Digital Reporter

There’s something romantic and utterly peculiar about roaming the streets of Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in Asia. Rows of dimly lit stores are crammed with its own little secrets: the confluence of old and new in the form of bottled herbal remedies, charms, beaded jewelry, golden Buddhas, and, the best part of all: traditional Chinese food.

After all, who could resist the charm of, say, dumplings: thin dough crescents filled with minced meat and chopped vegetables, then boiled until soft and chewy? Or spring rolls: fresh vegetables and meat rolled into cylinders and dipped in sweet nutty sauce?

That’s why when digital booking platform Tralulu began offering pre‑curated trips—a shift from its original business model that connected users to local guides—it was only logical that a “food crawl” in Binondo was the first on the list. The 400‑year‑old town, sandwiched between the historic districts of Sta. Cruz and Intramuros in Manila, after all is close to the heart of the tech startup’s Filipino‑Chinese Founder and CEO Andrew Cua who grew up and still lives in the area.

“This is very personal,” 23‑year‑old Cua told SparkUp in an interview. “I’ve been bringing people around Binondo for food trips for around five to six years now. Since college, I’ve been doing that.”

Binondo is the Mecca for Filipinos looking for authentic oriental cuisines, with different Chinese restaurants located in every corner. Despite the mushrooming of new and quaint food establishments around the area, these restaurants have withstood the test of time and remain serving savory Chinese dishes to different generations of Filipinos.

“ The great taste of the food is uncontested and the landscape of restaurant business here is very competitive,” he said. “Before there were fast‑food chains set up here, but most of them didn’t survive, they lost to traditional businesses.”

Binondo’s food establishments, he added, are part of long tradition and cultural fusion, which Tralulu seeks to highlight on the trip.

“It’s a gastronomic journey where people can try the hidden gems and the best food stops in Binondo, especially during the month of February,” he said, adding that the trip, called “Binondo Food Crawl,” is perfect for people visiting the town during the Chinese new year season. In February last year, Cua said, around 80 local and foreign travellers booked the trip on the platform.

The four‑to‑five trip can be availed for ₱1,200, which already includes fees for the food and a guide.

“We partner closely with restaurant owners to provide sometimes even hidden recipes that people don’t have access to, and also the stories behind a recipe, a shop, and the town—what makes it what it is.”

Here’s a glimpse of what you can experience:

The food crawl includes five “stations” where users can get a complete Chinese meal—from appetizers to desserts.

It begins with a visit to New Po‑Heng Lumpia House, a shop located in a latent residential building at Quintin Paredes Street, where travellers will get to eat Chinese‑style fresh lumpia, a popular snack made of mixed of vegetable and spices rolled in a thin crepe pastry skin.

“This one is usually the favorite of everyone which cuts across kids to the elders because of the traditional Hokkien recipe,” he said. “Poheng Lumpia House is a hidden gem run by a Hokkien migrant who came to the Philippines few decades ago to start a Hokkien shop in a secret residencial place.”

Travellers are given the option to make their own fresh lumpia.

What’s a Binondo trip without devouring what is probably the most popular Chinese food—dimsum?

At the next station of the trip, Tralulu takes travellers to Ying Ying Tea House at Dasmarinas Street where “the tastiest dimsum in town” are served.

“There’s always a debate about which shop has the best dimsum in Binondo, and some locals would conclude the debate and say that Ying Ying has the best dimsum with its years of experience,” he said.

No one can go wrong with Ying Ying’s dimsum, he said. After all the family that runs the business are also the one behind some of the most popular food establishments in Binondo like The President Grand Palace and Wai Ying Fast Food.

For the main course, travellers are taken to New Toho Food Center, the oldest restaurant in the country. The restaurant is now run by the fourth generation of the family that built it in 1888. Among its first customers is Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.

“It’s home of some of the oldest recipes in the country that are still being served commercially today and here you will see a perfect fusion of all cuisines—Spanish, Filipino, and Chinese,” he said.

Cua added that the restaurant is perfect for people looking for savory and authentic Chinese cuisines sold at reasonable prices.

This station brings travellers to Shanghai Fried Siopao, one of the most popular snack shops Binondo’s cultural street Ongpin.

Here, popular fried sipoao (steamed bun) “prepared in the classic way” will be served.

“This Shanghai fried siopao is good on its own. It’s not overrated because of its name. It’s not expensive and it’s what locals here eat on a normal afternoon,” he said.

After finishing plates of salty oriental food, it’s time for some Chinese desserts.

At the last station, travellers will be served with famous Chinese sweets such as butchi (a rice cake made from sweet rice flour molded into a circle with a sweet bean paste filling and sesame seed coating) and siao lung pao from Cafe Mezzanine, better known as The Fireman’s Cafe.

“The pinnacle of culinary creations in Binondo when it comes to pastries and desserts can be found in Eng Bee Tin brand and one of their finest creations is Fireman’s cafe a social enterprise all proceeds go to firefighters,” he said.

To conclude the trip, Tralulu takes travellers to a “secret place” where they will see the city of Manila and its neighbouring business districts from above. Want to find out what it is? Click here to get a chance to win a Binondo Food crawl from Tralulu.