Lost in Binondo: Palengkera and Friends

As a Palengkera, I thought I know Divisoria and Binondo that much, apparently not. I’ve been there a gazillion times as a wanderer and a cheap-seeker, I never thought I still gonna get lost.


Chinatown/Binondo Area

A friend suggested we pay a visit to Divi last weekend as humans were partying in the eternal parks, we assume to avoid the hustle. We left at 6am via the PNR (my friend’s first time to ride the rustic-dinosaur train). We didn’t have a plan anyway, no list to buy, we just wanted to wander and bring the “come-what-may” demeanor. Yes, we were right. Divi was almost a ghost town, malls were still closed (but I knew that on the onset since it’s still 7am), few street/sidewalk vendors were still setting-up. You see, we really had nothing to do by then. We decided unanimously to feed our rumbling stomach. We were aiming to eat somewhere in Binondo/China Town. And so we got lost.


tired legs

We started to walk along Recto going to 168 Mall to 999, we knew there were no shops open yet. I volunteered to be a leader (for once), and followed my instincts. I really was “nagmamaganda” and carry my “know-it-all” kembot. But we were literally lost. But as they say “someone gave us mouth, so we might want to put in good use”. We did, but to no avail. We were like in Sahara on a 90 degree where we didn’t know what path to take. I was seriously ready to give in and just sit or lie down on the floor. Imagine the grease we had and I felt like I smell like the sewers we passed. The smell of the area was not pleasant I tell you. After the never ending walk, lo and behold – we saw Ongpin Street- and that’s when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.


Binondo Church

On the bright side, walking around Binondo was like blast from the past, a living museum. It was nice to see Binondo Plaza, the old church, the ancient PNB building, bricked buildings and anything oldy. Establishments and restaurants were also pattered to the Chinese ambiance, something Chinese were incorporated with them.



Along Ongpin, we chance upon this open restaurant – Four Season Cuisine. It was nothing fancy, it felt like an ordinary Chinese carinderia to me (or we were just too hungry to be picky). But then the crowd started to build up and you know that something is good when you see long lines in a restaurant. They offer crab egg omelet, dugo guisado, oyster omelet, port spareribs, dimsum, tofu guisado, mixed veggies and wide array of noodle soup. I saw the menu and it looked kinda affordable to me.


Four Season Cuisine

My friends ordered siomai/dimsum, spareribs, fried tofu, fried rice, morcon (don’t know if it’s an accurate name for it).


long line at the Four Season Cuisine

I had this sumptuous mixed noodle soup. Heaven (not that I was hungry).


Mixed Noodle Soup

Outside the restaurant, I chanced upon a strange fruit. I saw it sometime ago in facebook posted by my aunt from the west. The vendor saw me staring at it and he offered me to try so he cut a portion of it.  I felt the need to buy the whole fruit – and guess how much? P105. I maintained my composure to look like I’m “sosyal and mayaman” (char!).  Looking like a cross between tomato, peach and an apple. It tasted like bland chiko without the grainy feel.


curious case of persimmon

Well, I say, it’s okay to get lost at times when you end up to something wonderful, something nice. It maybe painful at first, but we have to have a point of reference for being happy – that is to endure first. Did it sound like I justified my mistake?


at the PNR


Bizarre Food: Ricefield Rat (Laoag City, Ilocos Norte)

I always believe that one of the best ways to experience and learn one’s culture is through its food. Our diets divide cultures and subcultures, and eating bizarre foods is among those that mark social differences and media interests (for hyping and gaining viewer traffic). One must be open minded and hopefully find great joys of exploring other cultures by seeing what and how others eat.

abal abal

Abal-Abal (courtesy of my cousin Angelo Javier)

Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain (of travel channel) are among those who are not afraid to try every morsel they find around the world. Yes, that includes me. I’d like to try most of what others think as bizarre. I for one was raised by a farmer in Ilocos, and I am proud that we offer diverse strange food. It reminded me of the days I used to tail my father and his minions (farm helpers/ my friends) in their hunt. I was not squeamish by then and given a chance again, I would be glad to join them and experience the fun. I tried almost anything edible that crawls and flies, to name a few – Ararawan (mole crickets), simot-simot (winged ants), Buos (forest ants), Abal-abal/Arus-arus/Salagubang/Simmawa (June beatles), palakang bukid (ricefield frogs), banyas (bayawak, although it is now prohibited due to species endangerment), and lo and behold- RATS. I realized that we also hunt these critters not because of necessity, but mostly because it’s fun. As a disclaimer though, not all Ilocanos eat these foods.

golden beatles

Simmawa/ Golden Beatles (Courtesy of my sister -Yzang)

Rodents are among the most despicable pests, let alone unimaginable to consume, while a delicacy to some. I recently saw the video posted by Lester Babiera, originally published in Coconuts Manila. I recognized our porch and our dog -Labang. One of the hunters is my cousin (Emats/Manning) and the others are our neighbors. I’m from Bacsil North (not Baksil by the way) and I am so proud that most of us eat rodents (the good ones- forest and rice field rats). It is a good source of protein and it is sustainable. They can be found nesting in bamboo clusters. Dogs are trained to find them, while hunters would use sticks to divert the rats into the open so they could be trapped by the dog or shot using “escopeta” (hunter’s gun). It can be cooked adobo style or barbeque. Nothing is odd with the taste, as cliché if you will, it really taste like chicken.

Exotic food is called such because of cultural differences, people find it strange or unfamiliar because they are not used to eating it. We have different dialects, customs, nationality, social class and or travel history so it’s fitting to say that we can also have different food. It goes to say that, what is weird for someone maybe staple for others. It’s acquired taste too.

The decision to be adventurous with food is all up to us, but I do encourage you to try some that you can stomach.


Ricefield Frogs (Angelo Javier)




video owned by Coconut Manila.