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Published: April 24th 2011
Food Tripping Across Chinatown
Why not? Aside from the shopping finds, there's the food. Have a dimsum fix. Try the Chinese lumpia (vegetable rolls) or buy taho from the street vendor.
It is your little China right here in Manila. THE OLDEST CHINATOWN IN THE WORLD. Outside of China, of course. 😊 A place where the pre-hispanic Chinese-Filipinos were evacuated to when the Spaniards came and ruled this land since the 16th century for nearly 400 years. From the walled city of Intramuros where the Spaniards ruled, our Chinoys ("Chinese-Filipinos" aka "Tsinoys")
were forced to relocate themselves across the Pasig River to a place called "Binondo"
, from the word "binundok"
or mountainous area in the local language. At the time, our Chinoys were called "Sangleys"
and were years ahead of the Spanish colonizers who claim to have "discovered" our country in 1521. ;-)
The pre-hispanic Chinese came well before them, but chose to mix and freely trade with the locals rather than colonize the land and seize power. Many of them even married Filipinas and bore "mestizo" (half breeds) Chinese-Filipinos. Live and let live!
These days, Chinatown is a mecca for bargain hunters and foodtrippers. Since they settled in this area, commerce survived and flourished. Ethnic Chinese have their business headquarters here. And you bet real estate prices in this slice of China in Manila have skyrocketed.
The Jeepneys of Manila
From the Philippine Postal Office, there are jeepneys crossing the Pasig River. Jones Bridge takes you to Binondo Church; MacArthur Bridge takes you to Sta. Cruz Church; Quezon Bridge to Quiapo Church. All 3 Churches are walking distance to Manila's Chinatown.
That is, if anyone is selling. The highest land values are right here which is considered the core of business and finance for ethnic Chinese businessmen. It is rumored that the peso dollar exchange rate in the country is actually pegged here in Chinatown in what is now infamously called "Binondo Central Bank"
rather than the official Central Bank of the Philippines. Why? The recent financial crises which hit the country proved how black marketing of US dollars was rampant in this corner of Manila. Most Filipinos believe this to be true .
At the same time, many Filipinos hold fond memories of Chinatown. Before the advent of big shopping malls, Chinatown is where one goes for bargain hunting. The art of haggling has since become an art form that most Filipinos won't be shy to "negotiate" for basement prices when shopping abroad. It is the culture here. And we all learned from our shopping adventures in Chinatown. The old folks would still remember buying their shoes here before school opens in June, or shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables from carts "parked" along the crowded streets, or blowing their bonuses in some gold jewelry store here. These days,
This Man Shouts "Taho"!
Taho is soft tofu topped with sugar/vanilla syrup and tapioca pearls called "sago". The street vendor carries 2 aluminum buckets where he stores his "taho" prepared before dawn, in time for breakfast for most Filipinos.
the street vendors of Binondo, Quiapo and Santa Cruz both in and around these 3 major churches , rule the streets. Easy to find anything here from religious icons to cooked food to fresh fruits and vegetables. At the time I visited the area, I swear I even found street vendors with pipes and faucets to sell!
Yet what remains my fondest memory of Chinatown is the food. 😊 I know, COMFORT FOOD! No adventure is complete for me without a food sidetrip. Authentic chinese cuisine is what one can expect here. Lumpia or vegetable rolls, prepared just prior to being served, along with maki or misua soup from Po Heng Lumpia House
in some alley off Quintin Paredes Street (formerly Rosario Street). Freshly made dimsum at Dong Bei
in some hole in the wall off Yuchengco Street (then Nueva St) , or shop for take home food from Carvajal Street
(just right across Po Heng) where one finds Filipino, Chinese and Japanese food. This alley seems to be a hawkers' alley! I'm telling you, I felt hungry the whole time I walked around Chinatown. And who would forget Savory Chicken House and President Tea House? And Panciteria
Promise me you won't leave Manila without trying our mangoes. Best (sweetest) during summer months of March through May. They may come from Cebu, or Guimaras, or Zambales --- all good!
Toho Antigua serving since 1888 -- could this be the oldest restaurant in the country?)
For the uninitiated, your eyes would have a feast even if you just limit yourselves walking along Rosario, Ongpin, Salazar and Carvajal Streets. To be sure, take the jeepney that crosses MacArthur Bridge from the Philippine Post Office and get off at Santa Cruz Church. Just right across the church is an archway . You enter through that archway and you are in Ongpin Street, the very heart of Chinatown. You can take sidetrips from this "major artery" (to Salazar or Yuchengco Streets) but always get back to Ongpin Street until you come out of Chinatown in the area where Binondo Church is. Visit this 16th century church where the first Filipino saint served as an altar boy before hitting the road again towards Quintin Paredes Street (formerly Rosario Street). Both Po Heng and Carvajal Street are a skip and a hop from Binondo Church.
It is a different world out there. And we love it! I'm sure you would too. 😊
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