Most Filipinos are unaware of the district’s cultural and historical wealth. Follow this quintessential guide and be amazed. Founded in 1594, Binondo was created to encourage more Chinese to convert to Catholicism. Otherwise, they would have had to live under constant surveillance in the ghetto across Manila known as the
By the 19th century, it had emerged as the center of commerce for the entire colony. From here, reformers and freedom fighters emerged, fighting to win our independence from, first, the Spaniards, and then the Americans. Today, however, most Filipinos are unaware of the district’s cultural and historical wealth. So here is a beginner’s guide if you are keen to explore Binondo.
Built by the Dominican friars in 1596, Binondo Church was destroyed by British bombardment in 1762 during the occupation of Manila. But it wasn’t until 1852 that the church was rebuilt and restored. Though it sustained major damages in the quake of 1863, this one survived until 1944 when it was damaged by bombings during World War II. Only the façade, the bell tower, and part of the western wall survived. These were later incorporated in the new church when it was reconstructed in the 1950s.
Recently, though, the church has een renamed “Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz” because this was where the first Filipino Catholic saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, started his journey to sainthood. Born to a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, he started out by serving as an altar boy in this church. He kept serving the church until he was accused of committing an assault. Fearful that he could not get justice, he escaped trial by volunteering as a missionary to Japan.
But the government of Japan at that time banned Christianity. San Lorenzo defied the ban and continued his missionary work, until he was caught and executed.
He was canonized in 1987. Since it was named a minor basilica, the church has been undergoing a massive renovation befitting its new title.
Another icon this church is known for is the Sto. Cristo de Longos. Located in a shrine to the right of the main sanctuary, the black image of Christ was supposedly found by a deaf and mute Chinese laborer in a nearby well in the 1700s. Upon his discovery, his hearing and speech were restored, and people have been venerating the image ever since. Unfortunately, the original image was destroyed during World War II. So the one currently on display is a replica, as indicated by the silver skull and plaque on the cross.
Park of Remembrance
Located outside the church, Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz used to be called Plaza Calderon de la Barca, after a 17th century Spanish poet and playwright. It is the closest thing to a park in this district. During important holidays such as Chinese New Year, the plaza becomes the focal point of celebration as this is where the stage for presentation and performances is set up.
There are four memorials here that you might be interested to check out. The most visible is the statue dedicated to the Catholic saint that this plaza is named after. The second memorial honors Joaquin Santamaria, whose La Insular cigar and cigarette factory used to stand across the plaza. The third pays tribute to the first Filipino printer, Tomas Pinpin, who is best remembered as being the first self-published Filipino author in 1604. Finally there is the memorial dedicated to Tsinoy resistance fighters, who defended our country’s freedom against the Japanese army during World War II.
Palatable Pit Stop
A Binondo favorite, Tasty Dumpling is best known for its battered fried pork chop, which comes in a huge serving. I personally recommend that you try them with dry tossed noodles, which omes with pickled vegetables and a sweet soy dressing (Php133). Speaking of noodles, you just have to try their pork ribs noodles (Php125), which would give any Japanese ramen a run for its money. Try this with a side order of their dumplings (Php 90). (641 Norberto Ty St. formerly Condesa, 242-5195)
A Secular Saint
Located just next to the church, the Don Ramon Ongpin memorial honors one of the district’s most prominent historical figures. Like Lorenzo Ruiz, he was of Filipino and Chinese parentage. In 1882 he opened the store El 82 and became one of the first local shopkeepers to use price tags.
One thing Don Ramon was passionate about was the country’s independence. In fact, when his store caught fire, he turned over the insurance money to General
Emilio Aguinaldo. He himself paid a price for his passion, when the American authorities detained him for his links to the revolutionaries. After his release, he devoted himself to various humanitarian causes such as La Gota de Leche, a group devoted to the promotion of breastfeeding.
After his death in 1912, it was decided that one of the district’s streets, Calle Sacristia, would be renamed in his honor. Since after World War II, this street has
become synonymous with Binondo itself.
Across the bridge from Binondo Church is the district of San Nicolas, where most of the action took place during the Spanish era. Back then, the area was filled with warehouses, factories, and foundries. Turn right at the 7-11 and go down Sto. Cristo St. to find shops in old houses such as Chua Chuan Huat Glassware. (576 Sto Cristo St, 242-6021). It may look like an antique store, but all the items here are brand new such as the blue enamelware kettle from Cebu and the old-fashioned oil lamps.
Despite the war, there are still a number of pre-war buildings left standing in the district. The Uy Su Bin building was built in the 1930s and still carries many of the original art deco features. Originally a commercial building, it has had its offices converted into apartments, while the former department store has now been
converted into a bank and warehouse space.
If you walk into the courtyard of the building, you will find a small Chinese diner called Po Heng Lumpia House. While they offer a number of homestyle Chinese dishes such as fried quekiam, maki (meatballs in starchy broth) and stir fried noodles, they are best known for their fresh vegetable and pork spring rolls, which are a steal at P50. (531 Quintin Paredes; 241-8789. Entrance is just next to the East West Bank)
Flurry in the Alley
Named after a Spanish judge, the narrow alley, Carvajal Street throbs with life. Office workers flock here to dine or to shop from a wide selection of fresh produce. You could also find ingredients for traditional homecooked Chinese dishes such as pork tendons, sea cucumber, and black chicken. Must-try places include Quik Snack (Carvajal St, 242-9572), which for 47 years has been serving popular Hokkien dishes such as oyster cakes (Php 180) and kuchay ah (chives pie, Php 40). Some of the dishes have an Indonesian twist such as sate miguisado (Php125), as the founder, Pilar Lim, was married to an Indonesian.
Altar of Assimilation
Unlike the one inside Binondo Church, the Sto. Cristo Shrine was originally a marker to divide the territory between the Dominican and the Jesuit friars. It slowly began attracting devotees from the area, some of whom began leaving incense sticks in front of it. After a while, a group of the devotees and the building owner began renovating the marker into a shrine. This in turn attracted more people for the way it combined Catholic practices with the Chinese way of worship. At its best, this shrine symbolizes how the Chinese have assimilated themselves into Philippine life and culture.