Despite growing up in Manila, I've only been to Binondo a handful of times. So when I found out about the Big Binondo Food Wok, I knew we had to try it out. It was the perfect opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of Binondo through the eyes of an expert. Our guide, Ivan Man-Dy, runs an entertaining and informative tour, but even better, he knows where all the great food is.
We began our morning at the last remaining chocolate manufacturer in Chinatown. After breathing in the heady aroma of cocoa, we were treated to tiny cups of hot chocolate -- not hot cocoa, mind you. This stuff is sinfully thick and rich. Like espresso, it's meant to be sipped from tiny cups because it contains no milk, just chocolate, water and sugar.
Our next stop was a little eatery that exemplified all of Ivan's food stops that day -- small and nondescript, places that you wouldn't look twice at (or even realize the exist), but serve really great food. The Hokkien-style fried rice with peanuts and fishball soup below became our first full meal of the morning.
It's a good thing that none of us had eaten any breakfast; by this time, my tummy was already pleasantly full, and I could have called it quits and gone on till lunch without any hunger pangs. But hey, it's a food tour -- where's the fun in that?
I won't go through each and every food stop we made, for two reasons: first, I can't remember them all, there were so many (it was a 4-hr tour of food joints interspersed with visits to some famous and not-so-famous Binondo landmarks). Second, I'd be giving away all of Ivan's secrets, and if you want to know more, you should take the tour yourself! Let me just say that there was still MUCH more food: think fried siopao (pork buns that are usually served steamed), dried fruit, iced coffee, fried sweet dough, lumpia (spring roll), hot tea.
I have to say, not all of the food appealed to me. I nearly gagged on some boiled eggs that were soaked in tea for 3 days -- the clearly-visible veins reminded me too much of the infamous balut (fertilized duck egg).
And the thought of drinking the broth made from boiling this lizard in water proved to be too much for me (luckily, they didn't serve it).
But the delicious far outweighed the gross, and the crowning glory for me was this stop somewhere in the middle of our tour: a small, nondescript place that serves the best dumplings on earth, with dough made fresh daily. Steamed, boiled, fried, however they cooked it, I have never tasted dumplings quite like those. I doubt if I'll ever manage to find my way to that dumpling place again (unless I take the tour again), but for now at least, the memory of those delicious little bites is enough.
Needless to say, we did not have lunch that day.
For more delicious things, click here.