BINONDO: A District of Flavor and Celebration
VOL. 1 NO. 2 MAY 2019
BY: DANNA THEL PULONG | PHOTOGRAPHER: BUTCH GIOVANNI CAPOY
There is only so much to see in a continuously growing metropolis, but despite the high-rise buildings in its every corner and fast moving cars racing down every street, Manila strives to conserve its old city charms. One of the capital's many classic landmarks is the world's oldest Chinatown: Binondo.
Bright, dignified, and a bit overwhelming, Binondo is not so much a sight to behold as it is an experience you'll keep missing.
Ongpin Street: Food Haven
Binondo is famous for many things --- being center of commerce, its grand architecture, luxurious jewelries -- but among them, food is perhaps the most common ground for tourists visiting the place. While Binondo is a large district of countless streets and establishments with a plethora of culture, I personally believe that Ongpin has the most to offer in the cuisine department.
From tea houses to family restaurants, and even down to cafes, you can keep your options open as you walk down Ongpin Food Street.
There's the famous Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli chain, to start off the list, with its eye-catching decors, but if we're talking kickoffs, Lord Stow's famous egg tarts is a great point to start the most gratifying food crawl you'll make.
Quite the catchy name, isn't it? Just as it suggests, the Estero Resto ( more commonly known as Estero Fast Food ) is a food chain by the creek with air-conditioned dining rooms and open-air tables. Estero Resto is one of the first food chains you'll encounter past the Goodwill Arch ( it's really hard to miss; it's by the creek ) and probably the cheapest, most affordable dining along the street.
They serve shanghai noodle meals typical in most Chinese restaurants, but Estero Resto prides itself not in these dishes but in something far more unique and exotic.
Ongpin doesn't fall short on Mami Houses, either. Every noodle house offers scrumptious noodles full of taste and essence that would make your head spin and leave you satisfied.
Among its many noodle houses, 4 Season Cuisine, located just past the Estero Resto, offers a delightful combination of mixed mami and Chinese rice. Their mixed mami comes with large, plump dumplings with a hint of spice, topped on thin noodles and warm soup. The Chinese rice, with its toasted nuts and vegetable, is a curious companion to the mami's mild, interesting flavor.
At the very heart of Ongpin Street, among tea houses, there is a side street booth selling sugarcane juice for about 20 pesos per small cup. The juice itself is organic and the booth proudly displays the sugar canes by its storefront. It's not as sweet as you would expect nor as concentrated; it's made just right enough to quench your thirst and leave you wanting a second cup.
An Anecdote: Lunar New Year
Binondo is mostly quiet, if only a little bustling, on regular days. On holidays such as the Lunar New Year, however, a whole new escapade roars into life in the streets of the oldest Chinatown.
Lunar New Year is Binondo's busiest, liveliest time of the year, what with the whole community milling the streets, local tourists gathering to participate in the celebration, and foreign tourists wanting to join in on the experience. In its quiet everyday routine, you could easily lose yourself in Binondo's atmosphere and forget for a while that it's a tiny town along the Pasig River. But on Lunar New Year, Binondo is like a different country altogether, flitting with life and color.
In almost every corner, there is the hint of burning incense in the air. Locals and tourist alike take the time to light a stick of incense for their loved ones, as well as a gesture to welcome the New Year, and place them by shrines along every street. Every now and then, a Chinese lion would visit these shrines and temples, and dance to pay its respects, as is the custom for Chinese lion dancers. When they are done, they take the dancing to the streets to bring happiness and luck to the people.
An entertaining spectacle during this holiday are the kids along the street that perform lion dances of their own with decorated cardboard boxes. The streets are usually crowded during the Lunar New Year, but despite the sweat and push of the crowd, I found every step of my visit worth it. I saw a glimpse of friendship and hospitality in two different cultures blended into one welcoming community. Truly, home is not so much a place as it is the warm people around you that make you feel like you belong. [K]