Tag Archives: chinatown

Going back to Binondo

No matter how many times you come back to Binondo, there is always something different. Everyone can go on a food tour, but with the sheer number of places to eat along Ongpin and its side streets, each visit is always new.

Last Sunday, I joined my new friends Nalani, Jonats and Marjorie for a food exploration in Binondo. Costs were divided among the four of us and we added P5 each for tips.

Stop 1: Dong Bei
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Dong Bei’s one of my favorite places to go to when I’m in Binondo. It’s a small dumpling place off Ongpin. Here you can see the attendants make the dumplings and cook them in a pot of boiling water. You can be sure that what you are eating is freshly made. We shared a plate of the mixed dumplings, popped open a can of Wai Long Kat and got to know each other better.

Cost: PHP 65

Side trip: A bakery along Carvajal
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We were going to Quick Snack along Carvajal but it was closed (along with most of the establishment along the esquinita). We passed by this bakery where I bought some tikoy bread from during the Chinese New Year. I didn’t buy anything, but everyone else did. Everything was freshly baked, which added to its appeal.

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Enter the Dragon

I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing since February 2010 but have yet to participate in anything the local group would organize. With all this free time in my hands, I’m eager to join in activities that sound like fun and do not cost much. When an invitation to join the group in Binondo to celebrate the Chinese New Year appeared on my dashboard, well, I couldn’t pass it up. I dragged Anne, my usual partner-in-crime for such adventures and off we go.

Getting lost, sort of
I’ve been to Binondo many times, and I was confident that I knew how to get there. However, I would normally come from the Sta. Cruz church side and walk up to Ongpin. I forgot what jeep I should ride if I wanted to arrive in front of Binondo Church. In the end, I walked a long way just to get where I was supposed to meet Anne.

The Philippines has a long and rich history with the Chinese. Business relations had been on going long before the Spanish set foot in the country. The establishment of the Chinatown here was in the 1500s, making the the oldest recorded Chinatown in the world — outside of China, of course. An interesting read about Binondo can be found here.

Filipino-Chinese Friendship arch

Meeting the Couchsurfers
Anne and I have the shyness gene so it took us quite a bit before either one of us had the gumption to ask the group of mostly red-shirted people in front if they were the CS group. Thankfully, we got it right the first time and a flurry of introductions began.

Street Party
The festivities had already started by the time our group of (my estimate) 40-plus people made our way through Ongpin. The street was clogged with people (tourists and locals alike) watching the dragon and lion dances. Hawkers lined the street selling lucky charms. Some shops were closed but many were open like a regular working day. It was easy to get separated from the rest of the group, which was what happened to me several times during the day.

After the fireworks and dance, the proprietors of a grocery store threw candy and other giveaways to the crowd. It was scary as people clamored to get something. To avoid getting crushed, I immediately left the area.

The colorful crowd scene

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Getting lost in Binondo

Finally, our plans of going to Binondo pushed through. Aldekari has been planning on this trip for a long time, but for some reason or the other, we never really got to doing it. Sunday was our day, and despite a few setbacks, we were off.

Our transportation of choice was the jeepney. We met up early at Edsa/Shaw and took the jeepneys going to Quiapo. The driver mistook our destination for some other church and tried to drop us off at San Sebastian. “Sabi namin Quiapo!” we said, and he charged us an additional P3.00 each. Oh well.

Quiapo was bustling. There was a mass going on, and there were people doing their business along the streets and in Plaza Miranda. I am truly amused at how Quiapo has a big Catholic structure there, at the same time around it are people who offer the non-Christian services like card reading and fortune telling. Such a lovely study of contrasts.

Also, that day, people were selling fresh produce at Baguio prices. Den, Ching and I were all agog, wanting to buy whatever we can carry. Then again, it wasn’t advisable since we were going for a long walk after all.

And walk we did. From Quiapo down to Hidalgo then to Carriedo, crossing from Sta. Cruz Church, past the fountain, to the archway saying “Welcome to Binondo.” I acted as a tour guide, having gone to Binondo before.

Den gleefully asked for a picture with this statue

First stop was lunch at Waiying. I ordered roast duck with soy chicken and had a glass of lemon Coca-Cola to go with it. Sarap! Busog!

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Manila, Manila.

