It's been a long while since I've been in Binondo. Established in 1594, it is the oldest Chinatown in the world, and one of the best according to CNN Travel! During the old days, it was where the Spanish allowed the converted Chinese immigrants to settle. A lot of them intermarried with local women whose children were known as the Chinese mestizo. Binondo was the main center for business and finance in Manila, until the early 1900s.
Gi booked Old Manila Walks' Big Binondo Food Wok for that day. Dini, our friend from NTU was in town so we figured it would be a fun activity since it was her first time in the Philippines! Ivan Dy, the pioneer of the Binondo Food Wok himself, was our guide that day. Our meeting place was in front of the Binondo Church. As soon as the whole group was complete, we proceeded with the tour.
Ivan Dy of Old Manila Walks.
Our first stop was Cafe Mezzanine Volunteer Fireman's Coffee Shop at Ongpin Street. We had our generous samples of fish soup, salt rice and wintermelon (kundol in Filipino). It was chaotic downstairs so initially, I didn't get the restaurant name. I was a bit surprised when I saw the framed pictures on their walls were about fire, but then I suddenly remembered that Binondo is also famous for their volunteer firefighters. When I saw the restaurant name later, it all made sense. The proceeds of the restaurant go to the volunteer firefighters group.
Fish soup, salt rice, and wintermelon at Cafe Mezzanine.
We then went to Dong Bei Dumpling at Yuchengco Street. It's a small hole in the wall type of restaurant, but don't be deceived with its worn out facade! Their dumplings are seriously some of the best. Din Tai Fung has been officially ousted as my favorite dumpling place. Dong Bei prepared the dumplings just as we arrived so we were assured of its freshness. I liked their dumplings with the special dip! They also served fried chicken with sesame seeds and hummus. The place was a bit small, so some people in our group had to stand up while eating. There was also a queue buildup outside just as we started, so I reckon the place is really popular!
Dumplings, chicken, and pancakes at Dong Bei Dumpling.
Next was a siopao and bicho-bicho stall, whose name was in Chinese. I showed my Singaporean friends the picture of the shop sign and I asked them to translate it for me. They said it translates as: Ming Du Noodle Shop. They served us half fried, half steamed beef siopao. By this time I was really so full so I had to skip it. Too bad because they said it was really nice! They also served bicho-bicho, a deep fried bread sprinkled with sugar. I love bicho-bicho, I remember it was Ann and I's favorite! When we were still studying at UP, we would drop by Robinson's to buy bicho-bicho from this specialty stall before going home. Bicho-bicho forever :)
Siopao at Ming Du Noodle.
Our penultimate stop was Ho-land Hopia and Bakery at Yuchengco Street. I love hopia! So even if I was already bursting from my jeans I still sampled a few pieces. The red bean variant is always my favorite! Speaking of hopia, Eng Bee Tin's dice hopia in red bean flavor is my forever favorite! I remember when I was younger, my father would always bring us back hopia from Eng Bee Tin whenever he goes to Manila. My favorite has always been the dice version because it's skin is moist, and not too thick and flaky unlike the regular round hopias!
Our last stop was New Po-Heng Lumpia House at Quintin Paredes Street. We had Hokkien lumpia and pancit. The lumpia was very much like lumpiang sariwa. Aesthetically, although it didn't really looked much, do not be fooled! I thought it was one of the best lumpia I've ever had. Better than the popias I've tried in Singapore, actually. You can either eat the lumpia as is, or dip it into the special sweet / spicy sauce. I had mine with sweet sauce. We were too full to eat the pancit so we gave ours to the other group.
Lumpia at New Po-Heng Lumpia House.
Check out Ivan's 10 Must-Visit Food Streets in Binondo at SPOT.PH!
Because it was CNY, we received some giveways. Ivan gave us each a pack of hopia from Ho-land Hopia and a box of tikoy from Eng Bee Tin before ending the tour :D Chinatown was very crowded and lively that day. Playing bands and dancing dragons were everywhere. There were lots of colorful items for sale -- balloons, figurines, fruits, decorations.
Welcome to Manila Chinatown!
Water Snake Figurines.
Various things for sale.
Tikoys on the side of the road.
Chaotic, but somehow pretty powerlines.
That afternoon, we went to the Ayala Museum. The Ayala Museum is a privately owned art and history museum in the heart of Makati. It houses various exhibits such as a collection of dioramas depicting important historical and social events in the Philippines, traditional clothing gallery, maritime gallery, and a collection of Philippine art featuring works of Luna, Amorsolo and Zobel himself. Because it was almost Valentine's Day, the Museum had free photos and free chocolates for visitors! The entrance fee are PHP 45.00 per person for nonresidents and PHP 225.00 for residents.
My favorite Exhibition was "Gold of Ancestors: Pre-colonial Treasures in the Philippines". It is a huge collection, featuring hundreds of gold artifacts such as tools, jewelries, and other ornaments which existed before the arrival of Spanish in the Philippines. Hindu and other Southeast Asian influences were very apparent in the golden artifacts. These affirm regional affinities and trading within the region way before the arrival of the colonizers. Of particular interest to me were the funerary decorations, especially the funerary masks which literally gave me goosebumps! They were creepy, yet beautiful at the same time! The design and motifs were really intricate, you wonder how they achieve such minute details with the technology they had at the time. I was really amazed at the sophistication of the culture of these peoples. I bet my NUS classmates would find this interesting! I hope they could visit it too!
