Ramblings about food, cooking, recipes, travels, history and walking around Manila.
I know it has been a long time since my last post. I’ve been busy lately and the only free time I had was just enough for my kids. This entry was supposed to be published October of this year, well… better late than never.
My pal Mark Baldonaza accompanied me to Quiapo right after we visited a shop in Metrowalk last October 15 2011. Our other friend, Charles Labordo had to pass since he was meeting his wife and son that afternoon. I was looking underneath a pile of clothes in a clearance mall for my kid’s costume when Choi Tan, one of our peeps followed to see what Quiapo has to offer.
I’m not going to start babbling about what we saw there since I’m doing a separate article about the “Old Downtown Manila” before and after World War II on my wordpress blog. I want to focus on the food finds in Quiapo… After all, this is a food blog. But I just can’t stop myself from featuring some pictures taken by me and Mark (raw and unedited photos).
What comes into mind when we say Quiapo? (Err… aside from pirated CDs and porn…) It’s The Basilica Minore Del Nuestro Senior Del Nazareno also famously known as Quiapo Church … home to the miraculous 400-year-old Black Nazarene in which millions of devotees flock for its feast day every January.
You may say that we had the guts to bring out our cameras in Quiapo to take photos. Well, with Ryan with us Mark and I both feel safer from the snatchers and pick pockets. Just look at his tattoos and facial expression! (peace man!)
We clearly enjoyed taking pictures here… wait until you see the succeeding photos of Choi…
There were a lot of things for sale at rock bottom prices in Quiapo. It seems that everything is for sale… from clothes, food, goldfish, jewelry, electronics, herbal concoctions, flowers, candles… some are even selling their soul as they sell things they shouldn’t. (I’m saving these for the wordpress blog when I publish the full article about Quiapo)
As the sun sets, so did our stamina for walking. So, we didn’t really need to coax each other to get some grub. Since I know the place, I led the way.
If you’re looking for ambiance, I suggest you go to a different establishment or go to their Banawe branch instead. They don’t have available parking spaces for customers and yet customers still flock the place. Upon entering the place, you’ll see the same furnishings they used when they opened sometime in 1950. (Yeah… 1950)
For some of the people out there who aren’t familiar with Ma Mon Luk, he’s the “godfather” of noodles in the Philippines, particularly the noodle soup (which we now call “mami”) don’t get me wrong, noodles like pancit have been introduced by Chinese before. But Ma Mon Luk established a certain kind of noodle soup that was made from egg noodles that became his legacy.
According to gossips, Ma Mon Luk was a grade-school teacher from Canton who migrated to the Philippines in 1918, to break and fulfill his lifetime’s worth of being merely who he was. He was financially poor, earning less than what he needed for survival. Getting the break he needed meant gambling his fate. He needed to fulfill his dream of marrying the only girl he was destined to be with for the rest of his life. With his teaching profession, he didn’t earn much. Reason enough why his rich girlfriend’s parents disapproved of him to be their daughter’s husband.
So, in 1918, the determined man (Ma Mon Luk) finally decided to quit his job and traveled to the Philippines to earn money, and be able to prove that he was worthy of the woman he loved and allow them to get married.
Upon reaching Philippine soil, he has no work and no money. But the culture and knowledge stuffed in his brain was definitely intact. The Mami (famously known in the Philippines as noodles), which means “Ma”, his last name and “mi” that means “noodles” in Chinese was perfected at that time. He then started peddling his product in the squalid streets of the old Barrio De Paloma (overground Binondo) without hesitation and full spirit. He positioned under shadow stains of art deco ground houses of Gandara (one of Manila’s shoe-stores’ lane), located in Binondo, Ongpin and other districts like Santa Cruz and Quiapo. He also stationed himself at the foot of the bridge of Puente Espana, a strategic success-program where he coursed through for the rest of his struggling days.
As daily routine, manned by his determination to marry the girl he left back in China, he endlessly carry two large containers of his goods, with moving will. Slung on a wooden stick, both containers were hard on his shoulders, one with noodles and strips of boiled chicken, and the other containing the blistering broth that need be kept, hot under live coals.
Around his waist were scissors that dangle par, each other. The scissors, he used, to cut noodles and chicken meat. Whenever he walked, the scissors, which he used instead of a knife, jangled at his waist. That was how people knew when the “gupit” vendor was passing by. And soon, Ma Mon Luk became a familiar face. Imagine your friendly mag-tataho who passes by your house at 8am or ice cream vendor who rings his bell at 3pm.
The chicken was cut with scissors and so were the noodles. He held the noodles up high with his left hand and cut what one ordered into a bowl, 5 centavos if one was broke, 30 centavos for a gargantuan appetite. If he liked the customer, he cut the noodles a bit higher.
The students of Ateneo came after their classes, sitting on the large pipe at the Binondo Bridge to eat hot mami (Ateneo Municipal used to be in Intramuros before it was transferred to Quezon City). Eventually, the Letran Boys discovered Ma Mon Luk too. He sat with the boys and told them stories of the hard life in China.
Eventually a fan of gupit took pity on its inventor and let him rent a space on T. Ongpin at a cheap price to use as his kitchen.
Ma Mon Luk, though, still had to peddle his Mami on the street. An interim Chinatown 2nd floor walk-up with only 2 tables was later occupied by him. Everybody came to the 1st Ma Mon Luk restaurant on Salazar St. In Chinatown.
It was of the greasy-spoon, thumb-in-the-soup type and it served nothing but mami, siopao and siomai. The secret ingredient was Ma Mon Luk himself.
He worked to popularize his restaurant and became a walking one-man PR agency. He knocked on doors of strange houses to give bags of siopao for the surprised and delighted family to try. (think of an Electrolux man without the tie and vacuum cleaner) There he was, a man determined to leave his imprint in history. For his famous mami, however they had to go to Salazar Street in Binondo.
In 1948, Ma Mon Luk was able to open a branch on Ascaraga, an establishment that moved in 1950 to Quezon Boulevard, near Life Theater.
In Quezon Boulevard Ma Mon Luk was selling an average of 1,000 mami and 1,000 siopao a day. IN prosperity Ma Mon Luk was dressed in a felt hat, de hilo Americana cum vest and glittering gold watch chain across his chest. It hid the fact that his left shoulder was lower than his right, a result of supporting the pinga (carrying pole) in the hard beginning days of his youth. Tango shoes hid his feet calloused from a once-daily routine of walking over the bridge to the ice plant to save 5 centavos on caritela fare.
I have no idea if he was able to marry the girl back in China, but he did had a family here who inherited his famous restaurant by the time he died on September 1, 1961, at age 65, of throat cancer. He was able to open more branches but only 2 are left (Quiapo and Banawe branch).
It was quite a story. Hard work and perseverance backed by love. Secret weapon to success… chicken mami peddled in the streets. A perfect sonata…
Since I’ve told the story of Ma Mon Luk, let me show you his famous chicken mami, siopao and siomai!
The Binondo branch in Salazar Street where the very first Ma Mon Luk was established is no longer there. But I would definitely go back and bring expats in Quiapo to savor the old downtown feel plus the humble goodness of the original chicken mami.
Ma Mon Luk
545 Quezon Blvd., Quiapo
Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines
Open everyday from 8:30am to 10pm