On the way to Chinatown

I think I like the kind of college education that Sam is getting. In her History class, part of the final exam is a paper on cuisine. I don’t know exactly how it goes but the paper entails experiencing cuisine, taking photos (Sam is a Photography major, after all) and writing about the experience with some historical context.

In these days of intense summer heat, you have to give me not just a good, but an excellent, reason to go out of the house and venture into the city. But when Sam told me we had to go to Chinatown yesterday — to eat and to take photos — because she was doing a paper, she didn’t have to ask twice. I said yes! with alacrity. With total gusto. With an unmistakable gung-ho attitude. Even if it means walking on narrow and crowded city streets in the middle of summer. Why should that matter, really? I mean, heck, I get to support my daughter in her school work, I get to gather materials for the blogs and, most importantly, I get to eat my favorite — Chinese food. Glorious, glorious Chinese food.

I wrote down an itinerary and, by 2.30 p.m. yesterday, all four of us were ready and on the way to Chinatown. And we passed landmarks that I associate with my childhood.

casaveneracion.com Old PNR station in Paco, Manila

Like the old PNR station, now a derelict shell, in Paco, Manila.

casaveneracion.com kalesa (horse-drawn carriages) along Roxas Boulevard in Manila

The kalesas still ply Roxas Boulevard, mostly as a tourist attraction.

casaveneracion.com Emerald Garden, a Chinese restaurant in Manila

Emerald Garden in Roxas Boulevard which sells the biggest siopao in town. My father used to bring me there. And when I was pregnant with Sam and we were living in Quezon City, Speedy would occasionally drive to Emerald Garden so I could have my siopao fix.

casaveneracion.com Manila City Hall

Then, there’s the city hall building. Despite the filthy politics that take place within its walls (ah, if walls could speak!), the structure itself is still imposing after all these decades. The tower clock still works.

casaveneracion.com Savory Restaurant

At the foot of Jones Bridge is Savory Restaurant, home of the famous Savory chicken. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I’ve never eaten there though. When I was a child, there was another chicken place there. Jones Chicken, it was called. And that was where we went all the time.

casaveneracion.com kalesa in Chinatown

Finally, we arrived in Chinatown. Unfortunately, most of the establishments were closed. Apparently, Sunday is not a good day to go to Chinatown. Po Heng, beside the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank along Quintin Paredes Street, which reputedly sells the best lumpia in Chinatown was closed. So was Sincerity Chicken. Mandarin Palace beside Salazar Bakery is no longer in business.

But we managed to eat at two other places that were on my list. The first, to Dong Bei for dumplings. Then, on to President Grand Palace Restaurant for an early dinner.

casaveneracion.com At President restaurant in Chinatown

Between the roast duck and the main entree, Sam wrote three lines on a paper napkin and asked me to read it aloud. She and Alex were already giggling so I was wary. I read slowly. Sam told me to read faster and to read the lines over and over. I didn’t. Grrrrrr. And she and Alex burst out laughing. According to Sam, there are so many videos on the internet of people reciting these three lines — fast and repeatedly — without realizing the sound they make until it’s too late.

Want to try it? Read the lines. Fast. Repeat. Faster. Repeat. Again. And again. Listen to yourself carefully.


  1. VieL says

    Thanks for showing these pictures which brings lots of memories to me. One in particular is the Savory where my dad used to take our family and oh how I loved their pansit and fried chicken.

  2. says

    I have fond memories of Savory restaurant and its famous chicken. That’s one of the places I’d check out when I come home to visit. Btw, I never knew about Jones Chicken but I’ll check it out as well, if it is still around. Is it?

  3. says

    Nice to see familiar sights, ‘no? I felt the same way yesterday. Before there was Makati, Ortigas and Greenhills, everyone went to Manila to dine out and go shopping.

  4. Ronnie Dulay says

    Another popular place to eat Chinese food in the 60’s and 70’s was the To Ho Restaurant along T.Pinpin St. near the Escolta. My late dad used to bring us there when we were kids. While in college in the ’70s, I used to eat there with friends during special occasions. It’s probably not there anymore. However, a new generation To Ho Restaurant was resurrected along President’s Ave, BF Sucat operated by a grandson/relative (not really sure) of the original owners. They still serve the old favorites like HoToTay Soup, To Ho Beef, Green peas with Cashew nuts, Camaron Rebosado and Pata Tim.

  5. says

    Nostalgia can bring back a lot of good memories. But sometimes the bad follows, depending on one’s past. Either way, it evokes some compelling emotion that reminds us of who we are today.

    Thanks, Connie. This installment is another indicator of how much we have in common with you beyond politics and dishes.

    By the way, your daughters are salbahe. Then again, I’ve a distinct suspicion that the fruits did not fall that far from the tree.

  6. emyM says

    OMG…Didn’t know Savory still exist.My parents fav resto when I was
    a kid.After my Mom’s shoe shopping at Syvels in Escolta then off we go
    to eat pancit and chicken at this place.Oh,those good ol’ days.

  7. says

    What is it about Chinatowns that make it seem like an adventure no? I’ve always enjoyed going to Chinatown in Manila, the feeling is the same here in Chinatown Chicago. It is one of those times I wish I can read chinese. I remember applying for a job in Chinatown there, then another time meeting with a supplier among other visits. Food is always a common denominator, no visit is complete without eating there or buying baon – kahit hopia man lang =)

  8. says

    That is called as the total sensory experience, Connie! The sights, the aroma, the sounds, the feeling and of course, the tastes!!! You really know it’s for real!!! ;)

  9. says

    Baka nga nagkikta at nagkakabungguan na pala tayo sa Chinatown nung mga bata pa tayo. I was born in Malate area and grew up there. My grandfather’s house used to be in the place where Emilio Aguinaldo College is now. Kaya nakaka miss…