I had just landed in Manila and was curious about everything: the people, the cuisine, the architecture, the history, the vibe of the city, about all of it! So when my friend (and private local city-guide) Koryn suggested to me the eat-your-way-tour in the historic part of the city, I was excited to go! The big Binondo food walk in Manila had on the program only one item: some 3.5 hours nibbling through… Chinatown.
There was always a significant number of Chinese migrants in the Philippines. Eventually, their population grew hence making the Chinese-Filipino community in the Philippines one of the largest Chinese communities overseas in Southeast Asia. Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world (outside of China), which was settled by the Spaniards in 1594. It is, nowadays, the centre of commerce and trade in Manila where the Chinese-Filipino business thrives. Our guide, as a real Tsinoy, Chinese Filipino, could not be better suited for this job (the word Tsinoy comes from Tsino+Pinoy, Tsino for Filipino in Chinese and Pinoy as a local term for Filipino people). One could feel his passion about good food and the enjoyment to explain the food and the story of each restaurant. Some places looked a little dingy on the outside and some are located in very old buildings, but the dishes were all really yummy, freshly prepared, and scrumptious. In one restaurant the owner even sat with our group and told us about the preparation of the dishes, his renovation plans, and took picture of all.
So during the food walk we literally ate our way through different parts of China: we had wonton-soup, dim-sum, noodles, tofu-cakes, and tons of other treats. While moving from one restaurant to another we were also travelling in tiny passages and crossing busy streets. Every-day-life scenes were all around us, the most common being street vendors and stands with fruits, veggies, and other food ingredients. Fresh pomelos were being peeled and packed for the busy passengers. Different seafood (from several kinds of fish through squid, and up to dried shrimps) could also be seen often, no wonder: the Philippines consist of 7107 islands! And last but not least the red eggs, called itlog na pula/itlog na maalat (salted eggs), are a local culinary specialty. These are usually duck eggs marked with red colouring to indicate that they have gone through the following 3-step-preparation process: boiling, soaking in salt, and then buried in soil for few days or boiled and left in salted water for up to three weeks. The final result is served with fresh tomatoes and vinegar and has a very pleasant but fermented, salty flavour.
While exploring Binondo we also had a look at a Chinese drug store, where we saw some dried lizards and other unusual medicines before finalising the walk in the sugar-desserts heaven shop. One for sure can’t help but notice the big sweet tooth of the people in the Philippines. Most of the dishes (even the savoury ones) are with added sugar and the choice of dessert and sweets (mostly dough-liked cakes) is simply mind-blowing. The Filipinos even enjoy avocados topped with sugar!