With the Chinese New Year happening tomorrow, we couldn’t just sit by and let the occasion just fly us by. Me-An used to celebrate Chinese New Year before with her family until a few years ago. Yes, she has Chinese blood, but her Filipino-Spanish beauty is more apparent. On the other hand, coming from a Filipino family, we don’t celebrate Chinese New Year at all.
I had heard a lot of good things about Binondo Chinatown as not just being the oldest Chinatown in the whole world. They are also a home to some of the most delicious Chinese cuisine dishes. Me-An currently avoids Chinese food since she used to eat Chinese frequently during her childhood and teenage years. Thanks to her undying love for me, she agreed to join me on a Binondo Food Crawl.
Thankfully, Tralulu, a digital booking platform that connects travelers around South-East Asia to quality local guides who can provide local experiences, hosts a Binondo food crawl. We opted to join them, instead of just the two of us eating since food crawls, because of the following reasons:
- Food crawls are more enjoyable when you go as a group.
- We get to eat a wide variety of dishes in one seating.
- Opportunity to have new friends before we go home.
- We get to learn more about the tsinoy (Filipino-Chinese) cultural heritage.
- Our time and financial resources are spent reasonably amidst the numerous establishments in the area.
The 5 Food Hop Stations
We first went to the narrow Carvajal dry market strip where Quik Snack is hidden in plain sight.
According to our Tralulu guide, Quik Snack was among the oldest food establishments in Binondo with the recipes being passed down from generation to generation. What was served to us were just snacks, but it was really filling.
We got to try out their KUCHAY AH, also known as Chinese chive pastry since its main ingredient is chives. Other ingredients in it include ground pork, tofu, mushrooms, and sauce. The blended ingredients were stuffed in a slightly flaky and crisp outer shell which makes us regard it as the Chinese empanada. One has the option to put hot sauce in it, but we opted not to.
It’s perfectly savory for me since the saucy filling is balanced with the crisp bread. And the chives add a delicate flavor. After eating a piece of it, we deem it as a good choice for a breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Another dish we got to try out was their FRESH LUMPIA. A popular dish to us Filipinos with its availability in some fast food chains, this one, however, is still a must-try. It’s filled up heavily with ingredients. Plus, they serve the sauce separately so it has a certain munch to it that is oh so satisfying. Drizzling the warm, sweet sauce to our heart’s content over the fresh lumpia makes it tastier.
By the way, we had observed that our Tralulu guides are well-adept to eating it since they eat it like how a burrito is eaten. Come to think of it, when you eat it that way instead of using the conventional spoon and fork, the filling won’t burst out.
Since we studied in De La Salle University whereby Wai Ying has a branch at Vito Cruz’s EGI Taft Tower, we were already well acquainted with it since we usually eat there too. Nonetheless, visiting the original branch is still a different thing.
According to our Tralulu guide, their branch in Binondo is special because the quality of food there is better compared to its other branches. I took a peek at their menu and I also found the prices to be considerably cheaper compared to their other branches.
A Chinese family’s celebration won’t be complete without the RADISH CAKE which symbolizes good omen. As Wai Ying’s radish cake is fried, it’s crispy on the outside. On the other hand, it’s inside is chewy and soft. Best to eat it with the served sweet and salty sauce.
As with any other steamed dumplings, the skin of it is slightly chewy and soft. Okay, so we made a mistake on the video. It is not the
vegetable dumpling, but it is KUCHAI DUMPLING. I can’t comment on this much since our attention was held by the other dishes.
A favorite of Me-An, ASADO CHONG FAN is a steamed rice noodle roll filled with different ingredients like beef, pork or shrimp placed on a bed of soy sauce. For this meal, the filling is indeed Asado. The rice noodle sheet is delicate and smooth that it easily gets torn out and slips from one’s chopsticks. However, the chewy tidbits of the Asado make it enjoyable to eat and one won’t notice that it’s finished immediately.
How does it taste like? The sweet salty taste is overpowered by the Chinese sweet soy sauce. I like it but since I know that Me-An loves this dish, I only ate a little.
There is no need for an introduction with the sheer popularity of this food, but, for the sake of our foreign readers, it’s SIOPAO. Wai Ying’s version is as big as my palm. Despite that it tastes good, I found it lacking in filling. We ordered too much Dimsum that I was forced to eat a lot of it.
