Binondo, Manila kinda gives me the ’90s vibe. As if I’m watching a movie where some tough-looking guys are walking in an alley at night, lots of vendors on the sides, you see Chinese characters on signboards and buildings, then they enter some kind of a black market where an action ensues. Can’t explain why.
Binondo has never been on my list of places to visit. It just didn’t feel like there’s anything interesting to see or witness here besides Chinese culture. Probably because of the fact that it’s next to Divisoria, a huge commercial center next to it that serves the lower-class(for lack of a better term) community, that is so crowded and has a high rate of petty theft.
My distaste for places like Binondo is probably caused by my ignorance and lack of interest in exploring places that are not like the upper-class cities that I always love and prefer to visit. I’m always quick to think that places like Binondo, although it has quite a history, doesn’t have much to offer.
After visiting this town, though, I’ve learned that Binondo actually has quite an interesting feel to it. Although my cautiousness for myself and my belongings was present all the time, it was actually kind of exciting walking along the shopping roads.
Being the oldest Chinatown in the world, it’s only obvious that Binondo would have an old-world look to it which is cool, although some worn down buildings make it less appealing.
I got to explore around a little(mostly food). Despite being soaked in sweat after a long walk to find our first destination, overall, my visit to this old town was fun and interesting.
Here are the places I’ve visited.
Ying Ying Tea House
Our first destination was located at Yuchengco Street. The Ying Ying Tea House is a Cantonese restaurant that is very famous here in Binondo. It’s recommended that you come here early especially during weekends and expect to wait in line to be seated. The restaurant has plenty of tables, yet they were all occupied so we had to wait around 30 minutes before we could get in. They would also offer you to share seats with other customers and it’s your choice to take it or just wait for more vacant seats.
Ying Ying Tea House offers a wide variety of food from Dimsum, mami, noodles, fried rice, and more. The crispy pork belly and roasted duck meal with a cup- or should I say a bowl- of rice is more than enough to fill your belly, and it’s only P150(around $3).
If you love teas, they also serve a pot of hot tea for free. I don’t know what kind of tea it was but I loved the taste. (Maybe lemongrass?) I almost finished the whole pot that I had to use the bathroom later on. Thought I might remind you about that, too.
Not only are they generous with their food portions, I also witnessed one of the waitresses serving food to the street kids who were waiting at a table just outside the restaurant. I’m not talking about leftovers, but the same food they serve to the customers. Nothing special, really, but it was quite a sight.
Lord Stow’s Bakery
Lord Stow’s Bakery, according to my research, is one of the best sellers of egg tarts(maybe the actual best, but I’m not sure) in China. It is located just at the border of Manila’s Chinatown.
Lord Stow’s Bakery’s egg tart is said to be very popular in Macau. And there’s no question that it’s the same here, too. Customers frequently come in and out to buy them along with other food.
TRIVIA: Lord Stow’s egg tart is actually “Portuguese”, made by an Englishman named Andrew Stow when he opened his bakery in Macau. It quickly became popular with the locals and, eventually, throughout Asia. You can read the full story on Lord Stow’s Bakery’s website.
Enough said, the egg tart is indeed delicious. The filling is soft, creamy, and tasty, and the pastry base is crispy. It’s a perfect combination that feels so good to chew on. I don’t remember exactly, but it should be around P45-50 a piece, and then it’s discounted when you buy six pieces or more.
Eng Bee Tin
Located along Ongpin Street is Eng Bee Tin, a Chinese Deli store that sells Hopia, Tikoy(sweet rice cake), and a bunch of other Chinese delicacies. Each food offers a variety of flavors, too.
One I’ll never forget is the mooncake. The first time I had it was when my sister brought one home and it immediately became my favorite, so when I found it here, I quickly grabbed three packs(4 mooncakes each).
The Great Buddha
Just go up the elevator in Eng Bee Tin and you’ll find The Great Buddha. It’s a cafe with a menu similar to Ying Ying Tea House’s, just the prices are a bit higher. You may think it’s a shopping center when you go up the elevator because the first things you’ll see are products for sale such as bags, fridge magnets, and other souvenirs.
We were supposed to try some dimsum but backed out since we were still full from our previous meal. Remember I said I had to use the bathroom later on? Well, let me just say the bathroom at The Great Buddha was very clean and also looked really classy. I swear I kept it that way after I left. Anyway, moving on.
The Historical Binondo Church
The Binondo Church has been existing since the Spanish-era(1596), although it had been rebuilt several times already after suffering from earthquakes and wars. Even so, it still didn’t lose its exceptional design that will take you back to the middle-ages, especially its octagonal bell tower.
The Binondo Church was built to serve the Chinese Christian converts, as well as Filipino Christians. It seems you need to have the same religion for the Spanish to allow you to live during their era.
Alright, I’ll stop pretending as a historian now. If you’re interested to know more about the history of Binondo Church, here’s a nice article about it.
Now I’m interested to come back and explore more places in Binondo. I’m definitely coming back for the roasted duck.
And this heavenly creation…