I have an odd relationship with the City of Manila. As a child, I viewed it as a big, scary yet fascinating world, so different from my quiet space of Quezon City.

My earliest memory of Manila was that of me, my mother, my grandparents and probably some titas taking a trip via the LRT. I recall screaming bloody murder when we were getting on the train. For some reason, it scared me. Yet once the train started to move, I was fascinated and I was excited to take my next trip.

Over the years, I’d see Manila through the window of the car whenever we visit my grandparents at their home in San Andres.

I lived in Manila for nearly five years, in that same house. In that time, I’ve learned how to commute around Manila. I still felt scared of it sometimes, but I felt more fascinated with it. Manila was a friend that I unwittingly grew fond of, and despite our many disagreements, had many a good time together.

About a week ago, my cousin Miel sent a message on Facebook saying “Let’s organize a Binondo trip!” We had always planned to do this, more so when Miel’s mom, Tita Ruth, went on the Binondo walk with Ivan Dy. Finally, with no concrete plan other than to go to Binondo, my family (composed of my brother Nunik, my cousin Miel and her brother Lee, my titos Rodel and Ruben, and my tita Rose) went.

History Lesson
Our first stop was the Museum of the Filipino People, formerly the Finance building at the Agrifina Circle of Rizal Park. As it was a Sunday, we didn’t expect much people. While we were ready to shell out the entrance fee (P70 for the MFP, P100 for the National Museum and P150 for the pass to both), we were informed that it was free on Sundays. That was good news, which meant more for our budget towards lunch.

We went around the first and second floors. Though there was a guide at the entrance, we just sort of walked around. There were plenty of hallways and stairways you can get lost in. Taking photographs is not allowed, although there were some people who just can’t seem to follow instructions.

The first floor had an exhibit of pre-colonial artifacts, as well as an exhibit by artist Rachy Cuna titled “Dream Cuna” (on show til March 28). A storeroom filled with various pieces is not open to public, but you can view it through the glass doors and windows.

The second floor had several galleries of the treasures of the San Diego Galleon. Here you will find exhibits of porcelain plates, jars, jewelry, cutlery, even remains of their food (hazelnuts anyone?). Many of these artifacts are in excellent condition.

Hunger pangs overtook us (none had breakfast), so we skipped the rest of the floors to eat. I was looking forward to seeing the Telling Modern Time: The Life and Art of Botong Francisco Coching, but I’m not really sure if it’s still there or it was just a poster they haven’t removed.

We high-tailed it to Binondo, and to President’s Tea House.

The oldest Chinatown in the world
Established sometime during the 15th century, Manila’s Chinatown is said to be the oldest in the world, already thriving long before the Spanish arrived at the Philippine shores. During the American occupation, Binondo became the center of commerce, with Escolta being the main starting ground of many banks, department stores and restaurants.

The President Restaurant is a popular eating place in Binondo. Located along Ongpin St., it’s hard not to miss this building with an imposing gold and red design (recently renovated). Often, it’ll be crowded and much luck to you if you arrive around lunch. It is named as such because past presidents of the Philippines have dined there.

The President’s Tea House is a smaller and cheaper (they say) alternative. It’s located just a few steps from President Restaurant, across a pay parking lot. our table was on the second floor, as there were seven of us and it was the only place that was big enough to accomodate us.

We ordered yang chow fried rice, soy chicken and mixed vegetables. The large order is good for six to eight people, but that would depend on your appetites. As we were planning to go around and taste other food, it was enough for us.

We walked around Ongpin. Tito Del immediately took us to Dong Bei. It’s a small restaurant just a little off Ongpin. It’s famous for it’s freshly made dumplings and handmade noodles (known as “handiwork noodles”). We had two orders of the mixed dumplings, one of the shrimp, and two orders of shao long pao. The last one is really interesting to eat, as it’s a dumpling with soup inside. You bite a piece of the wrapper off, then sip the soup. Careful, it’s really hot.

After Dong Bei, we walked further along Ongpin. Somehow, our plans didn’t push through as we didn’t really get to eat any other food. We passed by Eng Bee Tin to buy some goodies (I got mochi and fortune cookies). A little bit ahead we came across Salazar Bakery, where my titos and tita went on a shopping spree. On our way out, Miel’s mom asked us to buy some dumplings for her, so we went back to Dong Bei.

