Sunday, February 3, 2013

Binondo: The Lure of Good Food, Familiar Sights, Cheap Finds and A Trip Down Memory Lane

Binondo Church Side Car 2
Traffic in front of the familiar Binondo church
I can still remember walking aimlessly from Dagupan to Recto, along Juan Luna to Avenida and on to the maze-like streets of Chinatown.  I grew up in Tondo and for decades, my Nanay tended a puwesto (stall) in Ylaya so I am no stranger to nearby Binondo and its neighboring environs like Raon and Carriedo.  Living in Makati for over a decade meant I visited less and less of the place but like an old friend, Binondo and its organized chaos remain familiar to me everytime I visit.

For a shoot assignment covering Manila some weeks back, I had the opportunity of reliving the old days.  It's really remarkable how a place can change but still very familiar.  The skyscape seems to be transforming alright with the sprouting of high-rise condominiums but the tangle of overhead cables and riot of signages endure to this day (a perennial problem for photographers who dream of framing the sights sans the wires).

Binondo Street Reader
Alfresco reading
There are even more vehicles clogging the tiny thoroughfares and yet the clippety-clop of kalesas still resound, adding color to the everyday drama I dub as "Binondo's chopsuey traffic".  Ditto with sidecars (human-powered transport) and tricycles that make driving here a crazy proposition for the hot-headed driver.

There's another budget mall drawing in the bargain shoppers and hoarders (Lucky) apart from the already familiar landmark, 168.  But mall-averse that I am, I am more fascinated with the small shops and sidewalk stalls that dot the streets.
Sincerity Chicken 3
Crispy, juicy Sincerity Chicken
The popular food chains may have found their way here but it would be a waste to miss out on the hole-in-the-walls and old familiars.  There's Po Heng lumpia (vegetable spring roll) at the old theater along Quintin Paredes.  Inimitable dumplings at Dong Bei on Yuchengco Street.  Really crispy chicken at Sincerity on Nueva.  Maki at Masuki along Benavidez.  Fried shrimp noodles and siomai at Kim Hiong near the fire station.  And of course, Polland and Eng Bee Tin ube hopia. This is just like scraping the tip of the food iceberg, so to speak as my foodie barkada can easily spend the whole day here going from one food joint to another.

In my mind, the most wonderful thing about Binondo is how it remains familiar and welcoming  inspite of how much the world has changed.  So what if it remains chaotic?  Who cares if some of the streets reek of fresh horse piss? At least to me, Binondo remains a special place to escape to, a reminder of the past, a seemingly-enigmatic constant in a fast-changing world.
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