Last week-end, I brought the Amigos on a walking and eating tour of Chinatown in Binondo.
So I could show them a real honest to goodness Binondo experience, I decided to ask
Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks to create a special edition of his Wok-king tour for us. I have taken Ivan's tour many times, with balikbayan guests, colleagues, friends but no matter how many times I have walked and "wokked" with Ivan, each time is always unique, interesting and a lot of fun.
This special tour was a way of celebrating my birthday with good friends. I was glad that the majority of them had never done Ivan's tour. We kicked off the tour with a quick geography /
history / culinary / cultural lesson at the lobby of the Ramada Hotel.
Because it was a birthday celebration, I had asked Ivan for a "pancit" themed wok-king tour with an emphasis on old time panciterias. When I was young, I remember coming to Chinatown with my father nearly every Saturday. We would eat lomi, miki, mami -- you name the noodle, my father had a special little hole-in-the-wall panciteria that was his favourite.
Nowadays most of those panciterias are gone but some hardy ones still remain standing.
Our first stop was an old favourite of mine -- Quik Snack is located along short and narrow Carvajal Street.
I go to Quik Snack for their machang but Ivan highly recommends their lumpia. Tightly wrapped and filled to near bursting, Quik Snack's version has lots of finely chopped peanuts, vegetables, tofu, pork bits and dried seaweed. This kind of lumpia needs no sauce at all except maybe for a drop or two of hot sauce with each bite.
Since it was our first stop, Ivan said we would just have some "appetisers".
He ordered Indonesian Tauhu which was a large block of fried tofu in a sweetish-salty soy sauce
(it tasted a lot like kecap manis, the thick and sweet soy sauce most popular in Indonesia).
The tofu was topped with fresh garlic, more chopped peanuts, sprigs of fresh wansoy and hot chili sauce. Because of the red and green colours, regulars call this dish "Christmas tofu".
Our first pancit of the tour was Quik Snack's beef satay. Soft egg noodles were sautéed with tender beef strips and kangkong in a spicy sauce. Ivan said that the founder of Quik Snack had been married to an Indonesian, hence the Malay influences on the menu.
It must have been coincidence but most of us were wearing orange that day, which is also the colour of the uniforms of the friendly and efficient waitstaff at Quik Snack. Thanks to Mang Ron (second from the left) for taking good care of us that afternoon!
Before proceeding to the next "pancit" destination, Ivan made a brief stop at one of the stores along Carvajal selling all sorts of raw ingredients, from sea cucumber to fish balls to bamboo shoots soaked in brine. Most of the restaurants in the area shop from the small stores in Carvajal Street, which sell only the best, top quality ingredients.
We had barely walked off any of Quik Snack's calories when we arrived at the next food stop, Sincerity Restaurant along Nueva Street, just around the corner from Carvajal, again another
I was really glad that Ivan had included Sincerity on this tour since the restaurant and I were born on the same year --1956. Sincerity is still very much popular even with a new and younger generation of diners. So who says you can't be attractive at 60?
Orange must really be the colour of the day, this time we perfectly matched Sincerity's table tops.
This is Sincerity's chamisua or misua guisado. Misua is served during birthdays so it
is called birthday pancit. As noodle dishes go, the chamisua is lighter and drier than most pancit dishes. It's topped with whole roasted peanuts that give each forkful a crunchy texture and salty bite.
Regulars (like my father and me) would go all the way to Nueva Street for a taste of Sincerity's
oyster omelettes. I am happy to say that they taste exactly as I remember them -- chewy and gooey with the briny taste of fresh oysters. Ivan says the appetising gooey-ness comes from the sweet potato flour that is used as binder for this delicious dish.
Sincerity is also famous for its special fried chicken which is nothing like you have ever tasted. You can order one half or a whole chicken and it comes chopped up in smaller pieces, floured with a "secret" mix of herbs and spices. You'll have to wait a bit because each batch is made fresh and deep fried as each order comes in. So, it's always the last dish to arrive at the table.
It's so well seasoned that you don't need any catsup or gravy at all.
I couldn't drink enough of the refreshing kundol or winter melon iced tea that Sincerity serves by the pitcher. Later on, Ivan would bring us to the store where the makings of this drink can be bought, in the form of a solid block of pressed fruit and sugar.
After eating 6 different dishes, Ivan promised that we would walk a little farther to burn a few more calories -- so far the score was Pancit and Panciterias -2 Calories Burned - 0
We walked through busy Ongpin street, through the Welcome to Chinatown arch.
From Ongpin, we turned right into Salazar street, where mini groceries and Chinese delis abound. First stop was Shin Tai Shang Foods where the winter melon drink is sold. This place also sells cooked food, Chinese sausages, sweets and delicacies and Hello Kitty shoes. Yes, you read that right. You can buy all sorts of Hello Kitty items here.
