Binondo is popular for authentic Chinese cuisines that are not just inexpensive but also delectable. A trip to this food hub is a gastronomic experience that surely brings out the voluptuous kid in all of us.
I had been on a Binondo food walk four times last year, with three of these visits happening just days apart from one another. You can tell I couldn’t get enough of the gastronomic wealth that abounds in Binondo. So when my college friends C and F invited me last Saturday to sample some of Binondo’s famous offerings, I couldn’t say no even when I am cash-strapped these days.
But really, I was excited to go on this food adventure because it had been a while since I had last seen C and F. And boy, we did a lot of catching up that stretched from 11 am until 9 pm!
The timing was actually perfect. C, the Binondo veteran among us (she was also with me in Binondo last year), just passed the Nursing Licensure Exam while F is finally home after years of working in Singapore. I, on the other hand, is preparing for the dreaded 3-0, which says a lot about my life these days. 🙂
So in between bites, and in a fashion that could certainly land us an appearance in a Wong Kar-wai masterpiece, we talked about aging, settling down, financial independence, failing, starting again, pursuing the things that we truly enjoy in this lifetime, and yes, keeping this friendship.
SCENE 1. INT. DAVID’S TEA HOUSE. TOMAS MAPUA ST. 11:00 AM.
It was raining hard outside but the gloomy atmosphere could not dampen F’s sunshiny vibe. It’s like she has experienced a rebirth. After years of working for a company abroad that does not just pay the bill but also secures the future, she is back in Manila and she is happy she made that move.
While other diners were having lunch, we were drowning ourselves with the restaurant’s famous, inexpensive Soya Milk that one can have for just PhP11. From Binondo Church, we were supposed to have lunch in Ambos Mundos along Florentino St., but C wanted to have her soya milk first. F was surprised her PhP11 can taste this good, C lamented the drink used to be just PhP10. This should be just a quick stop but it rained suddenly.
F, however, did not mind the delay, perhaps enjoying a life that is not rigid and on the dot. She has surrendered all her fears to Him, starting anew shouldn’t be a problem. I was listening intently and really admiring this brave person beside me.
SCENE 2. INT. AMBOS MUNDOS. FLORENTINO ST. 12:30 PM.
It’s hard when you lose it. Passion, I surmise, is what fires one’s existence in this universe. When you suddenly lose it, it can drive you mad. While F boldly welcomes change into her life, I have a hard time dealing with it. It is not like I don’t want to try to change because I don’t want to fail, but after carefully deconstructing the kind of life I have now, I realized there is truth in my friends’ words – Baguio has become my comfort zone.
Ironically, we were talking about changing and growing-up in a place that refuses to let go of its old-world charm. While almost all of the establishments that surround Ambos Mundos have probably gone some refurbishing already, this restaurant is able to stand the test of time. Since 1888, nothing much has changed in the operation of Ambos Mundos. One can tell that just by touching their tables or looking at the old plate where the pitcher is placed.
Our group was waiting for what I believe is the best paella bar-none in the country to be served on our table. When I first had a taste of its Paella y Ambos (PhP609, good for 2-3 persons) in 2011, I knew I had to come back for it. While I will be the first to admit that this isn’t really a good choice for someone like me who battles hypertension, the rich interplay of texture and flavor in this dish is hard to resist. There is a variety of flavor that comes from the chicken, pork meat, shrimp, egg, and crab, yet, its taste is cohesive.
We also tried their Lumpiang Ubod (PhP150) which was, surprisingly, really appetizing. The peanut sauce was a little bit sweet but C discovered that mixing the minced garlic with the sauce adds an interesting contrast to its sweetness. Plus, its extra filling of shrimp and peas made this lumpia truly delicious.
SCENE 3. INT. DAVID’S TEA HOUSE. TOMAS MAPUA ST. 2:30 PM.
Like a gourmand, C carefully chooses her words when she describes the food around her. Tasty is unacceptable, it should be heavenly. And instead of just saying it smells good, she says “You can smell it six feet from afar, it’s that good.” C would often elicit laughter from us when she does this, but you cannot stop her.
Actually, no one can stop her life from going full-throttle these days. The possibilities surrounding her are just endless and exciting. Marriage is just around the corner, she will soon start work as a nurse, and Orange County’s call is just undeniable. Oh, her eyes spark when she talks about these things.
There’s a certain kick in her voice, much like the food that we ordered from David’s Tea House. We were back at the restaurant because C was craving for its Taro Puff (PhP70), which she said was so smooth it melted in her mouth. While she was correct about the taro filling, I found the egg coating to be a little bit rough to the taste, which made this food exciting. F ordered Botchi (PhP70), her favorite, and because I am not really a fan of this one, I couldn’t relate when they talked how David’s Tea House’s version of it has an extra spiciness to it.