After going through the exhibits, we claimed our free chocolate. They were poetry words written in chocolate, and we get to choose which word to take. I took "goodbye". After I ate it, my friends asked me how was the chocolate. With a poker face I told them, "the goodbye was sweet". Whut. HAHAHA. We all burst laughing.
Sweet goodbye, literally!
We tried our hands with calligraphy. Damn, it's difficult. This is the result of my feeble attempt.
How do you come up with this? ;_;
The girls busy writing.
We went to Greenbelt to walk around. Gi recommended to go to Cafe Breton to try their crepe. The place looked posh, so I was surprised because their food were really affordable! And really tasty may I add! We also did some grocery shopping before taking the MRT to Quezon City.
Greenbelt in Makati.
Cafe Breton, G/F Greenbelt 3, Esperanza St cor West Drive Ayala Center, Makati.
DIY choco banana crepe!
We had dinner at Van Gogh is Bipolar, located at 154 Maginhawa Quezon City, Philippines. Van Gogh is my favorite painter so without even scrutinizing the menu, I agreed to book a dinner there. A restaurant dedicated to Van Gogh is not something you encounter very often after all! I just hoped that they didn't serve *sisig* haha (Van Gogh joke here). The place was really artsy and filled with quirky stuff (funny and colorful hats, foreign currencies, toys, books, vintage pieces, fake skeleton, etc), but not much Van Gogh as I expected.
The place was dim, the tables lit by candle lights. It was pretty much self service so we had to pick up our own food and return our own plates, but I guess it made the experience a more 'at home' kinda thing. The owner, Jethro was also a friendly guy. For starters, we chose our own teacups and made our own tea. I loved their collection of teacups! We had a few curious appetizers before the main dish.
Lovely teapots and cups!
Create your own tea.
Quirky decors inside.
Our tiny corner for the night.
The dishes had snappy names too! We first had soup made of flowers and leaves, called Virginia Woolf's Tears. I surprisingly liked it! I loved the broth and the sour tinge from the lemon. Jethro said that they buy the freshest ingredients everyday; in fact some of the ingredients came from his own garden. Our drink was a mixed fruit juice called Courtney Love's Potion. This is my favorite. I wish I knew how to concoct it, so I could do it anytime at home!
Virginia Woolf's Tears.
Courtney Love's Potion.
We had Janice Dickinson's Luxurious Mouth next. It was bite sized salmon and lamb with melted mozarella cheese on top. We also had the so-called Axl Rose's Egg Shot, a soft boiled egg with black sauce! I'm actually used to eating raw eggs, thanks to my sukiyaki training haha, so it wasn't really a shock to me. I know some people couldn't stomach the thought of eating a raw egg.
Janice Dickinson's Luxurious Mouth.
Axl Rose's Egg Shot.
We then had salad before the main course. It was called Larry Flynt's Cabbage Experience; a whole cabbage with fried dilis (ikan bilis), salted egg, mangoes and other fresh veggies. After the salad, we felt so full already. Worried that we may not be able to even touch the main course, we decided to walk outside and explore the garden. We went back after taking a few pictures and appreciating some artworks outside. For the main course, I had Pres. Roosevelt’s Meal with Van Gogh rice. It is grilled Norwegian Salmon Belly with special black rice. The serving was very generous, and the salmon was perfect! I liked the black rice too. I felt so sorry I couldn't finish them both -- they were really delicious!
Larry Flynt's Cabbage Experience.
Pres. Roosevelt’s Meal with Van Gogh rice. Like a boss.
For the finale, we had Mel Gibson's darkest sin (although I think I might be wrong on the name, someone correct me please!), aka a shot of absinthe (served in test tubes!) + warm dark chocolate. After drinking the absinthe, it was to be followed immediately by the dark chocolate. I've never had absinthe before! At 47-74% alcoholic percentage, it's probably the single strongest drink I have tried so far. Not that I have really tried a lot in my lifetime. I remember what Jess jokingly said once, "[absinthe] has killed so many of our famous painters!". Haha. Google if you don't get the joke.
Overall we had fun in VGIBP! It was definitely different than the usual dining experience. We paid PHP 1,500 each, which I thought was very reasonable. To be frank, I wasn't really expecting much food-wise, but I was proven wrong! It was an amazing experience, and maybe someday we'll be back with our other friends.
I'll give you a cookie if you can spot my namecard when you visit.
I like this artwork. It was in the garden.
Yep. So we were basically eating the whole day. That's how we spent the Chinese New Year! It was a really fun day exploring Binondo and other parts of the Metro. It's a shame really, that I've been to more places in Southeast Asia than in my own country. That is why I have made a resolution to, as much as I can, explore the Philippines more. Let's see how it goes :)