A lot of Manila residents would recognise the district of Binondo as a part of its centre. Apart from being a major commercial hub, this district serves as the foundation of the Filipino-Chinese community amidst multiple occupations from colonisers. Founded in 1594, it holds the distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in the world. It has since become a melting pot with many stories to tell, and a lot of things to do in Binondo involve exploring its rich heritage.
Explore historical sites in Binondo
1. Visit the historic Binondo Church and Plaza San Lorenzo Shrine
Binondo Church is also known as the Minor Basilica and National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, named after the Filipino martyr, Saint Lorenzo Ruiz. It was founded by Dominican priests to serve Chinese and native Filipino who converted to Christianity. Across it is Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz, where a fountain and shrine have been erected in honour of the martyr.
How historic is the church exactly? Historical accounts say that the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio and his wife Gregoria de Jesus were wed here. It also sustained a lot of damage during World War II and had to be repaired. The only original structure that it retained is its belfry.
It is also one of the few churches in the Philippines to conduct services in Filipino, English, and Hokkien.
2. Take a photo of the gorgeous Jones Bridge
You wouldn’t believe how strong Jones Bridge is since it finished its construction back in 1920. It spans the Pasig River and is responsible for connecting Binondo and most of Manila. It is still one of the busiest bridges in Manila, especially during sunset.
But the best time to walk on the bridge is during sunset. In 2019, the City of Manila restored Jones Bridge to its intended design, and added much-needed atmospheric lamps along the bridge. Tourists and residents of Manila alike now stroll along the bridge during the evening. These lights also add to the already beautiful original Neo-Classical architecture. It can be quite romantic too, as a lot of wedding photo shoots utilise the bridge as the backdrop.
3. Get a taste of history while dining in New Toho Food Center
Start your Binondo food trip by dining in one of the oldest restaurants in Manila. New Toho Food Center was founded back in 1866 and has remained an icon until this very day. And when one of its most famous patrons was rumoured to be the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, that distinction of an icon is definitely earned.
Rizal’s palate is worthy of the highest commendation in this regard, as the cooking at New Toho Food Center is stellar. Their stir-fried noodles are rich in flavour, their lechon is succulent, and their steamed seafood is delicate; really, just about everything on the menu is impressive. There are a lot of formidable restaurants for Binondo food, but New Toho definitely sets the standard among them.
4. Find a favourite speciality shop inside First United Building
One of the first restorations in Binondo that initiated the district’s heritage revival these past few years is the historic Escolta Street, particularly, the First United Building. It was the tallest building in Manila when it was completed in 1928. Its unique Art Deco design was conceptualised by Andres P. Luna, son of the famous Filipino painter Juan Luna. Now that it’s restored, new generations can see and appreciate how beautiful the building really is.
Fittingly, it has become a combination of an artist and commercial space. Various trinkets from local craftsmen are sold inside the building, most of which showcase their love for Manila. Apart from these stalls, there are speciality shops inside which are also run by artists.
If you need to unwind after a long work day, Fred’s Revolucion is glad to serve you their cold IPAs. If you’re in need of a cosy and comfortable space to chat with friends, The Den serves amazing coffee for you to enjoy. And for a stylish haircut, the barbers at Folk are more than skilled to take care of your grooming needs. These three shops seem to have grown a personal connection with their clients, which is why regulars can be seen inside the shops almost every day.
If you’re lucky, your visit might be in time with the colourful Weekend Market, where artists gather to set up shop on the street. Or you can attend the bi-monthly, high-energy gigs during The Block Party. Maybe even chance on an entirely new event by the community! You’ll never run out of things to do in Binondo, especially in an exciting place like Escolta.
Things to do in Binondo for avid shoppers
5. Scour through Binondo’s malls
If you’re down to walk as far as your feet can take you, you can find a lot of bargains in Binondo. And we mean a lot. Three malls in Binondo are responsible for heavy foot traffic, especially during the weekends.
You can find an assortment of goods being sold inside 168 Shopping Mall and 999 Shopping Mall, which are just across from each other. From cheap clothes and fashion accessories, to action figures, textiles, and even heavy-duty sound speakers; these malls will have it all and then some for your trouble. If you’re looking for a lifestyle mall, you can also go to Lucky Chinatown Mall for high-end finds.
6. Check out gold and jewellery shops on Ongpin Street
Ongpin is another important street in Binondo, as it has a lot of speciality shops that you can only find in Chinatown Manila. From Chinese medicine to specific ingredients important to Chinese cuisine, Ongpin will have what you need. It is also a great place to look for crystals, statues, and charms which are integral when practising feng shui.
This famous street also has a lucrative gold and jewellery trade. It’s actually a great place to find real gold for less if you have an eye for it. Apart from that, most jewellers in Ongpin are very skilled when it comes to designing. So, if you’re willing to spend a small fortune, you might get more than what you’ve paid for.
Feast on Binondo’s delicacies
7. Eat the best fried chicken at Sincerity
There’s just no way around it. Sincerity Fried Chicken serves the best fried chicken in Binondo, maybe even in the entirety of Manila. It is so far ahead of its competition that it is now considered an institution. So how on earth did this restaurant make the humble fried chicken feel special?
A good, opinionated guess would be the smart use of Chinese five-spice as seasoning, instead of the usual salt and pepper. Every crunchy bite is an explosion of flavour, down to the tender meat of the chicken. Eating fried chicken from Sincerity for the first time is, sincerely, a life-changing experience.
8. Queue in the long lines at Shanghai Fried Siopao
You can’t miss Shanghai Fried Siopao when you’re walking down Ongpin, especially on a Binondo food trip. You’ll know you’re there when you see people lining up. And believe it or not, these queues thin down quite fast.
But we’re not here to talk about efficiency! We’re here to talk about these heavenly and delectable pan-fried pork buns. These buns are always served fresh and are piping hot to the bite, so be careful. Once you get past the heat, sink your teeth into a deliciously seasoned pork and vegetable filling. The bottom part of the bun also gets quite crisp from the frying.
For something you can eat while walking, it has quite a complex flavour and texture to it. Who knew?
9. Enjoy a bowl full of noodles at Lan Zhou Lamien
For authentic hand-pulled noodles in Binondo, Lan Zhou Lamien is a hearty choice. Fondly known as Lamien by its patrons, this restaurant is famous for heaping portions of noodles and delicious broths. If you want to see how these are made, their kitchen glass panels are clear for everyone to see. Chefs slam the dough down on metal counters beside broths that simmer for hours. It is a very active kitchen, and the food comes out better for it.
Beef Lamien is their signature dish. Hand-pulled noodles are served with braised beef cubes and a few vegetables, all inside a hot broth. It is great when paired with their steamed dumplings. Featuring a delicate rice wrapper, a bite out of this is a burst of savoury, meaty goodness coming from a good mix of vegetables and pork. Dip it in Chinese black vinegar with minced ginger for a bit of an acidic dimension.
10. Buy hopia as snacks and souvenirs in Eng Bee Tin
Before you wrap up your trip in Binondo, why not pick out hopia for friends in Eng Bee Tin? This historic franchise is a Binondo original and is considered a pioneer when it comes to Binondo food. Their sweet treats have served Manila residents for decades and the brand has since expanded nationwide. They’re most famous for their hopia, but you should try their wide range of desserts, too!
These are just some of the things to do in Binondo whenever you visit the place. Tradition remains the same and only strengthens the district. In this day and age, it is amazing to see Binondo, Manila grow and flourish, even if it is centuries old.
Featured image via Kylie Mabazza via Canva Pro. This article was originally published on TripZilla.