Ramblings about food, cooking, recipes, travels, history and walking around Manila.
While posting photos of food I have been experimenting on, I received a message that I was one of the two bloggers picked to join a food tour. I was given details of the tour headed by Mr. Rence Chan (a fellow member from the Binondo Heritage Group- who I haven’t met… yet) From the message thread, I found out the tour was for a group of CCA (Center for Culinary Arts) students and a celebrity chef, Trisha Ocampo. Yes, I was excited… I love people who can cook.
It all started as a Jesuit mission where Governor-General Alonso Fajardo founded the Colegio de san Ildefonso, on the present site of the church in the 1720’s. This developed into a parish and borough of the Santa Cruz which the Jesuits managed until their expulsion in 1768. The Nuestra Senora del Pilar is enshrined in the 17th century church.
Santa Cruz Church is surrounded by three open spaces:
1) Plaza Santa Cruz that has the 19th century Carriedo Fountain that serve as the plaza’s centerpiece. The fountain is the legacy of Don Francisco Carriedo y Perredo who left in his will the establishment of the first waterworks system for Manila.
2) Plaza Goiti at the rear which was known as the city’s transportation network by the use of Tranvias. The plaza named after Martin de Goiti is where Monte de Piedad stood, and where Manuel Quezon worked as a clerk before the start of his political career. The plaza was later on renamed as Plaza Lacson in honor of the city’s first elected mayor, Arsenio H. Lacson (rumored to be Imee Marcos’ father).
3) Calle Escolta- across the street from the right side of the church. Home to high end stores like La Estrella del Norte, H.E Heacocks, Oceanic and Botica Boie. These places were later known as downtown Manila in the 1900s.
As we walk towards Escolta, my mind wandered off for awhile, remembering the time I was snooping inside Burke Building for my thesis way back in college. This historical strip is a time machine for me, as the group followed the pied piper, Rence. I didn’t see the current Regina Building and First United Building in color, I saw them in sepia tones inside my head.
I saw two Art Deco masterpieces from Pre-World War II days that provide a grand entrance to Calle Escolta from Plaza Santa Cruz. I could see the architectural details of these buildings, the geometric grill-works and grand staircases.
My imagination can go haywire from time to time, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about history and be a heritage advocate.
A man who bumped into me and woke me up from my stupor, my attention shifted to Rence who was ushering everyone to our first pit stop for food- New Toho Food Center in Tomas Pinpin Street.
New Toho Food Center, originally named as Toho Antigua Panciteria by five Chinese immigrant friends in 1888. The historical value of the restaurant is something to look forward to. One of the establishment’s famous patron is no other than Jose Rizal. During the American Regime, even after the declaration of the Philippine Independence, Toho Antigua was one of the notable Chinese restaurants along Tomas Pinpin, the other two being San Jacinto and Rice Bowl.
The group took photos and videos of the place and a staff who was making Lumpiang Shanghai.
The restaurant has an air conditioned dining area at the second floor. In the 60s, smoking was still permitted upstairs. Imagine a room with the smell of cigarette smoke, aroma of food and green tonic cologne- I’ll leave you with that thought.
And so, let me show you the grub…
After eating and the mandatory picture taking, we proceeded with tour and headed for our next food stop in Yuchengco Street. As we walk and burn the calories we just had, I remembered why I fell in love with Chinatown. The district of Binondo not only boasts about Chinese cuisine but also landmarks and ancient practices of cultural and historic significance, some are not even known to many.
We passed by a temple (which I wasn’t sure if it was part of the tour, but Rence brought the whole group in.
The group was instructed on what to do from lighting the incense sticks, to put them in the urn by the entrance of the temple and utter prayers. The divination blocks are wooden and crescent-like. These are used in pairs, to seek the direction of the gods for certain problems or questions (question should be answerable by yes or no).
These blocks first needs to purified by being revolved around the incense burner thrice. Each divination session should be for one problem and has to be precise/clear. The blocks are now tossed to get the answer. Answers are believed to be produced by the pattern of the jiaobei’s landing.
As the group finished their divination session, we headed for our next stop- Sincerity Restaurant.
