Last Saturday I finally went on the Binondo Food Bowl walking tour of Ivan ManDy, the self-professed â€œstreetwalkerâ€ in Chinatown. Along with my wife and a couple of friends, we agreed to meet at the Binondo Church at 2 pm. Despite leaving Makati early, traffic from the Jones Bridge (last 1500 meters) was horrendous due to the onset of Divisoria madness in the â€œberâ€ months. We were almost 35 minutes late! Thank goodness the guide was a few minutes later still. At any rate we all set foot on a culinary adventure through Chinatown. I have been to Calle Ongpin several dozen times, but in retrospect, realized that we always drive to Chinatown, park at our favorite parking lot, walk by the hopia store, then the grocery store, eat at President, buy some fruit and head back home. That is our regular route. It was brilliant to see Chinatown through the eyes of an expert.
First food stop was a brilliant little chocolate tablea manufacturer, perhaps the last of its kind in Chinatown and a long-time (several generations) family run business. A modest storefront with just a few packages of tablea on display in their glass stand leads to a back room where the freshly roasted cacao beans brought in from Davao are ground up fine and cooked into a thick chocolate paste that is then dried on flat baskets stacked high. The aroma at this stop was simply amazingâ€¦ it stuns me that I have walked by this storefront at least 15 times in the past 5 years and NEVER noticed what they were making within. I really have to keep my eyes open!
Next stop was a small restaurant a flight of stairs up from the street. Here we sampled a very basic Hokkien style fried rice that had soy sauce, peanuts, onions, etc. Hearty, yummy comfort food. Seems over 80% of all Chinese in Manila are Hokkien in ancestry yet much of the restaurant food we find in Manila is actually Cantoneseâ€¦ Along with this rice we tried a fish ball soup in a hearty broth with shredded cabbage. Overall, a nice way to start the walk. The second food stop was a nondescript storefront that turns out to be a dumpling restaurant. With just 4 tables of 4, we had some of the best dumplings I have ever eaten in Manila in recent memory. I will post a separate entry on this place in the next day or two.
We then moved on to eat some tea marinated chicken eggs and rested at another airconditioned stop where we enjoyed some Taiwanese cold noodles with vegetables and a peanut/sesame sauce. It was delicious. At this same stop, was a turo-turo set-up with over 20 different dishes to choose from should you want more than just the noodles on offer. A short walk away was a superb bakery and Chinese deli of sorts that even had on stock this famous or infamous smelly tofu that has the most off-putting odor you can imagine. They also had Chinese ingredients and sweets on offer, many for gift purposes.
We then walked for over 10 minutes and skirted portions of Chinatown I have never seen before, including a temple on the third floor of a difficult to find building. On the street we tasted a superb siopao that was fried and wickedly hot and as a result, hard to handle. Finally, after seeing markets, restaurants, architecture, temples, vendors we headed to a nice tucked away resting spot in an old Art deco building where the restaurant served the most amazing lumpia which were not only stuffed to gills with vegetables, seaweed, noodles, etc but also tasted superb! With the hot sauce they offered these lumpia were memorable. Frankly, we couldnâ€™t eat much dinner after this four hour food tour of Binondo! Definitely worth taking if you are at all curious about what great culinary finds Binondo has to offer. Many thanks to our guide, Ivan ManDy for a truly worthwhile afternoon spent eating and learning!