Binondo: Oldie But A Goodie

29 September 2012


Every major city in the world has a Chinatown and according to Cable News Network's travel website, CNNGo, Manila's Binondo is one of the best.

Joining Binondo in the website's 'World's Best Chinatowns' list by Simon Ostheimer (http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/escape/worlds-best-chinatowns-324704) are Chinatowns in Havana, Cuba; Kolkata, India; Bangkok, Thailand; Johannesburg, South Africa; Melbourne, Australia; Vancouver, Canada; San Francisco, United State; and London, England.

But not only is Binondo one of the most scenic Chinatowns, it's also the oldest. Established in the 1590s, the Spanish created this enclave in Manila as a settlement for Catholic Chinese. Located across the river from the walled city of Intramuros, it was positioned so that colonial rulers could keep a close eye on their migrant subjects.

"Although almost 20,000 Chinese were killed following a revolt in 1603, Hokkiens continued to flock here from Fujian, and today, Binondo is an integral, thriving part of the Filipino capital," the website read.

According to CNNGo, the best place to start a tour in Binondo is on Carvajal Street, otherwise known as Umbrella Alley (so-called for the multitude of umbrellas that protect the small street stalls), which offers some of the best street food in the city.

"A stand out feature, one of the many must-sees in the area is the landmark Binondo Church, built in 1596, which is home to the Santo Cristo de Longos or Crucified Christ," the website said. "Must-visit restaurant is Café Mezzanine above the Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli (famous for hopia ube pastries) in Ongpin Sreet. A part of the restaurant's income goes to Binondo's fire department, whose iconic purple truck is parked beside the Binondo Church."

What's the best dish to order? CNNGo picks the infamous Soup No. 5, made from cow's (or sometimes horse's) testicles.

According to Ivan Man Dy, the man behind Old Manila Walks that feature the famous Big Binondo Food Wok tour, Binondo's inclusion in CNNGo's list is a welcome promotion of the Tsinoy's (Chinese-Filipino) unique heritage.

"On the other hand, I would also like to have our city officials take this as a wake up call to work on the preservation of Binondo Chinatown's cultural heritage value. We need to take active steps in working to conserve and further promote the historic flavor of Binondo. We can make the place better with regards to a lot of things (like basic infrastructure and street zoning). A recognition like this is nice but we also need to have something to show for it," Man Dy said.

Man Dy said Binondo has been the nucleus of the local Chinese community in Manila since the 16th century. More than the siopao, siomai and mami legacy, Chinatown is testament to the Tsinoys' historical journey from being immigrants to becoming an integral part of the country's tapestry. It is a symbol of how an ethnic community has enriched Manila's melting pot of cultures.