When you think of the place, you associate it with calesa (a horse-drawn carriage which is the best way to enjoy the streets of Binondo), Chinese shops, hopia, Tikoy and authentic Chinese food, you name it, the place is teeming alive with commerce, yes, the Chinese way. Not to be left out is the beautiful Binondo Church which is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. Binondo Church is also known as the Shrine of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint who was born of a Chinese father and a Filipina mother.
I think Ongpin is the heart-throb of Manila Chinatown. It is where you could find Chinese herbal stores, restaurants, groceries, jewelry shops, and some local banks. Street vendors abound in all corners of the place.
Hubby and I had the chance to explore some of the streets in Chinatown this morning particularly Ongpin. I was looking for a simple set of necklace and earrings to buy and my daughter suggested that we visit the place. I’ve been to the place several times but this is actually the first time that I looked at every nook and cranny trying to find an inexpensive jewelry that would fit my budget. I brought my camera and took lots of pictures but as usual I could not upload them here yet. Such a pity really since I am excited to share what made me love the place this morning despite the noonday heat. I came prepared of course by bringing an umbrella but you won’t really use an umbrella while exploring. I should have brought my sun hat instead.
We decided not to bring the car and just had a commute from our place to Cubao, then from Cubao, we took a taxi and alighted near Binondo Church. It was still early when we arrived but the place was busy with morning traffic, tricycle rides/tribikes (why should you ride on a tricycle/tribike when it is far easier to walk?), street vendors selling different kinds of fruits, Chinese stores gaily decorated in mostly red and the faint smell of horse dung from some calesa lining up the side streets. First stop was a Chinese jewelry shop but I was taken aback when I asked about a simple bracelet and they quoted a price way beyond my reach. Where could I find something that would fit my budget?
After about five stores, we found this friendly Chinese couple selling not onlyjewelry but also big Chinese figurines like Buddha in different shades of stones, mounted rocks that have stones in them (I am not sure what they are called) and several accoutrements normally found in Chinese stores. In Ongpin, you have to haggle with the price and meet halfway. You can have a big discount if you know how. I told him it was a gift for my birthday in a few days and fixed a price which he said was way too low. There comes your flair for drama - told him we came all the way from Cainta (which is true), a two-hour ride to Ongpin, and I also told him that I will use it for my daughter’s wedding in three weeks (see, I am not lying) and I only got enough money to buy that set, to have lunch later and bring home a couple of Hopia. He gave in and hubby told me later, “sana tinawaran mo pa, papayag din naman pala.” Meaning, we could still haggle with the price. But the vendor gave me a gift, a three-inch tall gold-plated rabbit figurine mounted on a flat black wood. It weighs a little heavy and he said, “pampaswerte” which means it is for good luck. The thing is, I was quite surprised when he didn’t give the items all at once but placed them instead in a bowl of metal and had to spin the sides with something resembling a thick spoon to produce a sound which was like ethnic music to my ears. He did it twice, once with the set of earrings and necklace and one more time with the rabbit figurine. Then he placed the set on a lovely box and made me choose which color. I was grinning like crazy when we went out of the store. By the way, he even allowed me to take pictures of their shelves with all the colorful array of Buddha figures, Koi fish, green balls and such.
We had lunch at Hap Chan and ordered fried lumpia, siomai and different kinds of balls set in a bed of Pechay Baguio. Simple as it was, it was yummy. It came with free hot tea in tall mugs. After lunch was time to really explore the place. I took shot of the sleeping Calesa driver, took shot of the guy selling large Durian fruits (he even requested if he could see the picture so I showed it to him) and he smiled and said thanks. I took shot of the guy selling sugar cane. Yes, you heard it right, a long cane of about six feet costs P60.00, ready to eat, because he would peel it for you when you buy one. Castanas which are only common in department stores during Christmas season were pegged at P200.00 per kilo. Seedless grapes were sold at P180.00.
A trip to Binondo or particularly at Ongpin would not be the same without buying the specialty of the place which is Hopia. Best known establishments selling tasty and delicious hopia are the Salazar Bakery and Eng Bee Tin Bakery. I was craving for it so I bought some in Salazar and some in Eng Bee Tin. Hopia Pandan is P40.00 per pack (five pieces). Hopia Mochipilia Ube Macapuno costs P44.00 and a Special White medium-sized Tikoy is at P160.00 per box. Hopia Mongo and Hopia Black Mongo cost P38.00 each at Salazar’s while Hopia Ube special is P40.00 per pack. Tikoy and a bagful of hopia and hubby was laughing at me when he saw what I bought. “Naubos ang pera ko dahil sa hopia.” Gee, I spent all my money on hopia. I was delighted to find an old-time favorite called Haw Flakes.
Wow, that completes my Binondo trip and I really want to go back and try the food at Nueva St. It was a fine day for exploring and Binondo is such a lovely place to do it. A day would not be enough to know the place but it definitely makes it memorable.