I like Manila’s Chinatown because there’s an “otherworld-ly” quality to it. I’ve never been to mainland China (although have been to Chinatowns in other parts of the world) and the one near my home in the center of Manila is the closest I can get to exploring this culture, considered one of the oldest in the world.
Manila’s Chinatown is a mish-mash of sights, sounds and flavors. It’s a pain in the neck driving through its alleys so the more wise would be better off walking. This will give you more time to check through the stores, mostly in Ongpin. Jewelry stores. Feng shui stores. Boutiques. Fruit stalls. The various merchandise displayed on the sidewalk. And of course the food which makes Chinatown one big foodie’s paradise!! The bakeries, teahouses, noodle shops and full-scale restaurants mostly-filled with strange-sounding Fookienese/Mandarin/Cantonese chatter during peak hours.
I feel that Manila’s Chinatown is one big universe to be explored and I would surely come back. It helps that you have a Chinese-Filipino friend to guide you. Here’s some more highlights from my mini-trip.
Salazar Bakery is an old institution in the area. I’ve seen one in an SM mall but the biggest I guess is their branch in Ongpin. What could be found here? Delicious-looking bakery products and refreshments of course. These include their giant chiffon cakes, cupcakes, biscuits,siopao, tikoy, moon cakes, and their own version of native Filipino delicacies like pichi-pichi. We bought several pieces of their hopia and it was very good.
Beside Salazar is the Mandarin Palace resto. At P150 for lunch and dinner, I think they have the cheapest buffet this side of town. We ate here for our Rotary Club function once and the servings were very considerable, knowing the price. I should go here once again to try their dimsum set breakfast, at only P65.
The health-conscious would love this Xiamen-style lumpia filled with tofu, seaweed, carrots, cabbage , brown sugar and some other ingredients that escape me now. The taste is indescribably good and it’s best to get it at this nondescript counter called New Pou Heng Lumpia House along Ongpin. They only have four items on the menu, and that’s their bestselling Xiamen lumpia (P35), maki soup (P35), misua soup (P35) and mongo soup (P35).
In front of the Lumpia House is this unnamed stall selling another Chinatown must-try… the cheap and yummy fried siopao. This stall sells other goodies like packaged quekiam, siomai, shrimp rolls and kiam pong, among others. There’s nothing like them for cheap and tasty pasalubong.
Many Eng Bee Tin Hopia shops can be found in Binondo which attests to the popularity of this delectable product even among the Chinese community. (Click on the EBT link here, it rocks:) The EBT Hopia Combo which combines flavors like pineapple, ube and mango is certainly one great innovation. Eng Bee Tin hopia is highly recommended for munchin’, and you can’t possibly resist buying some more for pasalubong!