TTD. Things to do.
I told you this wasn’t all about food. I do other things too like taking tours to get to know my culture better. And eating my way through said tour hehehe.
I learned about the Binondo (Manila Chinatown) Food Wok 10 years ago while I was reading the blog of one of my favorite writers, Lori from http://www.dessertcomesfirst.com. In between over protective parents and moving away for college, I never really got the chance to explore the world’s oldest Chinatown unless it was Chinese New Year’s (CNY) with my grandparents which was very traumatizing as a child because it’s so crowded and very easy to get lost. Ama (grandma) and Angkong (grandpa) always told me that I should stop settling for Banawe (New Chinatown or the Sunset to our SF Chinatown) which is nearer to where I live and visit Binondo because they have all the original old school Chinese shops and restaurants. Sometimes I listen to my OG’s advice.
After being harassed by a cop for supposedly running a red light that was conveniently covered by the Chinatown gate, we made our way to the meeting point at the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz or Binondo Church. We met up with our tour guide, Ivan Man Dy who had also brought Anthony Bourdain around Manila for No Reservations. I fangirled for a little bit, asked for a photo, and let the master of Chinatown start his tour with a little history lesson. Ivan explained how the enclave of Binondo was formed as a way to keep Chinese Catholics, who were mostly from Fujian province, within the watch of the Spanish in walled city of Intramuros just across the Pasig River.
Our first stop was for fresh lumpia. This isn’t the addicting, small, deep fried pork goodness you get at Pinoy banquets. It’s essentially a Chinese style burrito. My Ama actually always makes this for us but I was never really fan because I thought it was too messy. I was a picky child. It was super delicious, no surprise there and I had accidentally put ketchup instead of spicy sauce on my first one (yes, I had two because I’m matakaw) and it still tasted great!
Next, we took a scenic route for your senses through Carvajal Alley Market where they sell everything. Fruits, seafood, meats, and other Chinese ingredients that even I don’t know. Ivan then explains how most of the popular Chinese food in the Philippines is actually Cantonese food and Fujianese food isn’t very well represented until we make our next stop. Ivan said Cantonese people know their food and are food snobs and my mom is from Hong Kong so I’m half a food snob teehee!
A mid sized restaurant started by Ama Pilar who was already well into her 60’s at the time just proves that you can find success at any age. All the recipes are homemade and we enjoyed chicken puffs, spicy fried tofu, and stir fried beef noodles. Ivan asked me if I wanted more noodles and I sadly replied that I have to save stomach space for the rest of the food. Matakaw fail.
A little longer walk over a bridge to digest those noodles led us a small dumpling shop surrounded by unassuming buildings. 餃子 (jiaozi) is traditionally from Northern China so it’s quite surprising to find a store that specializes in it in Binondo. Carefully up the small stairs we go then settle around the 2nd floor and are graced with boiled and fried dumplings, green onion pancakes, and a sweet sugar puff thing. I enjoyed the boiled dumplings the best without sauce so much that I sheepishly finished the leftovers when our table gave up.
We made it to stop #4! We were past the halfway point and Ivan mentions dessert. There’s always room for dessert until there isn’t any more. 流沙包 (salted egg custard bun) and 芒果西米露 (mango sago). The 流沙包 was a surprise for most people because it kinda oozes on your first bite so be careful cause it’s hot! The 芒果西米露 is different from the Hong Kong style because it’s all mango and no milk. The Philippines is also known for mangoes so have as much as you can while you’re here!
Our last stop was a doozy because it was a hopia shop and everyone was in buying all kinds of flavors. Hopia is a stuffed baked pastry that originally had only mung bean flavor but this particular store had started creating different flavors as an experiment and they were very very successful. Some of their popular flavors include the original mung bean, ube (purple yam), red bean, and coconut custard. We had samples of almost everything and Ivan closed off his tour by thanking us, giving us a copy of his Big Binondo Food Wok map for further adventures, and letting us buy whatever we wanted in the store. I bought peanut tikoy (nian gao/rice cake) because I love tikoy even if it’s not CNY.
Overall, I really enjoyed the tour because I was able to explore my own culture through my favorite way, food! I didn’t mention the restaurant names because I want you to find out for yourself when you take the tour and I don’t think it would be fair to Ivan. Ivan was a wonderful guide and you can tell he’s really passionate about what he does. Old Manila Walks also visits other places such as Intramuros and the Chinese cemetery. Much recommended to visitors and fellow Manileños!
Old Manila Walks – Binondo Food Wok
+632 711 3823 or +63 918 962 6452
Contact Person: Ivan or Cherry