By the way, the time we were finished eating, I felt that I won’t be able to take another bite. Good thing the distance between this restaurant and the next was pretty far off.
Sugarcane and Fried Siopao Stand
The next place we went to is not a restaurant, but they are pretty famous for their SUGARCANE JUICE since they are the first one in Binondo to sell it.
We already tried the sugar cane juice in the past. But we still both liked it. It’s refreshing and is perfect for a sunny weather. According to our guide, it’s safe to drink since it’s organic, but there will be health problems if one drinks too much of it.
Right beside it was a really huge flat frying pan where they serve some FRIED SIOPAO. It’s essentially the same siopao we know and love but this time it’s bottom is pan fried. We weren’t able to try it right away because we were so full from all of the eating we’ve done. When I was able to try it out, it did provide a more satisfying feel to every bite, but otherwise, it’s still the same siopao that I know and love.
Sincerity Café and Restaurant
Sincerity is also one of those really popular restaurants here in Binondo that serves a wide array of Chinese classic dishes. Visually, it looks like a really old restaurant. I found it to be more compelling to eat at because I believe that those restaurants who were able to undergo the test of time to offer really good dishes.
We were only able to try two dishes with the more notable one is their Fried Oyster Cake. From what I’ve heard from Me-An, this is her dad’s favorite dish. He liked it so much in fact that he would bring one home as much as possible. I initially mistook it for Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza) because it looks so much alike from the outside in my opinion. When you cut it open, though, it’s a totally different story.
The fried Oyster cake is made mostly from egg and oyster that was deep-fried in with tapioca starch. If you like seafood or stringy food in general, this is your thing. I liked it because it has a lot oysters in it and we really love seafood. I just have to note that I noticed a taste of fried fish on the outside. It’s most probable that they reused their cooking oil far too much which I didn’t like. Otherwise, this is a good dish for groups of people.
Next, we had the LOMI which was really saucy and flavorful, but not the best I had so far.
Ending things on a sweet note, we went to Café Mezzanine. This is actually a cafe owned by Eng Bee Tin, a really popular Chinese deli here in the Philippines.
Café Mezzanine was built in order to support Binondo’s privately owned firefighting company. According to our guide, in the past, there were a lot of fire accidents that occurred all over Binondo and none of the government’s firefighters were able to address these issues. Now when you enter the cafe, you will see all of these firefighting gear like helmets, axes, and the fire extinguishing equipment. On their walls are pictures of the fires that broke out in that the government wasn’t able to respond to. The cafe has a cool jazz feel to it.
I’ve noticed that most foreigners tend to eat here because the proceeds go to the firefighting expenses. Here we went to try out two of their sweet treats, one of which, I really fell in love with.
The Chinese New Year won’t also be complete without the tangyuan (or peanut ball soup as I call it). It’s actually glutinous rice with sweet peanut filling swimming inside a bowl filled with soup that tastes like nothing. Now, I’m not really a fan of peanut, but I don’t particularly hate it as well. I like it because it’s sweet but not too sweet that it overpowers the nutty flavor.
If the peanut ball soup is so-so for me, their LAVA PAO is what I consider one of the best Chinese desserts I’ve tried to date. It looks like an ordinary Siopao from the outside, but the inside was replaced with sweetened egg yolk that oozes out when you cut it in half. It’s sweet like the Peanut ball soup, but the egg yolk is a better companion to it in, my opinion, which complements well with the sweetness of it. I fell in love with it so much that I even bought home some frozen ones for my family to try.
Besides the numerous restaurants that you can find each and every corner of Binondo, it’s also a home to a lot of other historic places like the first cinema. Overall, I really liked this food crawl as it’s the best I’ve been to in a while. All of the restaurants that we’ve tried offer compelling reasons why it’s popular not only to Filipinos but also to foreigners.
I also think that Tralulu‘s service is really reasonable. For PHP 750 (or 15.04 USD) each person which you can also check at meetup.com, we were taken to at least 4-5 food hop stations. Plus, we learned the historical significance of some of the buildings in Binondo and some of the marketplace offerings. The local guides are knowledgeable and friendly too. They accommodate questions with ease. If you opt for a Tralulu experience too, you just have to note that if you go on a food crawl on Chinese New Year, the food hop stations to be visited will be less because of the long lines and thick crowds.