Our next stop was Quiapo. This was familiar ground for me, as I used to work nearby and often went around just to look. It was also where I got my camera and got lost in several times. Thankfully, I always ended up back in Plaza Miranda.

Quiapo was crowded, it being a Sunday and all. We pushed our way through the crowd, stopping at one of the few open camera shops. Miel bought some film and we ogled at the vintage film cameras that were on sale.

Quiapo, of course, is not just known for the church where St. Nazarene is located, but also for the great bargains you can find around it. It’s definitely not for the weak-hearted, but if you want a great adventure in the middle of the city, Quiapo is where you’ll find it. I don’t know if I should recommend you visit there, but if you do make it out in one piece, then congratulations.

It’s the perfect blend of old and new, of traditions, religion and the occult. It baffles and amuses me all at once.

As I mentioned, it’s home to great bargains. Around the church are various stalls selling all sorts of things you can imagine. That Sunday, there were several vendors selling fresh produce, almost as cheap as it was in Baguio. But that wasn’t what we were after.

Crossing the underpass, we went to the DVD haven. I won’t go into detail, nor will I go into the piracy thing, but let’s just say that it tot
ally amazes me, both in a good and not so good way.

It also makes me laugh.

After getting what we wanted, we decided to go around Intramuros. Earlier on it was agreed that we won’t go around much today, to save up for the next trip. My uncle and my aunt were frequent visitors of Manila during their childhood, as my grandfather had an office in Escolta. Back in the day, it was the place to be, before Makati.

We saw an area inside Intramuros that had several graffiti works.

I love the old atmosphere of Intramuros. Definitely worth a trip back just to explore it.

It started to rain while we were there, but it wasn’t that strong so we managed to get some pictures. We found an empty stretch of road with sculptures of the Philippine presidents. Guess which one was damaged?

I understand how people feel, but I feel bad for the artist. I hate to see my work destroyed, even if the subject isn’t someone/something everyone likes.

Our last stop of the day was the area near the PICC. The sky was dim, and while we were standing by the (wharf? Dock? Quay?) it started to drizzle. We ended up having snacks at Icebergs, and trying to do a silly thing that Nunik wanted us to try.

We didn’t have dinner, but decided to head on home. Plans for another trip back is underway, this time with better planning as to where to go and what to eat. 🙂

Being Pinoy through food

For a while now, I’ve been wondering what’s the best way to describe the Filipinos. When you watch travel shows, most countries can be easily identified by their food, their costumes, their speech.

When you say Filipino… well, I can say that a Pinoy will have his or her own definition depending on where they came from. The old debate of what should be the national language is still up in the air and possibly no closer to being resolved than say, getting a cure for the common cold.

Be that as it may, it’s always interesting to see foreigners react to the Philippines: either through a travel show such as Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” or Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” (we’ll also be seeing Bobby Chin visit the country soon); or through various blogs and comments online. I once talked to a lady from one of the middle American states (Arkansas, I think) who asked me about the country and was apologizing because she thought we still lived very primitively.

I was amused yet somewhat insulted too, but readily answered “Ma’am, had we lived in trees, you wouldn’t be talking to me right now.” I proceeded to tell her about how we live in the city, how I’m updated about the series Lost, that I just had a Big Mac the other day and gave her some websites she could visit to learn more about us. She was also surprised to learn that I have never been out of the country and credited Sesame Street as a huge part of my English language education.

Granted there’s still a lot of not-so-good stuff about the Philippines (specifically politics, but then again, when is that a good thing anywhere?) but the good stuff is more than all worth it.

What is Filipino?

Anthony Bourdain asked this question to just about every person he met during the show, and more or less didn’t get a satisfactory answer until the end.

“Geography plays a prominent role in what you eat in the Philippines, maybe more so than in other places.”

I have to agree on this. Each region boasts of something that is way better than any other region’s even if you can find it there. For example, I’m a big fan of the Zambales mangoes, and am not ashamed to say that I don’t think Cebu mangoes outclass them. I’m not being rude, but basing it on my experience, especially since I grew up eating Zambales mangoes and not Cebu’s. I’m sure if it were the other way around, I’d be raving about Cebu’s mangoes right now.

Claude Tayag said, “You cannot be a Filipino first until you become Kapampangan first. Become yourself first.”

