A Binondo adventure

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Saturday, May 5, 2012


ONE fine day in Binondo, Manila, around 29 journalists from different regions in the country, including myself, wore our most comfortable gears and nibbled our way down through Chinatown for a whole day of street walking, cultural tripping and urban adventure called the “Big Binondo Food Wok.”

Starting our way to the 400 years of history and up to four hours of decadence of their famous specialties, we were met by Anson from the old Manila walks hired by Globe Telecom to be our tour guide for the day.

Our first stop was at the 16th century Baroque cathedral now widely known as the Binondo Church, as explained by Anson when he met us inside the church after our 30 minutes trip from our hotel.

We were marveled by the church’s design but I got more amazed when Anson explained why the church was built and how it was maintained by 90 percent of the Catholic Chinese Community over the years.

I learned that the church was built in 1596 by the Dominican priests.

The hospitable attitude to by the early Spanish colonists to the Chinese became an incentive to increase their trade in Manila.

I also learned that Chinese traders were the first overseas workers to work gain silver so when they go home to China, they will be filthy rich.

As we started our walk toward the Plaza Calderon dela Barca located directly just across the church, showing the most important commercial square in colonial Manila, I was about to complain of the sunny weather hitting me badly and the long walk ahead of us but Anson wittingly diverted the issues into an excellent journey and have experienced the best of historic Manila one step at a time.

The Plaza Calderon among Tsinoys was referred to as Hue Heng Khao, which literally means “at the foot of the garden.”

The plaza contains 19th century water fountains and monuments dedicated to St. Lorenzo Ruiz, historic printer Tomas Pinpin, the Wha Chi-Chinese-Filipino WWII guerilla squadron and the former La insular cigar factory.

We were like a group of tourists hopping from one place to another wandering around like kids in the city’s Chinatown, the heartland of the Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino) community identity, Manila’s most vibrant colorful and food-obsessed historic quarter.

It was a tiring walk even if we are just meters apart from our first stop. I felt like I already lost pounds. But when Anson led us to our next stop, my fatigue faded away after I tasted the best fresh lumpia at the Po-Heng Lumpia house.

For only P50, their freshly rolled Hokkien-style lumpia was served in a lovely courtyard setting the best lumpia I ever tasted.

Our next stop was the Ongpin Street at the heart of Chinatown. Its kilometer-long stretch is lined with churches, temples, restaurants, food stalls, jewelry stores and other shops that made me feel like I’m in China for a while.

The food was so Chinese that we even learned to use chopsticks.

Next we toured Carvajal Street which has the atmospheric Tsinoy wet market alley where we saw delicious delicacies such as sea cucumber, black chicken and many more that we don’t usually see in our market.

Our last stop was the Ing Bee Tin hopia factory which was said to be the most famous hopia in Binondo and even perhaps in the whole Manila.

After we tasted a bite of the hopia, all of us cared to buy our hopia as pasalubong.

Though it was so tiring, our trip to Chinatown was indeed a remarkable learning urban adventure, a cultural loop of a culinary journey and plain exercise for our body and soul. Learning a little of the Chinese’s life is worth a try. There’s no need to go to China.

A walk along Binondo is just like you are also in China.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 06, 2012.

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