SCENE 4. INT. DONG BEI DUMPLINGS. YUCHENGCO ST. 4:00 PM.
Riveting little secrets. Everybody has one. It takes a great deal of maturity to fully let go of these secrets that have hounded us for years. We need to do it, it’s key to self-actualization. And we need to forgive and be kind to ourselves.
I don’t know if the chives dumplings (PhP100/14 pcs) and chao long baos (PhP60/4pcs) that we ordered were the best food for this moment, but this hole-in-the-wall’s melt-in-your-mouth dumplings (which C discovered is best eaten with a black vinegar) were so good it probably made us want to forget our life’s worries.
After all, this humble food is simple and you eat them with no pretension.
Certainly, the cramped space of Dong Bei Dumplings was not the perfect setting for this kind of conversation. But this is what makes hole-in-the-wall finds all the more exciting. It is two times removed from our gastronomic reality. While staff members prepared the dumplings in one area and customers have quickly came and gone, there we were, stuck in that little corner, letting go of our littlest secrets that should not be talked about in public.
But this is Binondo, where no one probably cares about us washing our dirty linens in public – tearjerker narratives that easily rival any soap opera out there that has earned gold out of switching babies while the best friend look from afar in silence. I am sure you cannot do that in high-end restaurants while you bite on that famous foie gras dish.
The chives dumplings which were served on our table smokin’ hot were the real winner here. The chao long bao appeared to be bland, especially when compared with the ones from Lugang Cafe and Jade’s in Greenhills.
SCENE 5. INT. NEW PO-HENG LUMPIA HOUSE. QUINTIN PAREDES ST. 5:30 PM.
The hardest part about it is that I cannot demand. I cannot expect. With concern in her voice, F told me I don’t deserve that kind of feeling especially at this stage. But she knows there’s nothing that she can do about it. After all, weeks from now I will be thirty, and if there’s someone in our group who should know how to be kind to his heart, it’s me.
It was maybe the love life talk that made our New Po-Heng Lumpia to taste dull and unexciting, as no one in our group made an effort to commend how our lumpias tasted. At one point, I saw F dipping it in soy sauce, the lumpia must have really tasted bland. Or maybe we were just already full from too much eating that day that our taste buds had ceased to do what’s expected of them.
But the last time I was here, everybody in our group raved about this lumpia even when were already full from too much eating as well. But I also remember that we didn’t have that love life talk when we ordered these. Oh, well.
To compensate for the food’s dullness, we talked about our blockmates instead and everything went fine again. We ended our happy reminiscing with hopes of happily mounting a block reunion next year. I really hope it materializes. 😀
SCENE 6. INT. PRESIDENT TEA HOUSE. ONGPIN ST. 7:00 PM.
At the end of the day, you realize there is so much to be grateful about this life. So you celebrate. Even when this life asks you to abandon your comfort zones, start life anew somewhere else, learn from your financial troubles, and pursue your life’s passions and desires. Even when there’s no word to explain the landslide that goes with “aging,” you celebrate friendship because it’s your strength.
The President Tea House was a fitting finale to our day long food adventure, probably indicating that we’re ready to take on the bigger world waiting for us after some time spent on the side track. The Duck Three Ways (PhP950) was a little pricier for me (I am grateful to F for recognizing that I am a “basic payer” – I was actually a freeloader the entire day! :)), but C just passed the NLE and we learned she has a stash of secret fund for her disposal (kidding!), so she took care of this one.
This meal was also a winner. This duck meal is prepared three ways, hence the name. The first meal that was served to us was this skin wrap. The skin, which we ate in a flour wrap and dipped in hoisin sauce, was crispy and smooth at the same time.
I don’t know what they did with the duck meat but it was really delicious. When I first saw this dish, I thought it would taste brackish, but once wrapped in lettuce, it had that ambrosial taste that was easy on the tongue. Of the three dishes, I liked this one the most.
Then we had a soup dish that had tofu. I am a sucker for tofu dishes, so I liked this one as well. I just thought though that the soup was a little salty and there was a different flavor to it. Must be the duck bones.
After our dinner, we went around Binondo to buy some pasalubong for F’s family. We went to Benavidez to buy hakaw and just when we were thinking that we could not get that soup with innards that F wanted to bring home, we accidentally stumbled upon a nondescript restaurant that has it. Talking about how the universe conspires to grant our desires. 🙂
This Binondo food trip, like all the other food walks before this, will be long-remembered not just because of the luscious food that we ate, but more so because of the interesting tales that we shared. I really needed all of it! Thank you C and F! I know we will be back in Binondo sooner than expected and we will definitely have more stories to tell! 🙂
So, when are you raiding this foodie’s playground? Let me know about your Binondo luscious tales soon!
Love and light, everyone. Go, juanderlust! 🙂
- Except for the collage, all photographs taken in August 2012 with a Canon 550d.