It has been my own tradition to attend the Chinese New Year celebrations in Binondo. The colors, the food and even the mood is what I’m always after. There is a charm to Binondo’s organized chaos. The hustle and bustle of this preserved Chinatown will make you want for more.
I ride the LRT and alight at Carriedo station. The warmth of the sun can be a little exruciating but you can already feel the excitement in the air.
Stores already flock the streets below the station. Loud music can be heard from miles away and the aroma from food stores invite you to come in and dine.
I walk past people of all ages. It’s nice to see more people participating in a tradition that could be lost in time. Preserving this kind of tradition is what we should be doing years ago.
Ocean of crowd is stuck in the main streets of Ongpin. It is so filled with people, that I can not even lift my camera up to get a decent snapshot.
With my stomach already rumbling from being so famished, I decide to take out my smartphone and search for an underrated but excellent restaurant around. Knowing that the mainstream ones will be overflowing with customers, I tried to route on the road less traveled.
Moonleaf + Bunnies Cafe in Benavidez Street is our first stop. Located in Tytana Plaza, this cafe has board games you can play with to spend an afternoon or evening with your friends and families.
We then order Wintermelon and Lychee Yakult Milk Tea, the stores best-selling flavors. It costs 95 pesos each which is a good deal. The wait staff hands me a fortune cookie for free. As soon as I get myself to sit on one of their corner couches, I crack my cookie open. The message is about love which is something I am oblivious of. Obviously.
My wintermelon milk tea has pudding in the bottom of the tall cup. I pierce the lid with a straw and start to mix the pudding into the liquid in circular motions. Maybe it’s because I’m too parched or maybe it’s the atmosphere, but the drink tastes so good. It’s not so sweet like the others, which I actually prefer.
I walk back to the counter and request for a Campfire Sandwich — a term they use for smores. The sandwich looks so good. So good that you know it will taste good, too. I use my fork as a bread knife and slice it. The marshmallow dripping in chocolate syrup melts as I cut it. It is so enticing I can’t even tell you how much. As I get a bite of this scrumptious treat, I notice that there is also a peanut butter filling sandwiched between the breads. If this isn’t the ultimate sweet fantasy, I don’t know what is. It only costs 95 pesos which is again, not bad for how it tastes. Surely, I will go back here with my friends and we will play some of the board games that are just silently resting in the shelves.
After having that wonderful snack, we make our way back to the chaotic crowd — but this time with more energy. Lucky Chinatown is our next target for food-tripping. I know that this will be a gamble for it is one of the more mainstream spots in the town. But you know how we will do anything for food, right?
When we got there, I was not even surprised with how much the volume of people is. Time for plan B. I open up my phone and text a friend from Tralulu Philippines, asking him for some underrated restaurants we can go to. He told me a place in Carvajal Street named Quik-Snack.
I immediately notice that the staff are either middle-aged or elderly people. It must be because of good management that people their age will still stay. Plus points for giving the older people a chance to still work.
The whole vicinity is full with families and friends but luckily, we found a table that is still vacant. We order their Beef Mihon Guisado worth 140 pesos which is already good for 2 persons and their Fresh Lumpia Special worth 75 pesos.
The meals arrived sooner than we think. The noodle is still oozing with faint smoke, signalling it’s heat. I mix the beef and vegetables into the noodle and begin eating. Much to my surprise, the food tastes divine. It is not salty neither does it lack flavor. They managed to find the middle-ground with it.
They went two-for-two when the fresh lumpia arrived. We cut it in half and started to devour this wrapped snack. I think it contains bits and pieces of meat or whatever that ingredient is, it really made the lumpia really special. Quik-Snack is a gem just waiting to be discovered.
With our tummies filled (again), we set on another foot journey — this time its outside Binondo. The day is about to end and I just need to see Escolta Bridge and the Post Office before sundown.
It’s hard to get in and out of the narrow streets in times of a celebration like Chinese New Year. Every street imaginable is jam-packed with tourists and locals. We tried to get inside the less traveled alleys but even those are overflowing with people.
We reach the the new Binondo arch by four-thirty. The sun is not so harsh now. I get to see bridge almost shining in golden-yellow because of the soft sun rays. On my left, is the Post Office which I have been fascinated with all my life. I flip the camera’s screen and start recording some video clips where the water flows gradually and the birds touch the river’s surface. I just need video like that to remind me how beautiful Manila is every single day.
Before finally bidding goodbye to Binondo, we decided to have one more snack. It will be a long commute back home, it’s better to gave something that would fill up my stomach. We found Awi’s Cafe and Restaurant by accident as we wait for crowd to subside. It is located in Yuchengco Street just a few steps from Cafe Mezzanine.
A middle-aged lady greets us and ushers us in. The restaurant is quite simple but it feels intimate. We order pork dumplings and turon ala mode for dessert. They did not disappoint.
First of all, the pork dumplings are so meaty. I ate three pieces of it and already feel a little full. The sauce compliments the wrap and the pork so well. And then we have this lovely merienda staple, turon, infused with an ice cream and caramel syrup is heaven! The coldness of the frozen treat made the warm bananas inside feel so soft. The plate gets emptied in a few minutes.
And who would forget to buy some special hopia from Eng Bee Tin? It has also been a tradition that every visit to Binondo, everyone must buy something from the best shop in town. I fall in line just like the rest of the tourists this evening. The line might be long but their theme song playing over and over entertain the hell out of me. In the end, I get to buy my favorite hopia flavors, ube, monggo, kundol and custard. I also bought one red bean tikoy.
Festivals like this, enriches our culture. If attending it annually will help it live on, then I will pledge to be there every single year to somehow help spread the tradition. The colors, the food and even the mood every Chinese New Year in Binondo is a magic that every Filipino and even every citizen of the world should experience once in their lifetimes.