It’s now February and Chinese New Year is here once again. As a Filipino, there’s a good chance you have some degree of Chinese heritage in you and even if you don’t, it’s still fun to experience the festivities that the Chinese have in store on this auspicious day.
If you’re thinking of celebrating Chinese New Year, it’s a good idea to check out Binondo, Manila—the world’s oldest Chinatown. Just a jeep ride away from DLSU, Binondo has been serving Filipinos an authentic taste of Chinese cuisine and culture for centuries.
Wai Ying Fastfood (810 Benavidez Street)
This is probably the most famous on the list, and is considered by many as the best Chinese cuisine in the area. This two-story resto is usually packed with people on both floors. Don’t worry though; they don’t call themselves fast food for nothing. But with food served fast, it doesn’t mean that the flavor cuts short.
As is typical of a Chinese diner, a lot of their offerings are hung and displayed by the entrance: usually, it’s roasted duck, pork belly, and other delectable meats. As you enter, you’ll see the classic woven steamers that hold all sorts of dimsum, from the basic siomai to hot salad rolls. Some hardcore foodies say that if the hakaw (shrimp dumpling) of a certain restaurant is good, then the rest of the items on the menu are just as good. Well, the hakaw at Wa Ying is simply one of the best in the metro so you can already guess what that means.
Lan Zhou La Mien (818 Benavidez Street)
If you can understand Chinese, you’d know that ‘la mien’ means ‘hand-pulled’. A few doors down from Wai Ying, Lan Zhou La Mien offers noodle dishes pulled by hand on the spot! You can see their cooks actually roll the dough and cut it up into little strips through a glass window.
Lan Zhou La Mien offers both wet and dry noodles. Must-try is the Seafood La Mien. Put some Chinese ketchup and chili sauce to give it added flavor. Then, order a plate (or two!) of either steamed or fried kuchay dumplings (or both!). They also have a selection of fried rice dishes that surely won’t disappoint.
Masuki (929 Benavidez Street)
Just a couple of meters away from Wai Ying and Lan Zhou La Mien is a subdued, little restaurant with a nostalgic teahouse vibe. While they do serve tea, Masuki also offers a small assortment of noodles, siopao, and siomai.
Whatever you choose from their menu (though I would recommend the asado mami, preferably in the larger bowl), Masuki is known for this mysterious brown sauce that they give you beforehand. It comes without instructions, but if you look at the old-timers eating with gusto around you, you’d see they use it for any dish on the menu. If you ordered noodles, put the brown sauce in. Its saltiness adds flavor to the broth of the noodle dish you ordered. If you order siopao – may it be asado or bola-bola, pour the brown sauce onto the inside of the bun for added flavor.
Dong Bei Dumpling (642 Yuchengco Street)
If you’re craving for dumplings and only dumplings, Dong Bei Dumpling will surely satisfy your needs. Upon entering the little restaurant which is located just behind historic San Lorenzo Riuz (Binondo) Church, you can see how the dumplings are made. Mountains of chives, pork, and onions are just waiting to be put on little circle-shaped wraps which are then either steamed or fried. While waiting for your little dumplings to cook, the smell of the flour and the fillings will most probably excite your taste buds.
Ying Ying (233-235 Dasmarinas cor. Yuchengco Street)
If you happen to be passing by Escolta, the commercial center of old Downtown Manila, and suddenly you feel famished, do not panic! A little ways down the road, you’ll stumble upon another two-story complex with an aquarium of various fishes up front. But this establishment offers more than seafood delights.
The Lechon Macau, best known as lechon kawali among Filipinos, is a must-try as the meat is so tender and the skin insanely crispy and mouth-watering. There is also the oft-ordered hot prawn salad that perfectly blends the creaminess of the condensed milk and the saltiness of the medium-sized prawns. Ying Ying has served up a large variety of dishes, so you’re sure to come across Chinese restaurant staples such as Yang Chow fried rice, sweet and sour pork or fish, as well as beef with broccoli.
Even the Beef Ampalaya is also worth tasting as the sauce gives a savory kick to the beef and the bitter gourd.
BONUS: Eng Bee Tin/Mr. Ube (628 Ongpin Street)
Of course, if you’re celebrating Chinese New Year, you’d need to stock up on your Chinese delicacies. Before leaving the busy streets of Binondo, your last stop should probably be at Eng Bee Tin, which has been providing world-known tasty treats such as hopia and tikoy for over a century.
Eng Bee Tin offers a wide range of delicacies and an even wider range of flavors. Their hopia alone has more than 10 flavors and combinations, including custard, combi (two flavors in one), pandan, wintermelon, and the basic mongo for starters.
Eng Bee Tin tikoy comes in two forms: the normal round ones you buy in boxes (with such flavors as chocolate, sweet corn, ube, pandan and strawberry), and the ones rolled, flavored, and dressed in flour. They also sell fortune cookies, mochi, and frozen dimsum.
Chinatown in itself is a veritable mine of all sorts of hidden, edible gems. But the places in this list don’t even scratch the surface. As you adventure into this little town, you will surely find some place that’ll have you craving to go back even long after the Chinese New Year is over. Kung Hei Fat Choi!