A lot of this is being taken out of context. Watching this particular part, I feel no offense when Claude Tayag said this. In fact, I can clearly understand what he meant. Many Pinoys belong to a specific region, with their parents and grandparents coming from the province. Myself is a product of the North with a bit of the South thrown in, so I’m more partial to places like Zambales, Pampanga, Baguio and… Bicol than anywhere else. Feed me something from other places and I’d say “Oh, that’s better in *insert place I love here*” This is were regionalism, a trait that is very much ingrained in every Pinoy. Wag na mag deny, dahil totoo naman ito di ba? We feel pride in where we come from, and we staunchly defend it.

What I feel that Claude is trying to say is the mere fact of embracing your roots — be you Kapampangan, Sambali, Cebuano, Bicolano, Davaeno — is the key to being Filipino. I don’t think it would be easy to define who we are if we don’t embrace who our ancestors are.

Face it, our country is one big melting pot, hugely influenced by Spanish and American culture. I always thought that if we weren’t heavily colonized by them, we’d be something like Malaysia or Thailand, given that we have similar roots, but since we were, well, this is who we are.

In fact, the way I see it, it’s a pretty much universal attitude. Anthony Bourdain said it, “I’m a New Yorker first, American second.” If you’ve watched so many travel and cooking shows like No Reservations, you’ll notice it. People, no matter where they live, are quick to say that their version of this food is better than any version you’ll find in their country… or anywhere else.

If anything, this episode of No Reservations would make you ask, “Who are the Pinoys, really?” I have long wondered why we didn’t have a culture where old traditions are very well preserved alongside the modern world. Look at the Japanese, the Chinese and the Koreans. Look at the Malaysians, the Thais and the Indonesians. Their past co-exists harmoniously with the present and when you ask their people who they are, they can tell you.

Perhaps I am not as lost as Augusto is, having grown up being aware of my roots, but there’s still the slight confusion of who my country is in the bigger scale of things.

Maybe, that’s what makes us who we are.

I say…
There’s so much I want to say about this episode of No Reservations. I mean, it’s about the Philippines! How can I not comment on just about every aspect of the program?

But I must practice restraint. I don’t want to end up babbling all over the place (which I am wont to do in many cases). I love, love, love this episode, not just because it’s about the Philippines, but also because Bourdain touched a chord in me about our country and its people. One thing I learned about watching No Reservations is that if it’s good, Tony will say so. If it isn’t, he’ll say it too.

Granted, many people have commented that Augusto feels so restrained and isn’t as enthusiastic as he was in his video — and that they could’ve done better. Yeah, we all have that thinking, but hey, Augusto sent his entry, he got picked. You didn’t. We are all critics, but it has it’s time and place. Bottomline, the crew got what the needed, Augusto got to go home and the Philippines is once again brought to the world’s attention but this time in a very good light.

I think that says a lot.

Tony Bourdain loves sisig. Heck, he just about loved everything he had, including the pinapaitan, which personally took me a long time to even partially like.

Yehey, no balut. Not all Filipinos eat balut *waves hand* but I do love the fried day old. Yay for chicken balls! Yay for dampa!

Calamansi FTW! Neil Gaiman mentioned it in his blog when he visited back in 2005.

He referred to Binondo as “the oldest Chinatown in the world”, which I’m sure got the nod of many Chinese-Filipinos. I’ve always wondered why it’s never been featured in any of the travel sites I’ve been to, especially since Ivan said it’s as old as the city, which makes it some hundreds of years old. I love Binondo. I often went there with my grandparents, where my grandfather is often mistaken for another Chinoy (even though he doesn’t speak a word of Chinese).

I had a great time watching the Cebu segment. I remember my first time going to Tabo-an. We went there hours before our flight back to Manila to buy some danggit. We didn’t know that the smell of the dried fish would stick to us. Needless to say, we sat in the plane hoping that we wouldn’t be kicked out by the pilot halfway over the ocean.

You can never go wrong with lechon. I think it’s safe to say that even vegetarians break a bit when they are faced with lechon (and if they don’t, I marvel at their self-control).

Photo from: No Reservations Facebook

Once again, I say, I want Anthony Bourdain’s job.

Interesting reads:
Anthony Bourdain’s Hierarchy of Pork
Colin on No Reservations Philippines He’s from Pennsylvania and reading his entry makes me want to find a way to send him some sisig.