Every country has its own version of Chinatown, and the Philippines is no exception. Last weekend, my friend and I went to Binondo (Manila’s Chinatown District) to satisfy our gastronomic cravings.
Plaza Ruiz in Ongpin Street became our starting point. This street is home to an array of shops that sell jewelry, traditional Chinese medicines, fruits, etc. Walking further, we also saw some Buddhist stores, acupuncture clinics and mahjong parlors. We also took time to visit the Binondo Church (also known as the Basilica Minore del San Lorenzo Ruiz), one of the oldest still-standing churches in Manila. Built in 1596, it houses the black wooden crucifix called “Cristo de Longos” which is believed to be miraculous.
But the main highlight of our short trip to Binondo was the gastronomic delight in Estero. Literally means “canal” or “creek,” Estero is located right beside a canal, hence the name. It’s just an open space area with a number of restaurants (carinderias) that serve traditional Chinese foods like congee, dimsum and dumplings, as well as exotic ones. We, as usual, ordered some frog legs (my personal favorite!), mixed vegetables, and fried tofu. For those we haven’t tried them, frog legs taste better than chicken, really! In fact, that’s the dish we always order whenever we go to Estero. You can even ask the cook to prepare it in a variety of ways depending on your preference. Frog legs can be steamed, fried, or mixed with garlic, sweet and sour or oyster sauce. Yum-yum!
Binondo is very accessible by public transportation. From Taft Avenue, ride a jeepney bound for Divisoria. The jeep goes straight to Binondo. Tell the driver to drop you off in front of Binondo Church. You can also rent a calesa for 250 pesos. Binondo is usually part of the calesa ride itinerary.