Thursday, February 26, 2015

Binondo Bound: A Quick Trip to Manila’s Chinatown not Short on Flavors

A street in Binondo is colorful and vibrant with paper lanterns in the shape of a pineapple, which is believed to brings luck, and vending carts filled with fruits needed for the coming celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year
After the din and squalor of Quiapo, Binondo presents a respite. Although as densely urbanized, the Manila district, home of the countrys Chinatown, is more orderly but can get vibrant especially around the time of the Chinese Lunar New Years eve. The streets are festooned with red lanterns, gently bobbing over traffic and rows of vendors selling the plumpest and shiniest fruits and beribboned plant roots and stalks. An alleyway is brimming with exotic items and fresh produce such as cherries and sea cucumber. Venturing into Binondo is like stepping into another world, which reminds many of busy Hong Kong, full of things both familiar and novel.
            Many consider Binondo as the worlds oldest Chinatown. Before the coming of the Spaniards, the Chinese had made the place a bustling center of trade with the locals. In 1594, the governor general of the Spanish colonial government, Luis Pérez Dasmariñas, gave a piece of land for the settlement of the Catholic Chinese, across the river from the walled city of Intramuros, which is now Binondo. For numerous years, the Chinese immigrants, mostly Hokkien and Cantonese peoples from southern China, has developed Binondo to what it is today, bringing with them their age-old culture and traditions. Binondo is an important part of the heritage of Manila.
            And an important part of the heritage is the food. Tourists as well as Metro Manilans have recently discovered the wealth of the Binondo gastronomic landscape. This place perhaps gave rise to the Philippines first dining places. Here, one finds the oldest restaurants and eateries, and traces the origins of some of the countrys popular dishes. Aside from the visual feast, Binondo offers a explosion of smells and flavors. There are about a hundred dining places here, offering Chinese cuisines, local fares and localized versions of Chinese foods or Chinese-Tagalog-Hispanic fusions.
            The recent interest in the Binondo food scene is arguably spurred by the Binondo Food Wok tours conducted by Binondo resident Ivan Man Dy, who operates the Old Manila Walks tours. The three-and-a-half walking and tasting tour provides an introduction to the interesting culinary finds of Chinatown, which tickles the mind as well as tantalizes the taste buds.

As most communities in the Philippines, the church is the center. The Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish or the Binondo Church is perhaps the most prominent structure of Chinatown. Domincan priests first established a mission in Binondo in 1587 to minister to the Chinese. A church was built in 1598. It was damaged by British troops when they attacked Manila in 1762, and it was bombed in 1944 during World War II. From 1946 to 1971, it was rebuilt. The first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, served the church as a boy. 

Beribboned taro roots, believed to bring make luck “stick,” ready for the Chinese New Year

The fresh lumpia or roll is the most popular item at the New Po Heng Lumpia House, which is tucked inside the courtyard of an apartment building, the pink Art Deco Uy Su Bin building along Quintin Paredes Street. The roll is filled with shreds of cabbage, carrot, tofu and pork, and is eaten garnished with crushed peanuts and brown sugar, and fried noodles and dried seaweed. A sweet brown sauce and hot sauce are the preferred condiments.
In the alley of Carvajal, Quik Snack is a modest but popular restaurant established in 1967 by Pilar Ferrero Lim Giok Ki, fondly called Amah Pilar, after her bakery in Cebu failed. The restaurant offers Southeast Asian dishes including Filipino as well as Chinese.

The kuchay ah empanada and stir-fried noodles of Quik Snack
The signature tofu dish of Quik Snack
Dong Bei Dumplings, along Yuchengco Street (formerly Nueva), occupies a narrow unit of an apartment row. The space is cramped that the kitchen spills over to the dining area, but diners don’t mind as they get to see cooks preparing its famous dumplings. The owners are new immigrants from northeaster China and thus their dumplings are slightly different from what Filipinos are used to. Instead of being steamed, the dumplings are boiled. 
The pork and chives dumplings of Dong Bei Dumplings
The meat-filled fried pancakes of Dong Bei Dumplings

The steamed custard buns of President Tea House, on Salazar Street, is a delicious treat of pillow-soft buns and a filling made with the yolks of itlog maalat or salty duck eggs. 

All photos by Roel Hoang Manipon

The Sights and the Selfies
 Microsoft Lumia 535 is equipped for the Binondo tour

            Exploring Binondo, a camera has become a travel essential to capture the intriguing colors and shapes of Chinatown. For many, the smartphone replaces the camera. With the camera function getting more and more sophisticated, the phone has become a convenient all-in-one gadget. Aside from call, messaging and music functions, the camera has become the most used feature, especially for taking selfies and sharing them in social networking sites.
The new Microsoft Lumia 535 is equipped for taking pictures, especially selfies, with five-inch screen, wide-angle lens and a five-megapixel front-facing camera, aside from the five-megapixel main camera. The Lumia camera enables users to manually adjust the ISO, exposure, white balance and shutter speed. Additionally, there is the Lumia Creative Studio app for one to create desired visual effects. But perhaps, the most interesting app of the first Microsoft-branded Lumia is the Lumia Selfie.
            Made for taking self portrait, the app, already installed in the phone for easy access to the front-facing camera, automatically enhances selfies with filters and makes them easily shareable to OneDrive, Instagram and Twitter, etc. One can also use a Treasure Tag accessory as a remote shutter in Lumia Selfie as well as fine-tune selfie appearance with effects.
            Another important feature for travelers is the Here Maps, which helps users find streets and locate destinations even offline.
            The Lumia 535 has the latest version of the Windows Phone and other specifications such as a quad-core processor; a built-in, eight-gigabyte internal storage; and 15 gigabytes of free OneDrive storage with an additional 128 gigabytes by adding a microSD card.
Also, Microsoft Lumia 535 comes in the eye-catching  colors of green, orange, white, cyan and black, and sells for the suggested retail price of P5,990.