Binondo in Manila: A guide to food and culture of the world’s oldest Chinatown
Binondo in Manila is the oldest Chinatown in the world which was acknowledged in 1594 as permanent settlement of Chinese immigrants during the Spanish occupation. It has become the melting pot of almost all the commercial endeavors of both Chinese and Filipino merchants, including Tsinoy (Filipinos of Chinese descent) fare that now celebrates a long lineage of culinary tradition. Restaurants showcase the cuisine of nearly every province in China, as well as the fusion cooking created by newer waves of immigrants from China. Whether you’re looking to sample fiery Szechuan fare or experience a classic weekend dim sum brunch, Binondo has got you covered.
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Our favorite Chinatown restaurants
Shanghai Fried Siopao
Shanghai Fried Siopao sells a wide variety of on-the-go Chinese snacks such as Ma chang and Siomai but is especially known for its ‘fried’ siopao. These steamed buns are a Filipino adaptation of the Fukien Tsien pao.
Siopao has long been a popular Filipino snack: a soft, slightly sweet bun with a meaty pork filling. usually the bun is simply steamed whole, but this fried variation adds an interesting layer of texture by slightly toasting the bottom of the bun after steaming it. This gives it a nicely crisp skin, while still keeping the rest of the bun fluffy that creates an unexpected delicious texture. The first bite is crunchy and is followed immediately by a gooey texture brought by the tenderized meat.
The siopao is filled with minced meat chopped with garlic, onions, and kuchay (Chinese chives).
New Po-Heng Lumpia House
A hit among Binondo habitues, this savory Lumpiang Sariwa is their signature snack. The stuffing is made with freshly-sourced vegetables, peanuts, shrimp, and pork– all finely chopped and cooked. There are several different toppings: crushed peanuts with sugar, finely chopped raw garlic, and crispy rice noodles with seaweed. you can also have it with 2 kinds of sauce, sweet or spicy.
The ingredients are packed so you’ll get to taste the rich flavor of the Lumpia. If you don’t like it sweet, you may put extra soy sauce to balance up the sweet and salty taste.
Apart from their fresh lumpia, other dishes that you should try are Pork Maki, Fish Maki, Misua Kho, Misua Guisado, and Kiampong.
Dong Bei Dumplings
Lisa Lee is from the northeastern Chinese region of Dong Bei where jiaozi (or dumplings) are a traditional dish served for the Chinese New Year. On New Year’s Eve, her family would gather around the table prepare the dumpling’s dough and form it into small, flat circles which they stuff with a mixture of ground meat and vegetables. They would insert a coin inside one of the dumplings, and it is believed that whoever gets this lucky dumpling will be rich in the coming New Year.
Lisa eventually immigrated to Manila with her family to provide better education for their child in 2004. With her, she brought the recipe for the now famous Dong Bei dumplings.
Chewy, freshly-steamed dim sums made right on the spot, and served with a filling of ground pork, leeks and chives and just a hint of ginger. These are just fabulous.
Other popular dishes include the stuffed and fried pancakes, wonton soup and fried rice, all in serving sizes that are meant to be shared.
Ying Ying Tea House
Established in 2008, Ying Ying Tea House is relatively younger compared to its neighboring establishments, churning out simple but great quality Cantonese favorites at accessible prices.
It is currently owned by Josephine L. Shiu (whose family owns fellow Binondo giant, President Grand Palace Restaurant) and husband Chef Shiu Wai Sing, whose recipes the restaurant employs for their Hong Kong-style specialties, with most of their ingredients (around 80%, Shiu shares) coming in from Hong Kong itself.
Panciteria Ramon Lee
Tucked away along the cobbled streets of Santa Cruz, Manila’s forgotten premier financial and luxury district, is a humble “panciteria” (loosely translated to noodle house) that has managed to withstand the test of time. While the surrounding area has long lost its glamour, Ramon lee’s Panciteria has persevered since 1929, armed with enduring flavors and nostalgia that have captured the hearts of loyal patrons and young millennials yearning for authentic Tsinoy food.
Ramon Lee from the Canton province of China came to the Philippines in the 1920s and worked as a waiter before opening his own restaurant with his wife Wong Yok King. At the time, locals usually eat at panciterias that offered traditional Chinese cuisine, but also Spanish and Filipino dishes.
Ramon Lee’s panciteria grew in popularity especially for its fried chicken, pancit canton and lumpia. Ramon was the first in Metro Manila to introduce a combo meal consisting of all the favorites.
Celebrities used to frequent the restaurant during its prime time in the 1980s. Ramon Lee sadly passed away leaving the business to his daughter Fely and her nephew Lawrence Co.
While Ramon Lee’s panciteria may not be as prominent as it once was, Fely has done her best to ensure the panciteria continues to uphold the family tradition of excellent food and service. The original recipes are maintained, and it is said that their food tastes exactly the same as it did in the good old times.
With almost a century of culinary tradition, Ramon Lee’s Panciteria’s authentic Chinese fare is truly a testament that delicious pancit warrants a longer and richer life.
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