Going on a trip need not be far. Sometimes, all you have to do is have an open mind and rediscover what you already have around you. Such was the case for Binondo, the home of the Tsinoys or Filipino Chinese.
I used to go to Binondo for bargain shopping and wholesale buys at Divisoria and 168 Mall. But one Tuesday afternoon, I rediscovered Binondo as one of the must-go-places to treat your taste buds to a feast.
This time, I did not commute but rode the all-new Ford Focus, which was on a test drive. Since I was “not yet” used to the roads in the metro, fellow travel writer, Kara Santos of Traveling-Up, sat on the driver’s seat while I took the passenger seat.
The Focus has the features of a luxury car but is categorized in the consumer car segment. One of these features is the Sync, where a mobile phone is sync with the car. When someone calls you, you don’t need to hold your phone but answer the phone through voice commands.You can also dial a number by just telling the number or the name of the person in your phone book. Watch this video.
Another cool feature is receiving a text message. All you have to say is “Listen” and the voice will read the message for you.
We got to experience these while driving along Roxas Boulevard on our way to Binondo. After surviving the traffic, we met Old Manila Walks’ Ivan Man Dy at the Binondo Church. Ivan enriched our minds first by telling us about the history of Binondo, which is believed to be the oldest China Town in the world. According to him, it was established in 1596. (The Spaniards came to the Philippines in 1521. Ah yes, I remember my History Class!)
My stomach (I only ate one piece of bread for breakfast knowing that I’ll be going on a food trip) was revolting. But soon enough, it became peaceful and happy when we got to our first food stop: Cafe Mezzanine in Ongpin St.
Cafe Mezzanine is situated above the Eng Bee Tin shop. I didn’t know that a restaurant exist there. It was a pleasant surprise.
Firemen’s hats and photographs of fire disaster were displayed on the wall. Later on, I learned that the cafe is owned by one of the firefighter volunteers in Binondo. Ivan said that fire disasters were rampant in Binondo. Hence, the Filipino Chinese community formed a volunteer group for fire fighting and prevention.
Every food stop has its story to tell. Ivan began telling about how Tsinoys came about to the Philippines. To escape from poverty in Fujian province, the Chinese immigrants came to the Philippines to do business. Fujian province is geographically located at the southern tip of China, which is near our country. I then learned that not all Chinese food are the same. Like Filipinos, who have Kampampangan, Ilocano, Bicolano, and Tagalog dishes, they have different ways of cooking as well according to what region they came from.
In Cafe Mezzanine, they served Hokkien food (or the food cooked by Chinese who came from Fujian Province).
Dish 1: Kiampong (salted rice)
Cost: Php 75.00
Honestly, I’m not a fan of chopsticks. haha. Yep, I had a hard time picking those rice. You see, I’m proud to be Filipino even if I don’t look much of a Filipino. haha. So how was the taste? I love the peanuts but I’d still prefer YangChow over Kiampong. hehe.
Then I learned from food blogger Richard (who has Chinese blood) that kiampong is more of a “lutong bahay” or food that is for home consumption. It’s not a fancy Chinese food (which are mostly Cantonese food).
Dish 2: Special Fishball soup
Cost: Php 105.00
The soup was great to start the meal.
Dish 3: Lo Tau hu? Not sure with the spelling. (Simmered Tofu).
Cost: Php 45.00
This was what I like best in our first food stop. The tofu is covered in hot chili sauce with a kick of a little sweetness. The sourness of the atchara (slices of radish and carrots) placed on top of the tofu perfectly blends with the chili flavor.
Drink: Kundol Juice or Wintermelon Juice
It was only now that I learned that the wintermelon is kundol in Filipino. hehe. I only know of kundol in the lyrics of the folk song, “Bahay Kubo” (kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa at saka meron pang labanos mustasa…you’re singing it right?)
The kundol juice was refreshing to the mouth. It was sweet and tasted like sago’t gulaman minus the sago and gulaman.
After a few minutes, we walked to our next stop, Dong Bei Dumpling.
Dong Bei Dumpling
Dong Bei Dumpling is a small dumpling place yet don’t be fooled with its appearance. It was another surprise. The owners of Dong Bei came from the northern part of China, hence, the dumplings that they serve are different from what were used to (e.g. siomai is a dumpling from the southern part of China like Hong Kong. It’s Cantonese style).
While the southerners/ Cantonese steam their dumplings, the northerners boil their dumplings.
Dish 1: Jiaoji- boiled dumpling northern style
Cost: Php 100
The Jiaoji is a bit slippery in the mouth. It is filled with ground pork mixed with greens (which I don’t know of). It has two dips: one is bland while the other has chili on it. It’s better to dip it in the chili sauce to give more flavor.
Dish 2: Sienbu? (Stuffed mini-pancakes)
Cost: Php 100
The stuffing is kuchay. Unlike the first one, this one is fried giving making it a lot tastier than the first one. It’s on the salty side.
Dish 3: Cumin Chicken (xinjiang)
The third dish was really surprising. The chicken along with the carrots and sayote (?) were diced and topped with sesame seeds. It has a taste of cumin which is usually associated with middle eastern or Indian food. But yes, it was Chinese food from the northern region of China.
Dish 4: Hamburger Tofu
This was an innovation to make pieces of tofu as if they were pieces of bread with a burger patty inside.
Among all the four dishes that we ate here, my choices were dish 2 (the pancakes) and the hamburger tofu!
We walked again to burn the calories to our last food stop, Awi’s at Nueva St., the street which is known for school and office supplies.
Awi’s Cafe and Restaurant
Awi’s is still owned by a Tsinoy. They renovated their restaurant with orange and apple green colors (favorite) that made it look funky. You wouldn’t think that it’s a Chinese resto. It was modernized.
Ivan said that this was one of his favorite restaurants in China Town.
Dish 1: Lobihon (noodle soup with bihon instead of lomi in it)
Cost: Php 130.00
Our group, Richard, Kara, and Dom shared a bowl of Lobihon. It was just okay for me. The black vinegar tasted like beer for me.
Dish 2: Gabi Cake
The gabi cake tasted good. The gabi is a form of extender that would make you feel full easily.
Dish 3: Coffee Spareribs
This was the winner dish for me! Tender pork coated in caramelized coffee was a feast to my taste buds. There’s a bitter and sweet taste when pork is chewed.
Drink: Dalandan Iced Tea
Cost Php 68.00
Chinese loves drinking hot tea but this modern Chinese cafe served an original concoction of dalandan in iced tea which was refreshing after eating all of the food.
It was fun to eat and learn at the same time in Binondo. Yes, everyday, there’s something new to learn and relearn even if we’re already familiar with the place.
Note: This is a sponsored trip. Special thanks to Ford and Ogilvy for inviting me to this food trip.