Sunday, December 29, 2013

Binondo - Manila's Chinatown

See other posts: Philippines, Filipino Cuisine.

It seems like most major cities have their own Chinatown, and Manila is no exception. In fact, Binondo is touted as the world's oldest Chinatown. Chinese traders pre-dated the Spanish in the Philippines but Binondo's founding is dated in the late 1500's when the Spanish condensed the Chinese population into a strategic place just across the Pasig River from Intramuros (well within cannon range in case of an uprising).


Binondo has a very colorful history. The Chinese Revolution during the 1600's, British occupation during the late 1700's, and World War II all had a profound effect on this neighborhood. Prior to World War II, Binondo was the financial center of Manila which housed several international financial institutions. When the war ended, these businesses left Binondo behind and migrated to the newly developed Makati area. Today, Binondo has transformed into a tourist destination, best known for its delicious food and great shopping opportunities.
The Binondo Church (above, right) sits inconspicuously, fronting the Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz. The original structure incurred damage throughout it's history until it was largely destroyed by American bombing during World War II. It was rebuilt over thirty years to its current state and remains a staple of the community.
Filipinos love their malls (ever heard of the Mall of Asia?). Visitors to the Manila area may even begin to think the whole place is one giant mall, but Binondo offers a different type of shopping experience from the typical big brand stores, food courts, and air conditioning. Of course, shoppers can find the typical Chinese trinkets, imitation brand merchandise, and produce like dried fish that can found in every Chinatown worldwide, but stores here also offer pretty much everything else from electronics to office supplies to furniture at reasonable prices.
Eating is part of the Filipino culture (I can't keep up!) and Binondo offers plenty of opportunities for foodies. There are several tours organized completely on Chinatown's food, and many say it's worthwhile to try one as they know all the secrets. Still, it's not hard to make your our food tour by just walking along Ongpin Street and its side alleys. Street vendors offer up tasty treats, Eng Bee Tin (and other bakeries) have delicious pastries like hopia, and dozens of restaurants serve up delicious Chinese fare for any budget.

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