Thinking about what you can do differently with your family or with the gang this weekend? How about taking a trip to the “oldest Chinatown ever built outside of China? It’s right here at the heart of Manila — Binondo.
Binondo holds a special place in my heart. While everybody wanted a piece of Ortigas and Makati, Binondo is where I landed my first job. I put together training modules for one of the banks in the area, received a lame paycheck for doing that but, my cravings and tummy were satisfied all the time. Simple life — those were the days, indeed!
How To Tour Binondo
My everyday Binondo life happened some two decades ago but, I keep coming back for the good memories but, most of all, for the good food and the cheap buys. Here’s how you can most out of a Saturday or Sunday trip to Binondo.
First Stop: Sincerity Restaurant
Drive to Sincerity on Yuchenco St. about 10 or 10:30 am. There’s a good chance you can get parked in the vicinity on weekends. The place gets packed easily around lunch hours and you want to be done with yours before everybody else comes in. Tour groups also frequently book the place so expect the place to be cramped.
What to order: Don’t miss the Sincerity Fried Chicken, half (Php 160) will be good for 2 adults while a full order (Php 320) will be good for 4. It’s fried chicken like you’ve never tasted one before. The chicken is spiced with ginger, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside. Ask for a kikiam sauce to dip in your chicken. Best enjoyed with bare hands. Always order the Sincerity Fried Rice to go with it. It will have tasty chinese sausage and eggs in it. Order extra. Make it Kikiam (Php 55) and Oyster Omelet (small at Php 240, big at Php 300).
Second Stop: Binondo Church
Walk to Ongpin towards the park to reach the church. The original facade of the church was built in the 1500s. Successive foreign invasions brought down the structure several times. This is also the church where San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint, was said to have trained as a missionary.
Although only the Bell Tower remains from the church’s original construction, being inside the church gives you some sense of history of the Binondo that was. It’s always good to find time to praise and reflect.
Third Stop: Marketing at Ongpin
From Binondo Church, walk towards Ongpin or Carvajal (which is a few steps away though several stores on this side street are not open on weekends). Go ahead and cross that bridge. Lines of jewelry shops and Chinese pharmacy will be on the side buildings as vendors park their carts on the side streets.
Help yourself to the best and finest quality of fresh vegetables and fruits. The only limitation really is how much weight you can bear. Last time I was here in February, a week after the Chinese New Year, I got 3 flowers (1 small, 2 big) of broccoli for Php 100. Help yourself to fruits in season too.
Fourth Stop: More Pasalubong Shopping
Walk back towards the church, you’ll find a grocery store there where you can buy dried meat (pork jerky) per gram, similar to the Bee Heng Chiang you love to pack when you’re coming in from Singapore. Across the street, make a stop at Café Mezzanine for a cup of coffee, and maybe fill up again with snacks. This café is run by the firemen of Binondo.
Just beside it is Eng Bee Tin where you can get your hopia, siopao, siomai, and tikoy to take home. I personally find Eng Bee Tin hopia too sweet though so, I head over to Holland which is nearer Sincerity Restaurant or, to Polland along Quentin Paredes St. instead. We also like buying our Oolong Tea here which we find good for enhancing digestion following a heavy meal.
Fifth and Sixth Stops: Lucky Chinatown Mall and 168
You can’t leave Binondo just yet! It’s time for thrift shopping! If you drove to Binondo, it’s time to claim your car and drive to Lucky Chinatown Mall. You’ll find several shops here both similar and unique from your ordinary SM or Ayala Mall. Ask where the bargain shops are and you can start from there.
If you don’t mind braving huge crowds, walk to the back of Lucky Chinatown Mall towards 168. It’s a building full of everything from toys to clothes to housewares sold at retail and wholesale prices. You’ll find something for everyone here.
When you’re tired shopping, take a break. I recommend Ho Bing near the bridge way inside Lucky Chinatown Mall which serves refreshing Korean deserts that are the equivalent of our local halo-halo. Don’t get 1 order for everyone. Share because the servings are huge! I’d say 1 order is good for up to 3 adults. Recommended orders: Caramel Coffee which comes with jellies, Mango Cheese, and Strawberry. This store is not unique to Binondo but, it’s a good way to refresh before you drive home because, chances are, you won’t be craving for hot coffee after sweating it out shopping.
You should also try jewelry shopping along Ongpin. Walk the entire street which should end you in Plaza Sta. Cruz (LRT-Carriedo Station). Visit the Sta. Cruz Church, the original structure of which was first built in the 17th century. I’m not sure if there is any part of the church that remains from the original structure though.
From there, you can walk back to Binondo by taking Escolta — the original Central Business District of Manila — one of the most historic places in Manila where the first local Chinese businesses trace their roots, where several scenes from local classic films were shot, and one of the first few theaters and cinemas in the country were built. It also used to be known for its posh shops and shoe stores. You’ll find several buildings originally constructed at the turn of the century still standing, including Regina Building and Roman R. Santos.