Binondo Chinatown: A trip to tummy-town Part I
There were pockets of good weather the past few weeks, so we planned another outdoors adventure. This time, we took our tummies along in our trip.
Background of Binondo
Remember our last trip, Intramuros? Well, Binondo is an area that lies on the other side of the Pasig River. The history of the area is actually very interesting. At one point Binondo continued to be the business centre of Manila (think Makati)… that’s thanks to the business acumen of the Chinese who were segregated in that area by the Spanish. But as flexible, business-minded people, they made do with what they had and changed the face of Binondo.
Also, because of the concentration of Filipino-Chinese and Chinese immigrants in the area in 1594, Binondo is considered the world’s oldest Chinatown. Cool, huh?
Up until the World War II, Binondo was the place to be: it was where banks and other finance institutions were found. It’s like The City in Britain, or like Germany’s Frankfurt where all the biggest banks are found. Nowadays, Binondo has lost its status as the centre of finance. However, the allure of Chinatown has gained for Binondo a new reputation catering to the young and adventurous: foodie haven!
What not to miss
From noodles and dumplings to hotpot and other local favourites, Chinatown has everything if you know where to look! After we researched for restaurants and asked help from our very reliable cousin, we walked, chowed down and enjoyed our time in these Binondo Chinatown must-tries:
Fresh lumpia is a type of rolled appetizer with wrapper, fillings and sauce. We shared just one as an appetizer because we didn’t want to be too full before we try the other restaurants. The one we ordered was very cheap at P45 (€0.80). The fresh lumpia was very tasty and we finished the whole plate after 3 bites each. Personally, it was the peanut sauce that made my mouth water during that stop in New Eastern Restaurant along Ongpin street.
Shabu-shabu is the local term for hot pot. There are plenty of hot pot restaurants in Binondo, but the best part about shabu-shabu here is that some restaurants offer discounts when people order hot pot after peak hours. That’s what we had at this restaurant in front of New Eastern Restaurant (pity we forgot to write down the name of the restaurant… it’s because we were too excited to remember!) We ordered a shabu-shabu good for two worth P700 (€12). Our hot pot had both ordinary and spicy soups and platters of mixed seafood, pork, beef and vegetable. The best part for me was making my own dipping with a number of condiments they gave, like soy sauce, garlic and chilli.
If you haven’t ever tried hot pot I guarantee you it’s fun! It’s a kind of a cook-your-own-food setup where a hot plate with a pot of boiling soup is set on your table. Platters of raw meat are served for you to cook in the hot pot. We weren’t able to finish the whole dish we ordered since we had to make room for other restaurants, but we got a complementary black jelly dessert for being such good sports! We also took a bathroom break here since we were told most of the stalls we planned to visit didn’t have a loo.
Estero is the local name for the canals that criss-cross Chinatown. In one particular estero along Ongpin street lies the Estero eateries: an alley filled with cooking stalls and tables and chairs. We chose to eat in LGA Fastfood because it’s the one sign we could decipher out of all the stalls. We hit jackpot though, as the stall served frog legs which we have always been curious about but never tried.
After that shabu-shabu meal, we skipped most of the Filipino and Chinese dishes LGA offered and ordered one plate of Fried Garlic frog legs at P240 (€4.10) and yang chow fried rice at P200 (€3.44). Like what everyone else has said, the legs tasted like chicken… I felt like I was eating chicken wings. But there was a satisfaction in knowing that we have at last tried eating frog legs!
A note on eating here: the smell from the estero may ruin the whole experience. It’s also a good thing we were here for late lunch, otherwise we wouldn’t have found an empty seat!