As the kids settled down I found myself answering a few questions about cooking, I actually forgot I was with culinary students and a celebrity chef.
Some of the food ordered were the same like the kikiam, so the group can compare the difference on how these restaurants make these chinese favorites.
Since everyone was stuffed (and we’re just on our second stop…) It was time to walk to burn more calories. Next stop was Binondo Church.
The Binondo Church (Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz) was founded by the Dominicans to serve their Chinese converts to Christianity in 1596.
It is one of the oldest places of Christian worship in the Philippines, today the octagonal bell tower is all that remains of the 16th century construction (original building destroyed in 1762 during the British bombardment) since the rest of the church sustained heavy damages from WWII.
Right across the Binondo Church is Plaza Calderon dela Barca. It used to be Plaza de Binondo and prior to that, it was originally called as Plaza Carlos IV, named after the Spanish playwright. Today, it is also known as Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, after the first Filipino saint whose statue dramatically stands on the plaza with the two fountains. (too many name changes, I wish I could change my name too!) Very good place for a group photo.
The group was pretty much full from our second food stop, so Rence led the way to San Nicholas District for a little history trivia. From the plaza we crossed Juan Luna Street to San Fernando Bridge, where a condemned heritage site is located.
The Panciteria Macanista de Buen Gusto, a restaurant whose name roughly translates to “delicious chinese food from Macau”. The restaurant was mentioned by Jose Rizal in El Filibusterismo. If you still remember your El Filibusterismo in 4th year, the restaurant was mentioned in chapter 25.
We walked along Sto.Cristo to Jaboneros while Rence told the group about the few remaining 18th century structures in San Nicholas district.
Our third food stop, Ilang-Ilang Restaurant. Established in 1910, the restaurant offers Hokkien dishes and also offers catering services. They might not be well-known to people outside of Binondo, but if you live in Chinatown- you pretty much know or tried their food. The place is kept in the alley of Ilang-Ilang Street (yes, where the restaurant adapted its name).
You think the food tour is over? Think again! I was actually getting sick with all the kikiam and oyster cakes we tried, but at least the group has an idea how different the dishes were from one restaurant from another. The group was asking for dumplings, so dumplings it shall be. Once again, we walked back to Binondo church all the way to our fourth food stop, Dong Bei Dumplings.
Rence gave a disclaimer that we might need to wait outside in case the place was full due to its sitting capacity. And yes, he was right. Half of the group was able to get in while the other half waited outside.
The owner allowed the group to go upstairs to the second floor to accommodate all of us. But before the eating starts, everyone had their camera phones shooting the staff work their magic with the dumplings.
Upstairs, everyone was relieved to get out of the hot sun and enjoy the air conditioning while waiting for dumplings.
We stayed upstairs after for awhile after the pigging out we have been doing. Chit chats and selfies or groufies were in order. We still have our fifth and final food stop, but we will need to do a little bit of exercise. Otherwise, this will be a rolling tour instead of a walking tour.
The group once again followed Rence to the narrow and congested street of Ongpin. (This is a great cardio exercise, by the way) We passed by Bee Tin grocery for a few quick fix (got myself some winter melon tea and red bean curd for congee) while the others got their hands on Ting flour (to make transluscent skin dumplings), tea and other ingredients that can only be found in Ongpin.
After everyone got their stash, we resumed our walk. Passing by La Resurreccion Chocolates, known for their tablea. It used to be in Ongpin Street but later on transferred to Benavidez Street. This establishment has been open since the 1930s. The cocoa discs has been a household name.
For the our last stop, Maki Place by Manosa. What do you think we’re having? Of course, Maki. Its actually a very thick soup (that looks like almirol for laundry only dark in color) with thin slices of meat. Growing up, I head some Filipinos call Maki as “gawgaw”.
Rence joked that we should try their version of oyster cake (please… NO!). Instead, we had their version of lumpia and radish cake.
As everyone finished eating and was groaning with a full stomach, some of the CCA peeps went across the street for some hopia as “pasalubong” from Polland Hopia. It was a long and a sinful tour (gluttony my dear readers..
GLUTTONY!!!) but I enjoyed meeting new people and walking around my neighborhood.
Until next time! 🙂