Munching in the Colourful Streets of Binondo

To make the Lunar New Year more colourful, Ailyn and I decided to treat ourselves to one of Ivan Mandy’s Old Manila Walks – the Big Binondo Food Wok Chinese New Year Special – on Lunar New Year’s day itself!

Ailyn and I have very well prepared for this walking tour. We reserved our slots a week ahead (since obviously, we were not the only people interested in the tour 🙂 ), moved our Sunday activities to another date so as to accommodate the afternoon tour, and paid for our slots days before.

We didn’t want to be late so we arrived in Binondo 15 minutes before our meeting time, which was at 2 P.M. Our tour group met in front of Binondo Church. Almost everyone was there on time, including Ivan, the streetwalker (that’s what he calls himself).

After checking the attendance, Ivan led us to Plaza Calderon de la Barca (now known as Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz), our first stop, which sits just right across the church. Just a bit of word translation, plaza is a spanish word for public place or marketplace. The area itself is filled with historical facts which Ivan, with his laminated storyboard, told us like the history behind the church, the plaza, and how the place became the now-Chinatown. The picture on the upper right is the fountain at Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz and the one on the lower right is the plaza at night.

Our next stop was, unfortunately, closed. It was less than a minute walk from the church, along Ongpin. Since our stop was between 2 P.M. to 3 P.M., Ivan said that the store owners might have been taking their siesta (siesta = afternoon nap). So, he decided to gather us outside the store named La Resurreccion Chocolate (pronounced as tso-ko-la-te) – a local chocolate factory which produces bitter chocolates. These were the ingredients used in making hot chocolate drinks in the old times (now we have those instant sweet chocolate drinks, although a few people prefer this bitter chocolate drink) and for making champurrado.

Our third stop was our first food stop: Cafe Mezzanine – also known as the Firemen’s Restaurant. This restaurant is run by Binondo Volunteer Firemen’s Association and the servers are indeed the volunteers! This was where we had our first taste of the Chinese food in this tour, with the kiampong (salted fried rice topped with peanuts) and the fish ball soup. It was an eat-all-you-can rice but we dismissed that offer since we still had six more food stops on the list. We also tried the brewed coffee, which is store’s specialty. As we made our way to our next stop, we passed along several stalls selling tikoy (rice cake) of different flavours. Of course, the most popular, Eng Bee Tin, had the most number of people lining up the cashier.

We arrived at a store – the Ban Siong Tay Chinese Drug Store – located along Nueva Street, an area which seemed to be more residential that the ones we passed by. Ban Siong Tay Drugstore is an old, old drugstore where most Chinese herbal medicines are sold. I even saw some of the medicines (with all those Chinese characters) my grandparents used to drink.

We walked a little bit farther and arrived at a small restaurant which sits only 16 people. Unfortunately, 4 seats were already taken, which left us 12 seats. There were around 20 of us in the group, so some of the guys had to stand for the ladies to take the available seats. Dong Bei Dumpling, our second food stop, offers the tastiest dumplings I’ve ever tried! This is a traditional Chinese restaurant run by parents and children, with menu cut-outs posted on the walls. Ivan asked the owners to prepare four kinds of dumplings for us – cuchay, celery, all-pork, and the pancake dumpling! The dumplings came with regular and spicy sauces. The owners were actually suppossed to serve us tea for beverage but the restaurant became too busy when we came in, so the tea was completely forgotten. Well, it didn’t really matter since we were all happy with the dumplings!

This is actually a great culinary secret which Ivan shared with us. I can’t wait to go back there and try the other food on the menu!

We then made a quick stop at the Philippine Chinese Buddhist Temple, a temple which actually has a combined facade of two religions – Buddhism and Catholic. There were many Chinese and non-Chinese lighting candles and incense, and offering flowers.

From there, we went to Salazar Street, commonly known as the ‘Fruit Street’. According to Ivan, Binondo hasn’t changed since it turned into a Chinatown and the streets are known for the goods mechants sell. Salazar Street has been the fruit street eversince.

Then we proceeded to our third food stop – Ma Mon Luk, the King of Mami! Back in college, it has always been a plan to visit the original Ma Mon Luk, and that plan never happened. But lo and behold! I was able to visit the place without even planning! I didn’t know that Ma Mon Luk was one of the food stops. Ivan, of course, didn’t only let us taste the rich mami and the very tasty chicken. He also told us how Ma Mon Luk tried to live his life as an ordinary man, won the heart of a rich lady, and established his name among the many mami competitors. It’s quite impressive to know that Ma Mon Luk Mami House was already in Chinatown since the 1930s.

The next stop was another food stop, the fourth food stop this time. It was in front of a small stall which makes bichu-bicho. Ivan told us its Chinese name, but then, it was just too hard to memorize, considering that we were all beginning to feel full and at the same time, wanting to eat the tempting dessert in front of us.

The next stop was quite a walk from the bichu-bicho stall. That was an advantage since we had to allow the food to digest first before trying another Chinese favourite. And when I say favourite, it indeed is! One of the firsts I’ve seen, the pan-fried siopao, called the Tienpao! Tienpao is made up of juicy brown meat with herbs and spices covered with siopao wrapper. It can be eaten even without a sauce! It’s the most appetizing siopao I’ve ever tasted which will definitely bring me back to Binondo!

Since there were a lot of people buying tienpao, we left the stall and proceeded to our sixth and last food stop – an airconditioned place called the Ice Field Restaurant – to munch our tienpao. Little did we know that the place houses the ‘Mother Of All Lumpia‘, still called Lumpia, but pronounced in a different way. It was a very healthy lumpia and a very tasty one!

I’d say that streetwalker Ivan is full of surprises. Our tour didn’t end there. The last food had to make an impact, of course. And it was the Spicy Schezuan Fish with Soup! The picture below says it all!

The walking tour wasn’t as tiring as we expected it to be. Ailyn and I were lucky to have skipped lunch. We were able to appreciate the tour even more! It was a good tour and one of a kind, I’d say!

I definitely reccommend this tour to those who want to know more about the Philippines and a slice of the Chinese culture (or maybe, the other way around? 🙂 )!

Happy, Satisfied Tourists (Read: Busog! :-))

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5 Comments »

  1. Gian Carlo Tauro said

    greetings!

    i am Gian Carlo Tauro, a 4th year Journalism student of the University of Santo Tomas.

    i am currently doing an article with the topic CHINESE CULTURE IN BINONDO for my Specialized Writing preliminary examination.

    with this, i would like to ask if you know how i may contact or reach mr Ivan Mandy because i would like to conduct an interview with him about the Philippine Chinatown

    should there be a need to contact me, you may reply to my email address: pestcontrol_g2@yahoo.com or contact me on my cell phone: 0906-492-7070.

    i am hoping for your quick response.

    thank you.

  2. pamalfaro said

    ON GIAN CARLO: Hi Gian! Sorry for the late reply. I was in transit for a few days and I just arrived home now. You may want to check your personal e-mail. Thanks.

  3. Came across your SOAPBOX while bloghopping. What a wonderful travel report on the WOKing tour with Ivan! We also took this tour last April. 🙂

    Cheers!

    SUPERPASYAL

  4. pamalfaro said

    ON SUPERPASYAL: Thanks! You’ve got a great blog too! Keep it up! 🙂

  5. gerald alcid said

    can i please have the contact number of ivan? thanks

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