Words and photos by Gia Mendoza
Holding the title of the oldest Chinatown in the world, Binondo is definitely a feast for the senses-- from the loud honks of cars and jeepneys, whiffs of dimsum in holes-in-the-wall and to Eng Bee Tins in every corner. In a nutshell, Binondo is a district in the city of Manila and is the center of different types of trade businesses run by Chinese merchants including some of the best food Manila has to offer. We partnered with Tralulu tours to give us a guide on all these famous sites and bites.
The Binondo Food Tour started off with a short walk from the Binondo church. We stopped in one of the streets filled with different commercial banks and a seemingly out of place Eng Bee Tin stall. In a flash, our Tralulu guide led us into an old building which, surprisingly, houses the best Chinese lumpia in town.
New Po Heng House
Our first stop was at New Po Heng House. It was a simple, al fresco area where you can watch your lumpias being made fresh, and swiftly wrapped by seasoned hands. What makes this the best lumpia is a secret, but a secret I guarantee you’ll love! The lumpia served was packed with steamed vegetables and their peanut brittle, drizzled with the brown lumpia sauce, this one will have you sold on the first bite, just like I was.
Ying Ying Teahouse
Full from our “appetizer”, we walked into our second stop Ying Ying Teahouse. The restaurant was way less sneaky than New Po Heng and was overtly your typical Chinese restaurant with waiters and waitresses rushing around skillfully holding plates and plates of dishes to serve.
We were brought up to a private room and as if on cue, we were immediately served pork siomai, sharks fin dumplings, japanese siomai, beancurd roll, and shrimp dumplings (Hakaw).. Now what’s a Chinese food tour without some dimsum, right? As we ate, Andrew, our Tralulu guide, shared interesting Binondo facts for us like how one of Binondo’s contributions to the plethora of dimsum was the Japanese siomai. It’s your pork siomai wrapped in a nori sheet, instead of wanton, with a slice of crabstick and drizzled with sauce that resembles eggs nest soup. This dish, with its raving reviews from locals and tourists, was even rumored to be exported to Japan itself. Andrew also mentioned that though traditional Chinese dimsum is eaten only by itself, Ying Ying Teahouse adjusted its palette to fit the Filipino taste by serving their dimsum with soy sauce and calamansi.
New Toho Food Center
Our next meal was served just a few streets down Escolta -- New Toho Food Center. Despite its name, this is in fact the oldest standing restaurant in Chinatown, operating since 1888.
Andrew knew just what to order to recharge us from all the walking-- seafood pancit, asado, toho beef, and cold cuts. The toho beef is their take on the sweet and sour based dish. It had slices of beef, sauteed with onions, and drenched in sauce. The cold cuts, a favorite appetizer among the Chinese, consisted of boiled pork innards and inspired what we call the Filipino isaw today. The seafood pancit had a thick consistency for the sauce, which is quite different from how we eat pancit nowadays which is dry.
Shanghai Fried Siopao
A nice walk around Binondo brought us to a small stall selling fried siopao. For as low as 30 pesos, you get a steamed siopao with a perfectly-toasted bottom and juicy and tasty ground pork filling. The toasted siopao bottom gives a nice crisp to the soft mantou bread which one would truly enjoy while roaming the streets of Binondo.
Of course, who can forget dessert? We stopped by Cafe Mezzanine. Cafe Mezzanine is also known as the Fireman’s cafe, serving both hot plates and desserts. According to Andrew, the place was adorned with photos of firemen putting out fires due to the many fire outbreaks in the Binondo area. Andrew continued on in explaining the history of the cafe and how just about everyone in Binondo helps in putting out fires around the area.
For our last course, we had the Soup #5 which tasted like our very own beef nilaga, comforting and familiar, but with some mystery meat. The soup was clear and the chunks of beef was tender. As for the mystery meat? You’ll have to try it to find out. The star of the show was the Lava Bun, which is essentially steamed mantou bread with salted egg custard that oozes out with every bite. Hearing its description already had me drooling, and indeed it was the best salted egg custard bun I’ve tried thus far. Be careful when you bite into it though, because the custard pours out and is hot like lava and had caused a bit of a mess with some of the people in our group, but that just adds to the fun part in eating it.
Eating and drinking your way through Binondo is one way to get to know the oldest Chinatown in the world. Going around this lively area with Tralulu actually made the experience better knowing that there were friendly and knowledgeable people to help us out with understanding the city’s history and culture. Definitely a must-try for anyone with a good appetite!
Eat your way through Binondo
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