin church where both Ivans sat down with the head priest in the head priest’s office and talked about some restoration / renovation / reconstruction of some of the church’s parts. While they talked and debated about how our heritage sites should be properly restored and conserved, I wondered off to take pictures instead.

After that stop at San Agustin church, we wandered off in Intramuros for a bit until the Ivans, in a series of spontaneous decisions, decided for us to go to Binondo and shoot something along the Pasig River with the Post Office building as a backdrop. So we walked out of Intramuros, crossed the Pasig River through Jones Bridge, and then in yet another spur of the moment thinking, decided to hop on a Pasig River ferry.

I’ve never been on a Pasig River ferry. It was quite an experience. I wanted to take lots of pictures of sceneries along the banks of the River. The part of the river near Manila Bay is quite scenic but the ferry personnel and some military men in the boat forbid us from taking pictures until we’ve passed by Gloria Arroyo’s fortress.

The airconditioned ferry ride was quite comfortable and cheap. Apparently, only a few people take the ferry service now, which only goes upstream until Guadalupe, Makati. Once the system is fully operational, it will go up to Montalban in Rizal, if I’m not mistaken.

Anyway, we did not take the ferry all the way to Makati, because that would take almost two hours back and forth. We got off at Sta. Ana station. Since it was half an hour before the next ferry back to Escolta in Binondo, we went to Sta. Ana church and well, looked around. We got back to the ferry station in time, supposedly, for the next ferry. However, as what usually happens, the ferry was almost half an hour late.

We went back to Binondo and had dinner at some Chinese restaurant along Escolta. After dinner, we walked around Binondo and went to this small and unpretentious dumplings shop. The owners were even speaking in Chinese and the small eatery and the Chinese soap opera on television made me feel like I was in some Hong Kong canteen.