Social Media !! Love it or hate it, but it connects people across the globe. A few weeks ago, just before leaving to fly to the Philippines I sent out a few tweets, the usual kind ‘off to the Philippines, any recommendations on things to do and / or see’ followed by another asking about any good walking tours to do in Manilla as I’m always on the hunt for authentic street food wherever I travel. A few recommendations were made, but due to my availability I wasn’t able to fit onto one of the standard walking tour itineraries. Then, out of the blue, along came my ‘knight in shining armour’ or should I say my local volunteer guide in his brothers car, which had windows which were tinted so dark, I was fairly convinced that there were no Street lights in China Town until I rolled down my window!
My volunteer guide for the night is JC a twenty something Chinese by birth, Filipino guy who lives in ChinaTown and offered to take me on a walking tour of his neighbourhood. As soon as I landed he called me and told me he had offered as he is trying to do ‘random acts of kindness’ this resonates, as literally a few minutes before speaking to him, I’d just bought a ragamuffin street kid a burger, fries and drink in a burger shop on an impromptu stop for coffee (yup I know, coffee in a Burger shop, but actually it was quite good).
Anyway, my guide in Manilla had checked out JC’s credentials and confirmed all was good, so on my first night in Manila after an all night flight and a few hours sleep, I met up with JC and his friend Karen who were my guides for the evening. My hotel was close to China Town and after watching the sunset from a nearby park, we drove into the heart of China Town and parked up, ready for a humid walking tour.
China Town is not big, but there is plenty to explore. The entrance is marked by the Goodwill Arches with the main street being Ongpin St. Ongpin Street is just a ten minute walk end to end, but during the daytime there are plenty more alleys and areas to explore with goldsmiths, herbalists, teahouses and shops selling mooncakes, incense, paper money to burn for ancestors, trinkets and other curios, as well as chinese supermarkets, street market stalls and of course plenty of places to eat.
During the evening, China Town is fairly quiet and sadly hardly any of the red lanterns which I associate China Town with are lit, I’m told that it’s expensive to keep them lit all of the year round and mainly the lights are switched on for celebrations and holidays which is understandable but a shame. To be honest, it felt very un China Town like, and had it not been for my guides I’m not sure that I would have stayed long on my own, although I’m told it’s much busier during the day time. I’m undeterred, as we find plenty of interesting places to eat which to be honest was my main objective of the evening.
First stop was Ying Ying Teahouse where we stop for Dim sum. JC explains that this place is his favourite place for Dim sum and is so busy that they serve from the bamboo steamers outside the shop too and as we wait for our table we see a fairly brusque business taking place streetside.
Inside, the place is packed with locals, always a great sign, and we have to wait for a while for a table, but the wait is worth it as the food is good. With a table full of steaming bamboo steamers filled with various dim sum, a platter of chicken feet (guides favourite dish) and a platter full of cold cuts, and a few teapots full of Chinese tea we start to make a dent into our hearty appetites.
We try : Hakaw (Shrimp Siomai), Siao Long pao (Dumping in soup), Sharkfin dumpling, Chicken feet, Cold Cuts – a platter of pork, seaweed, chicken and century egg and Kutchai (vegetarian dumpling) along with tea all for 50/AED in total.
After a bellyful of dim sum along with the usual sauces, we take a walk along the streets until we reach a riverside restaurant, behind which is a small alleyway where an amazing BBQ smell is wafting, sadly we don’t have room to eat, but the kebabs which we being cooked looked amazing and smelt amazing too.
Lan Zhou La Mien
Next stop, after a short walk, took us to Lan Zhou La Mien where they are famous for their hand made fresh noodles. By now it’s really humid, despite this we are mesmerised by the talented staff who are stood over boiling pots of water hand shaving noodles or swinging hand pulled noodles in the air with skill. I stop to take a video and can’t help marvelling at the skill of this young guy who manages to entertain as well as doing his job, and smiles at the same time.
Noodles in Chinatown
Tummies full, we still manage to order and eat a dish of fresh noodles, the broth was clear and sweet whilst the noodles which we had just seen being made were soft and silky and the chunks of beef were tender and moist, a sprinkling of chopped spring onion greens finished the dish and whilst we struggled to finish the dish between us, I’m told that we had actually only had a bowl for one.
We had beef lamien (12/AED)
Walking tour of China Town
With full bellies, we finished our evening with a walking tour along the rest of the main road, where we found this place with a window full of peking duck, and pork belly as well as a shop selling seafood including fresh eels which are stored in pipes. We also spot soup number 5 (bull penis) believed to be an aphrodisiac, which I sampled in Larsian in Cebu on my last trip to the Philippines.
All too soon, our evening is over, and I leave my guides who are busy shopping in a chinese bakery for sweet treats for dessert, I’m stuffed and head back to my hotel, my pillow is calling 🙂
Finally, many thanks to TJ and Karen for showing me their favourite places to eat in China Town.