What I Saw:
In Photographs: Chinatown, Binondo
Of all the things that I considered to be blessed with in life, is that I am surrounded by people who love to eat. My friends and I will try to do a wild drunken night out, only to always go home in a food coma instead.
Obviously, going on food trips is an important part of our lives. And we really will take time out of our day, and go far and wide to eat.
One Sunday morning, Chris (Valdes — blog contributor, food connoisseur, chocolate man, and Malasimbro. Check out his review on Kafé Batwan!) brought Max (super friend and Malasimbro), Raul (Manzano — EIC of Metro Society magazine, #lifegoal, and someone you want on your side), and I to Chinatown, Binondo in the heart of Manila.
Considering Manila’s infrastructure, traffic situation, and weekend lifestyle in general, getting up on a Sunday morning to go anywhere or do anything, much less in Binondo, is somewhat of a feat. But food beckons!
Now, you have the option to join other, more official food walk tours, but here is a guide to doing it yourself at no additional cost, if you’d prefer that instead. You’d at least be free to move along as you please, and stop when you can’t take any more.
- Wear walking shoes. You are going to be doing a lot of walking. And keep them closed; the Binondo streets may not be friendly to exposed feet.
- Go on an empty stomach, because you are going to need all the space.
- Corollary: Go with friends! You are going to be eating a lot, so better have just a taste of everything. Again, you are going to need all the stomach space you can manage!
- Bring cash. I’m not sure whether or not the Binondo shops accept credit cards, but I just wouldn’t subject myself to that sort of situation in Chinatown.
- Be open to anything! Be adventurous! This is a city adventure, after all. At a Chinese grocery store, I was offered a piece of ginger candy. I thought that it would at least be ginger-flavored, but as it turns out it was an actual piece of ginger, coated in some sugar. It was a powerful experience, but a good one nonetheless.
- Go early. You can afford to have Chinese food for breakfast once in your life (assuming that, like me, you are not Chinese). Also, you’re going to want to beat everyone else to those pork buns. They go fast.
Where To Go and What To Eat:
First, parking. Manila, being an old-world town in a tropical country, has very narrow streets. According to one of my history professors at university, this was because our Western conquerors suffered heatstrokes as they milled around the boulevards under the oriental sun. So, they built structures close together, so as to be provided shade at their convenience. Some urban planning, huh?
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, I digress. Binondo is an unpredictable place, so I would not recommend taking a car to go around, nor parking along the streets. I suggest you park at the Lucky Chinatown Mall along Lachambre Street. They have secure (as secure as parking lots can go, I suppose), indoor parking levels, so it should rest your mind on where you leave your car.
From there, it’s just a bit of a walk to Dong Bei Dumplings on Yuchengco Street.
Dong Bei is a tiny, completely unassuming hole-in-the-wall. You can witness the dumpling production line from the outside through the glass window, much like how it goes at Krispy Kreme. Or, from your table if you are inside. Except you don’t get free donuts when they are in production, and the food is made without the use of gloves, masks, or enclosures; only hairnets.
Recommendations are kuchay, and pork dumplings and xiao long bao, which all go very well with soy sauce and vinegar dipping sauce. An order goes for about P120 each. We spent P400 for all four of us.
Next stop, Wai Ying Dimsum on Benavidez Street, also within walking distance.
At Wai Ying, you can afford to go a little bit heavier with your meal after the Dong Bei dumplings have whet your appetite.
Okay now, listen. This is a run-down of everything we had:
- Hakaw (shrimp dumplings) – a timeless favorite
- Roast duck – another timeless favorite
- Pork buns – I heard the ones with the biscuit on top is the best kind, but they were out by the time we got there. So, regular pork buns it was. Like I said: go early!
- Chong Fan
- Beef noodles – you can never go wrong with this!
- Lumpia (spring rolls)
- Hong Kong Iced tea
- Shark’s fin siomai – not real shark, obviously
Read: all of this — ALL. OF. THIS. — averaging at P250/person only! Whuuuuut! Is that ridiculous or what! Although, at this point, I’ll be honest, we couldn’t eat anymore.
But we weren’t done yet! Third stop: Maxim’s Tea House. As long as we’re going on this cheat streak, this only sweetens the deal. You can sit at their restaurant, or visit their retail store, where you can buy 60-piece packs of either siomai or siopao for P300 each. Crazy!
We had already given up after this, so we took our time walking around the Binondo streets, taking in its quirks. We visited a Chinese grocery store, bought fruit from the street cart vendors.
This adventure took us only half a day. Our clocks were set by our stomachs’ feelings. Without even realizing it, we were done by noon, but by then, we had no more need for lunch, obviously. And this was just Part 1! The sequel should happen some time very soon!