Next door is Jipin, another Chinese deli with a counter top full of cooked meats from all parts of
the pig -- simmered ears and snout, stewed intestines, tongue, kidneys, stomach -- all succulent and extremely sinful. Offal lovers will call this heaven but gout sufferers should stay far, far away!
Ivan opened a pack of these pork floss rolls -- very thin, crisp and enticing. It's like snacking on potato chips -- you can't eat just one.
From Salazar, we walked to Benavidez where our target was Masuki Noodle House. There are a few branches around Manila but the one in Binondo is the original and has been around since the 1930s.
With old style black and white tiles and formica tables, the non air-conditioned Masuki is a throwback to another time. I briefly closed my eyes and inhaled deeply -- it even smells the same!
Ivan said that some people are turned off by the unique aroma but it reminds me of Saturday afternoons long gone, when my father and I would drop by and enjoy a bowl of Masuki's mami.
This is Masuki's famous mami , the granddaddy or should I say the grandmami of them all.
The noodles are made right above the restaurant using old time kneading methods so you can
be sure each bowl contains only fresh and hand made wheat noodles.
There are thin slices of pork and chicken and for garnish don't forget to sprinkle lots of the finely minced green onions. Masuki also provides diners with a small saucer of their own sweetish soy sauce but I prefer to enjoy my mami with the broth as plain and as clear as it is.
We don't have sio pao with our mami but we do get Masuki's larger than normal sio mai which is
just as good.
Here's Ivan with some of the Amigos -- satisfied smiles show that every one is having a great time.
Beer does not go well with hot mami so we say cheers with long uncut strands of Masuki's fresh noodles. Here's to long life and long friendships!
Masuki is not yet the last bite on this Pancit and Panciterias Tour. We go back towards Ongpin Street -- no traffic this time, the roads are suddenly quiet on this late Saturday afternoon.
One of my favourite food discoveries after my first tour with Ivan was a small hole in the wall shop
that sold the most delicious "sio pao C" or chien pao (fried sio pao) The "sio pao C" was sold in
a no-name place along Salazar Street where I have been back to many times since, just to buy
these special buns.
For this tour, Ivan brought us to a slightly bigger and branded store called Shanghai Fried Siopao that he says makes a better version.
Fried sio pao isn't exactly fried all the way through. It's still a steamed bun but at some point in
its cooking process, it is subjected to flash frying which give the bun a toasty crusty
brown bottom. The filling is pork with a blend of chives, spring onions and maybe even a bit of ginger that elevates its taste over the ordinary sio pao.
Ivan then took us to the oldest chocolatier in Binondo. La Resurreccion makes tableas,
old fashioned chocolate disks that are used for making the local hot chocolate. These discs are melted in water or milk and beaten / blended with an old fashioned batirol (wooden whisk).
There are two types of chocolate tableas sold at La Resureccion, sweetened or un- and a tube of about 10 discs costs only P85 each. You can only buy tableas in La Resureccion, sadly you'll have to wait till you get home to enjoy them.
It was past 5 in the afternoon and we had been eating and walking ... okay, maybe more of the
eating than the walking -- for the past three hours. The score card read Pancit and Panciterias - 3,
Calories Burned - ??. Our last stop was Sa Lido still on Ongpin St.
The sign clearly states that this is the original restaurant and not some spin off.
Sa Lido is another vintage panciteria that still serves the old comida china standards -- camaron rebosado, pancit canton, hototay ... which Ivan said are completely local inventions, adapted
to suit the Filipino palate. We were too stuffed by this time so Ivan ordered just a plate of asado
or roast pork, a dish that Sa Lido is well known for.
I love asado -- after eating in Chinatown, my father and I would usually buy asado for take out --
the accompanying pickled radish was the perfect complement to this dish.
The last noodle dish of the day was also the best. Sa Lido's chami is made with thick fat miki noodles -- it's oily and saucy but is also redolent of all the goodness of the wok that must have sautéed countless orders of this noodle dish. In Singapore they call it "shiok" -- the "spirit" or "breath" of a good, well seasoned wok that imparts the inimitable deliciousness to a dish.
Sa Lido's Chami was a memorable and lip smacking way to end the Pancit and Panciterias
Tour with Ivan.
Final score at the end of the tour -- Pancit and Panciterias - 4, Calories Burned - 4.
I guess we can call that a draw.
Porkintheroad sends much love and thanks to Ivan Man Dy and Old Manila Walks for indulging
my nostalgic request and allowing me to share with my friends the pancit and panciterias of my childhood. With all the noodles we ate, I guess I can safely say that we all have long and happy
lives to look forward to.