Manila's Chinatown: Jeepney Rides, Comfort Food and Shopping Bargains

Philippines' flag
Asia » Philippines » Manila » Binondo
April 19th 2011
Published: April 24th 2011
Edit Blog Post

Food Tripping Across ChinatownFood Tripping Across ChinatownFood 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 ManilaThe Jeepneys of ManilaThe 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"!This Man Shouts "Taho"!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
Manila Mangoes!Manila Mangoes!Manila Mangoes!

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. 😊

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 25


Flower GarlandsFlower Garlands
Flower Garlands

The flowers called "sampaguita" and "Ilang Ilang" are strung and sold. Most Filipinos buy this to use as air freshener (in cars/jeepneys) or as offering to religious statues inside the church and homes.
Only in Manila's Chinatown!Only in Manila's Chinatown!
Only in Manila's Chinatown!

This purple firetruck can be found in almost every corner of Chinatown. Purple? Yes, purple.
View Across Santa Cruz ChurchView Across Santa Cruz Church
View Across Santa Cruz Church

Across Santa Cruz Church is this archway towards Chinatown. The street is Ongpin --- familiar to most Filipinos as a place for bargain hunting and good, cheap chows.
Lumpia Rolls from Po HengLumpia Rolls from Po Heng
Lumpia Rolls from Po Heng

From Binondo Church, you can walk back to the arch along Quintin Paredes St. (formerly Rosario). Easy to miss (I did) so use HSBC branch as your landmark. As soon as you see HSBC, check out the alley towards Po Heng.
And they sell brooms too! And they sell brooms too!
And they sell brooms too!

This man is on his way to a corner stall where he would sit all day , selling his brooms.
Vegetables and Fruits GaloreVegetables and Fruits Galore
Vegetables and Fruits Galore

They're way cheaper here than those you would find in supermarkets. Bananas, mangoes, watermelons, local durian and chicos.
Squash FlowersSquash Flowers
Squash Flowers

Most chefs would love this area for these cheap but precious vegetable finds!
Too hot and humid? Buy a fan.Too hot and humid? Buy a fan.
Too hot and humid? Buy a fan.

Look at how this girl is selling her wares. Very ingenious, don't you think? The fans are made from anahaw leaves (from palm).
Carvajal Street (More Like An Alley)Carvajal Street (More Like An Alley)
Carvajal Street (More Like An Alley)

Just like a hawkers' street where you can buy your lunch or snacks at bottom prices. If you find it too hot or humid, buy and take your meals home.
Grocery Along Ongpin StreetGrocery Along Ongpin Street
Grocery Along Ongpin Street

Heard of champoy -- those preserved fruits? If you bought them in Mongkok, Hongkong you can find them a-plenty here, along with pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, and other chinese stuff.
Manila MangoesManila Mangoes
Manila Mangoes

In this area, dogs , cats and humans co-exist! No one minds each other. Really.
35 pesos or less than US$1 for a meal35 pesos or less than US$1 for a meal
35 pesos or less than US$1 for a meal

How can u go wrong with this one? And it offers an oasis from the sweltering heat and humidity outside.
Binondo ChurchBinondo Church
Binondo Church

The very first Filipino Saint happens to be a Chinoy who served in this church as an altar boy.

24th April 2011

verrrry Binondo. Another nice read from you Tita Lili =D
25th April 2011

Mam Lili. I just remember the time when we bought our wedding ring in the Ongpin. Reminiscing the past through your post. Thanks to this. I was not able to take more photos on this area because of fear from camera grabber.:-).
26th April 2011
This Man Shouts "Taho"!

Ahhh, I love taho for breakfast ! :)
26th April 2011

Di na ulit ako nakabalik ng Binondo, but I love its narrow and busy streets. :)
25th May 2011

I rode the LRT got off at Carriedo and wandered around , finally making my way back over the river to Intramuros , eating along the way , lol . The best was ice cream bought from a vendor near the press club !
3rd June 2011

"Dirty" Ice Cream!
They should really stop calling it "dirty" ice cream. Love all their flavors. My guess is the commercial ice cream makers tagged them as such so the public would not buy from the sidewalk ice cream vendors. But they're yummier!
23rd March 2012

Intramuros Electric Chariots Tour Launched
Intramuros Electric Chariots Tour Launched For the first time in Philippine history, an Electric Chariots tour of Intramuros has been launched by White Knight tours at Hotel Intramuros fronting San Agustin Church. The Electric Chariots are 2 wheel equipments with automatic balancing electronic gadget that moves forward if your body leans forward and stops or move backward as you lean backwards. The guided tours using electric chariots amplify the most recent tourism slogan of “It’s more fun in the Philippines” for indeed, the exhalation as well. White Knight offers 30 minutes and 1 hour guided tours of Intramuros with price ranging from Php500 for 30minutes and Php1000 for 1 hour. Unlike riding the horse driver Chariots tours which provide passive involvements for passengers and tourist, the Electric Chariots reinvigorates the user with its interactive role of balancing and inspires a sense of adrenaline rush. It’s an experience in a life time that one should never miss! For further info, White Knight Tours contact details are telephone: +6325 5252381 or +632 5266181
20th September 2012

Very nice presentation of city of Manila, I miss those places you have here in your site. I've been in those places long time ago
and hoping to see them again next year. Cheers
22nd September 2012

Hi susana
Thanks for dropping by. I sooo love Binondo. I go there even by myself just to walk the busy streets and smelling the aroma of street foods!
30th April 2013

This is nice. Im going to move into my condo in Mandaluyong , so I hope itll be nice also! Haahaha
30th April 2013

First Time in the Philippines?
Welcome to my country! Hope you get settled nicely.
14th July 2015

Manila Flights
Your post made me think of my Manila holiday trip. I enjoyed lot with my friends but failed to took photograph because as i was not having my camera that time. Your post gave me nostalgia, thanks for the beautiful post.

Tot: 1.612s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 11; qc: 37; dbt: 0.0215s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb