We were warned: don’t eat breakfast before your Big Binondo Food Walk.
Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino people) love to eat and on this cultural food quest around Manila’s Chinatown, you’ll partake in a moving degustation of several small delicious meals. Over three hours, this food walk takes the stamina and curiosity of a seasoned foodie.
We meet our guide Anson Yu at Minor Basilica of St Lorenzo Ruiz, (more commonly known as Binondo Church), one of Manila’s oldest and most beautiful churches.
From two foodies to another, we can quickly tell Anson knows his stuff, and not only about the local eats, but also about the unique history of Manila’s Chinatown and how the Filipino and Chinese cultures have become intertwined.
A gifted story-teller, Anson cleverly weaves his detailed knowledge about food and culture into the tour.
We start out with a quick visit to the roof deck of the Ramada Manila Central hotel, where Anson points out landmarks of Binondo from a birds-eye view. But enough gazing it's time for grazing, and luckily stop one is just around the corner.
We enter though the dimly lit corridor of the Uy Su Bin Building to find the unassuming Po Heng Lumpia House, a family-run restaurant tucked away in the courtyard of an apartment building.
The Chinese-Filipinos have perfected the breakfast burrito in the lumpia. Light, fresh rice-paper roll-like wraps are filled with veggies, tofu and ground peanuts, and served with lashings of sweet garlicky sauce (and hot sauce if you like an extra kick).
If you’re feeling ambitious, have two, because you’ll be longing for another in no time.
Po Heng Lumpia Center - 531 Quintin Paredes St. Binondo Manila
In the front window of Dong Bei Dumplings, the hole-in-the-wall eatery sits a small group of Chinese ladies carefully making dumplings by hand.
We start with a fried savoury Chinese pancake filled with pork and chives. Then comes an obscene amount of steamed doughy dumpling goodness which we drizzle over lashings of soy and black vinegar.
The folk at Dong Bei keep it simple with chive and pork or shrimp fillings, focusing on quality ingredients and the art of making. If you’ve got room, try Dong Bei's Xiao Long Bao with its soupy filling surprise.
Dong Bei Dumplings - 642 Yuchengco St. Binondo, Manila
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3. Tokwa ni Amah Pilar
After wandering through a fresh food alleyway market and checking out the colourful fruits and exotic produce, we find ourselves sitting down yet again to a shared meal at Quick Snack.
The restaurant – also known as Amah’s Kitchen – is the namesake of Amah Pilar, who first opened the restaurant in the 1960s. Amah (born in 1909) lived to over 100, surely testament to her heart-warming food.
Here we sample decades-old Malay-Chinese inspired dishes, including ‘tokwa ni Amah Pilar’, a fried tofu dish with loads of soy, sambal and fresh coriander.
Quik Snack - 637-639 Carvajal St. Binondo, Manila
4. Pork Asado
We’re lucky to get in early for some just-roasted pork asado at Toho Food Center, the Oldest Chinese Restaurant in Manila.
Established in 1866, many famous faces have dined here including four Philippine presidents. But today what keeps people coming back to its humble dated decor is the much-loved dishes.
The proof is in the pork; cooked daily without artificial colours, it’s insanely tender and perfectly sticky sweet, served drenched in calamansi juice and soy. Visit early as the pork sells out by early afternoon.
Panciteria Toho Antigua - 422 Tomas Pinpin St. Binondo, Manila
With just enough room for a sweet treat, we get ‘Hopia Ube’ and eat it on the spot.
This curious treat comes served frozen and the only other dessert we could liken it to would be a frozen custard tart crossed with mochi. Whatever it is, it has just the right texture and it totally works.
You can also pick up non-frozen sweet cake varieties to take home.
Eng Bee Tin Bakery - 650 Ongpin St. Binondo Manila
The writer travelled as a guest of Philippine Airlines and TPBGOVPH.