As a trivia enthusiast, learning ephemeral information about any place I visit makes my heart flutter. Binondo is a place that can certainly give me a heart attack because it is a treasure trove of trivia. It was founded in 1594 to serve as a permanent community for Chinese immigrants who chose to become Catholics, making it the oldest Chinatown in the world. It is the place of origin of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the patron saint of the Philippines and the first Filipino saint to be venerated by the Catholic Church. Within its hallowed ground stands the 418-year old Binondo Church. To this day, Binondo is quite unique in its stature as a rich historical and cultural area that is intimately intertwined with Chinese influence.
Plaza Lacson is the starting point of this trip. The plaza is a simple space dominated by the old BPI (Bank of Philippine Islands) building. Almost across the BPI building is the virtually inconspicuous Arsenio Lacson monument, one of the more popular mayors of Manila for whom the plaza is named.
After walking for four minutes, the façade of Sta. Cruz Parish Church comes into view. It has a lovely sun-kissed architecture ready to invite the churchgoers in.
Sta. Cruz Plaza
A few steps from the gate of Sta. Cruz Parish Church is Fuente Carriedo or Carriedo Fountain, the highlight of Sta. Cruz Plaza. The Carriedo Fountain was constructed in 1882 and is named after Francisco Carriedo, the main proponent of water system in Manila. In the early 18th century, he used his personal money to build a working water system but did not see his effort come to fruition when he died.
The Arch of Goodwill is situated near Sta. Cruz Plaza. It symbolizes the good relationship between Filipinos and Chinese in the area, and it also works as an entrance to the latter’s dwelling.
Mr. Ube and Eng Bee Tin
About half an hour later (the walking time seems long because there is a lot of picture taking that happens while walking), when I am almost parched with thirst, the inviting exterior of Mr. Ube presents itself. Mr. Ube (violet) is popular for its hopia (bakpia in Chinese and sweet roll in English) because its hopia veers away from the traditional monggo (mung bean) flavor. Mr. Ube is Gerry Chua who owns the Mr. Ube stores and Café Mezzanine.
Eng Bee Tin stores belong to Mr. Chua’s family as well. Eng Bee Tin products are delightfully delicious. Imagine the scene in Ratatouille where Remy ate strawberry and cheese and he experienced an explosion of flavors, fireworks that assaulted his taste buds. Well, Eng Bee Tin hopias are somewhat like that. They married two flavors in one memorable bite of hopia. They make every trip to Binondo worth the while. Yes, I am a fan. ? I cannot get enough of ube (purple yam) and macapuno hopia. A pack of ube/langka (jackfruit) or ube/macapuno combination with four pieces of hopia costs P46.00 (US $1.04), a pack of custard ube costs P48.00 (US $1.08), a pack of mochiballs chocolate costs P45.00 (US $1.02) and yema tartlets cost P34.00 (US $0.77) per pack.
From the Eng Bee Tin stores, Binondo Church is around 20 meters away. Dominican priests built Binondo Church in 1596. The current structure has been renovated several times due a range of reasons that include termite infestation and wars. The side of the church looks massive yet regal and reminds me of the church in my town. I have nothing to say about its façade, but the interior of the church is breathtaking. It is replete with religious art that include painting at the ceiling, painting inside the dome and the St. Peter’s Basilica-inspired altar.
Dong Bei Dumplings
Dong Bei Dumplings is a seven-minute walk away from Binondo Church. It is an unassuming place that serves inexpensive but flavorful dumplings.
Streets of Binondo
Walking around Binondo reminds one of being in Manila, with the ubiquitous presence of kalesa (horse-drawn carriages) and porters going to and fro carrying merchandise on their back or pushing a kariton (wagon) brimming with fruits, but Binondo has a certain air about it that makes it appealing to the senses. The stores that flank its streets are colorful and lively. The streets are decorated with Chinese lanterns and dragons.
Binondo is teeming with stores that are very attractive. They have colorful displays and interesting merchandise.
President Grand Palace Restaurant
Four hours of walking under the scorching Manila heat makes any person hungry. My go-to restaurant in Binondo is President Grand Palace Restaurant. It is spacious, well-lit and clean. The staff is attentive and helpful. The food is varied and not too pricey. Prawn salad is my favorite dish, followed by half-roast chicken with crispy skin.
Thank you, Che, Emmie, Juvy and Glenn for being wonderful companions that entire Saturday (trip 1). Thank you, Jed, Virg, Ares and Albert for the side trips to Binondo (trips 2 and 3).
How to get to Binondo:
- Take an LRT1 train to Carriedo Station. From the station, walk to Rizal Avenue. Turn left at Rizal Avenue, walk straight until Sta. Cruz Parish Church. Walk past the church to Bustos. Turn left at Bustos and walk towards Ongpin.
- Take the LRT1 train and alight at UN Avenue. Ride a jeepney with Sta. Cruz-Binondo sign until Ongpin Street.
- This is what I do: I take LRT1, alight at UN Avenue. Go to the side of the street where Wendy’s is located. Walk towards the National Museum, pass Rizal Park. Visit the artworks of Filipino artists. When I get hungry, I exit the museum. From National Museum (National Art Gallery), I take a taxi to Sta. Cruz Church. It will take 5 minutes to get there and the fare is only P65.00 (US $1.46).