Old Manila swagger

BINONDO is just one of those places I won’t ever get tired of visiting each year. There is no suya factor whatsoever, even if I take my friends to Wai Ying for lunch (hakaw and nai cha for me) every single time I am there.

The chaotic and slightly crowded streets of Ongpin are perfect for sharpening my still amateur street photography skills. Pair that with the revival of former entertainment district, Escolta, and its art deco architecture and you have a day full of history, art, and food appreciation.

It used to be Manila’s central commercial district during its heyday. Referred to as the world’s first and oldest Chinatown, Binondo has matured quite nicely through the decades. Though the streets have collected dust and grime over time, most of the sidewalks have been maintained properly by the locals. There is an abundance of red and touches of green in every angle. While fruit stands add pops of color to the hood’s grey areas.

But let’s not forget the main reason most local tourists step foot inside the lion-guarded gates: the food.

From fresh fruits to frog legs and fried siopao, there’s also plenty of dim sum and duck to go around. Recently, I had the time to accompany my office friends in old Manila for a “photowalk”—a term we used to disguise our true intentions of filling up our stomachs. Kicking off the morning, we had breakfast at Quik Snack.

While sharing a bowl of Lomi with Nyker King (a good friend at work who lives near Chinatown), I also had a plate of Lumpia Quitos, and a tall glass of Iced Coffee. In between, I had forkfuls from other people’s plates, almost finishing half of Leslie’s Miki Bihon Guisado and leftovers from someone else’s Fried Lumpia. It was a typical Filipino group salo-salo where everyone got to taste each other’s dishes.

Also, note to self: Why have I been sticking to the same Wai Ying-Dong Bei duo for several years when clearly there are still plenty of great options around town? Quik Snack was a big check for me.

From the colorful Carvajal Street, we headed to Escolta on foot.

It was a Saturday, which meant the two museums I’ve always wanted to check out, The Calvo Museum and First United Community Museum, were open to visitors each for P50 per head. On Sundays, much like the entire stretch of Carvajal, most of the establishments in Escolta are closed. It was the perfect opportunity to drag everyone else in the group inside whether they liked history and old paraphernalia or not.

The first contained several collections of vintage bottles, movie posters, and a chance to ride an old but operational manual OTIS elevator, which was the highlight of our time at Calvo Building.

The latter is a museum that showcased memorabilia from the life and times of Sy Lian Teng, the man who shaped the old business district. Also housed within the First United Building are HUB: Make Lab, The Den, Fred’s Revolucion, and FIRST Coworking Community, which at the time hosted The Library of Unread Books—a 10-year-long exhibition that is set to pop up in many institutions across the globe.

After getting our much needed coffee fix at The Den, the group decided to get lunch at Wai Ying—one of the most popular restaurants in the district known for serving authentic Chinese dishes. And for good reason. Remember the ducks and dim sum that I mentioned earlier? They are all here. This small two-storey space is always packed with hungry mouths and we were just lucky enough to get a table for 9 after five to ten minutes of waiting.

Maybe the confusion came with our hunger, but the party ended up ordering too much food. I had two bamboo steamers of hakaw all to myself, a quarter of roasted soy chicken, two cups of rice, a glass of nai cha, another glass of lemon coke, and donations from other people’s plates, as usual.

I figured the reason this restaurant has cold, blue walls is to minimize people’s appetites. Heh.

After the unplanned feast, most of us were already too bloated to continue our plan for the rest of the afternoon. Secretly, each has probably decided on calling it a day with hopes of still making it home in time for siesta.

Even though I’ve walked on these streets as much as I have tasted the same hand-made kuchay dumplings and hakaw, you will probably find me doing the same thing again soon. I love going back to this place. It has its core charm while still continuously evolving. Hopefully, next time I’m here I’ll be waiting for a plate of dim sum somewhere other than Wai Ying (Ying Ying, I’m looking right at you).

Besides, there’s still plenty to explore. From Fred’s, and the jewelry shops I’m used to passing by, to those Chinese temples which I have yet to see, and maybe another attempt to taste that infamous Soup No. 5.

Published by Rob Bautista

A little socially awkward and always a late bloomer, I prefer spending my weekends getting high on top of a mountain peak, soaking my feet into saltwater, savoring the best flavors of local food, getting lost within the inner streets of historical cities, and documenting everything in photographs. But most of the time I chill inside cozy coffee shops or laze on my bed.

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