Binondo is a place of unique sights, smells, and tastes that are very distinctly Chinoy. As the oldest Chinatown in the world, this place is a must-go for anyone who wants to experience Chinoy culture firsthand. From the mixing of languages in the streets to the stereotype of “everyone being a business owner,” you’ll find it all here.
1. Authentic Chinese restaurants and cuisine
From humble family restaurants to hole-in-the-wall joints and traditional dim sum restaurants; Binondo is full of amazing places to eat. Waiying, Dong Bei Dumplings, King Chef, and Ying Ying Tea House are all must-tries in Binondo!
Because of these places, the pleasing scent of noodles, youtiao, and Chinese food is always present in the Chinatown air. The savory mix of all of these smells is hard to replicate in the kitchen, and for that, this is the number one thing Chinoys miss about Binondo.
2. Vibrant Holiday Festivities and Cultural Displays
With lanterns and decorations lining the streets, Binondo during holidays and festivals is always a sight to behold. The exciting energy in the air is matched by the loud crashing of cymbals, ornate dragons, fireworks, and costumed dancers! Just like the local fiestas in the Philippines, Chinese celebrations are an opportunity for Chinoys to come out and celebrate their unique cultural heritage.
3. Local Binondo people
After almost two years of social distancing, it’s fair to say we are all missing people and human interaction. Thinking about the local Binondo people brings back memories of conversing in limited Mandarin and Hokkien, haggling, talking about food, and sharing the stores with special sales or discounts that day!
Whether you think they’re too loud or not, the local Chinoys of Binondo are some of the most interesting, funny, and business-minded Chinoys you’ll ever meet!
4. Browsing Stores
Among the unique experiences in Chinatown is getting to browse the shops for unique items that you can’t get in normal stores, or even online. Examples of these items are antiques, charms, products, ritual items, and even talismans!
Before going to places like temples and graveyards, many Chinoys go to Binondo to stock up on needed items such as mingchao (“hell money”), incense, and joss sticks. This is why Chinatown is very crowded on occasions such as Chinese New Year and All Saints’ Day!
5. Cultural Locations
Being the center of Chinoy history in the Philippines, Binondo is home to cultural attractions such as the Kaisa Angelo King Heritage Center which houses the Bahay Tsinoy Exhibit and the Tulay Fortnightly Chinoy culture magazine.
For this reason, taking a stroll down Binondo is like taking a stroll through history!
Aside from its blend of Chinese and Filipino architecture, Binondo is also very near Intramuros, which was the seat of government during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines.
Walking through the streets viewing European architecture while hearing the sounds of the kalesa makes for a unique and memorable experience.
6. Chinese Grocery Stores
If you’ve been to Eng Bee Tin Grocery on Ongpin Street, then this photo probably brings back memories! The rich smell of spices, the crunching of sunflower seeds, and the huge assortment of Chinese goods that you can’t get at your usual Savemore or Puregold!
The groceries in Binondo are full of variety, and most of them are family business who put their own spin and personality into their store. At Binondo, the little groceries are just as beloved as the malls and restaurants!
7. The architecture
As a melting pot of culture, Binondo has Filipino, Chinese, and Spanish architecture in its historic streets. It even has street names in all three languages!
You will see the unique curved roofs of a Taoist Temple on one street that transitions to the stone arches of the European-designed Binondo Church. Then you walk down further and see a restaurant where you can eat inside nipa huts.
Like Disney World, Binondo will show you many “lands” with different aesthetics but all in one place!
The Philippines-China Friendship Bridge also makes for a fantastic sight as you leave Chinatown, thinking of what you’ll experience the next time you return.