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.
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.
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.
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.