Sunday afternoon in Chinatown; noodle soup, dumplings, roast duck and congee at Wai-Ying

Part of me thinks that I was Chinese in a previous life. I went through the whole Tai-pan / Noble House routine again recently (re-watched the movie and mini-series this time instead of re-reading the books for the nth time) and I am still as bewitched by the stories of China and Chinese culture as I was as a teenager. If that sounds politically incorrect in the wake of the current hostilities between the Philippine and Chinese governments, then let me just be politically incorrect anyway. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Chinese history and culture, especially considering how both form part of Philippine history and culture. Irrespective of what happens to the Spratly Islands dispute, I will always be enthralled by stories of Kuan Yin, fascinated with the ancient civilization that grew along the Yangtze River, spellbound by the Opium War and the tea-silk trade and engrossed with the Chinese diaspora. And, most of all, I will always be captivated by the various Chinese cuisines, how they spread throughout Asia with the Chinese diaspora and how Chinese cooking traditions have been assimilated in local Asian culinary cultures.

All of that went through my mind as I walked the streets of Manila’s Chinatown with Sam on Sunday afternoon hunting for old abandoned buildings for her photo shoot project. I thought about nearby Intramuros, the seat of the Spanish colonial government during olden times, and the fairy tale we had been taught as children that the wall was built around it to barricade it against foreign invaders. No, actually. The Intramuros Wall was built to keep the indios and the Chinese out as they were deemed inferior to the Spaniards and the Spanish mestizo class. Well, the wall has crumbled, the Spanish had been driven out long ago but Chinatown and its Filipino-Chinese community remain and thrive. And I love going there. For the food, mostly, but also for that peculiar buzz and bustle that is distinctly Chinatown.

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The sun was setting as Sam wrapped up her shoot, I knew she was hungry, Speedy suggested a restaurant but Sam had a counter-suggestion. Wai-Ying, she said. She had been there before — before she was a vegetarian — and she knew that the food was good.

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Like most Chinese eateries that serve genuinely good food, Wai-Ying is an unassuming place. No fluff. No attempt at creating an ambience aimed at justifying price tags with ridiculous figures. Definitely my kind of place. See, when eating out, I care only about the food. Crystal chandeliers overhead and plush carpeting under my feet are irrelevant because they neither add nor detract to the intrinsic quality of the food, but multiply the price.

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We pored over the printed menu, I wanted to order everything but I had to be realistic — I have but one stomach, after all. So, I finally decided on roast duck.

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Speedy preferred the congee.

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Then, Speedy saw something familiar on the glass display case on the counter. Buns with asado (Chinese roast pork) filling. So we ordered those too.

And what did vegetarian Sam have?

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A meatless noodle soup. And, on the side…

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… Vegetable dumplings.

How was the food? Great, although Sam gave away one of the two vegetable dumplings. She said the noodle soup was so huge already and she couldn’t possibly finish both dumplings. I ate what she didn’t want and I had a suspicion that she didn’t like the dumpling very much. Perhaps, a bit on the bland side…

Other than that, we left Wai-Ying happy and full. We crossed the street and went to a Chinese grocery that Speedy spied on earlier when Sam and I were searching for old buildings. Did we buy anything? Yes, oh, yes. But all that for another post at another time.

  • NIna

    Totally agree with you; we went to China a month ago thinking we just have to go so I can cross it out of my bucket list but was totally awed by the country. A country of contrasts with her ancient history and modern buildings. The country is packed with numerous Unesco World Heritage Sites while everywhere you see construction and high rise buildings. And the food… WOW! I would not mind coming back just to eat the Peking Duck again at Da Dong and the Muslim Hopia in Xian! The Terra Cotta in Xian is wonderful but Xian’s cuisine is delicious and here in my neck of the woods (NYC) there is an explosion of Xian foods. I never encountered Muslim Hopia in my 60 years (hehehe) did you? It’s the most amazing hopia , flaky crust with various fillings like crust walnut, yellow beans and flavored with rose or osmanthus (sp?). Let me know please if these are available in the Phil. so I can have it on my #1 list when I go back home. Thanks.

    • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

      No, I have never heard of Muslim hopia. I tried to Google it after reading your comment and I found no references. But I am terribly intrigued. We’re going back to Chinatown this week and I will ask around. I want more than a bite of that as much as you do. :)

      • Nina

        Thanks, please if you can ask around. I am so obsessed with it that my children and friends are getting tired of me bubbling about it. Correction: it is also made of crushed walnuts not crust. Thought it could be well compared to the best Parisian pastries! Another unforgettable Xian pastry is the persimmon cake which again I cannot find here. However, I found a recipe and will try to make one as soon as the persimmon is truly ripe. The Muslim hopia is also known as crystal moon cake and supposedly became famous when Empress Cixi popularized it when she was “exiled” in Xian.

        • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

          My husband loves persimmon! Gotta find persimmon cake as well. :D

          • Nina

            Here’s a recipe of the persimmon cake, just in case you would like to try it though the filling of the ones we had was different. The filling was: crushed black sesame, a bit of dried, minced dates, honey and osmanthus. You should see the long line at this hole-in-the-wall stall again in the Xian Muslim quarter.
            http://www.travelchinaguide.com/tour/food/chinese-cooking/persimmon-cake.htm#qa465943

          • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

            Looks very doable. :) Thanks!

  • NIna

    Totally agree with you; we went to China a month ago thinking we just have to go so I can cross it out of my bucket list but was totally awed by the country. A country of contrasts with her ancient history and modern buildings. The country is packed with numerous Unesco World Heritage Sites while everywhere you see construction and high rise buildings. And the food… WOW! I would not mind coming back just to eat the Peking Duck again at Da Dong and the Muslim Hopia in Xian! The Terra Cotta in Xian is wonderful but Xian’s cuisine is delicious and here in my neck of the woods (NYC) there is an explosion of Xian foods. I never encountered Muslim Hopia in my 60 years (hehehe) did you? It’s the most amazing hopia , flaky crust with various fillings like crust walnut, yellow beans and flavored with rose or osmanthus (sp?). Let me know please if these are available in the Phil. so I can have it on my #1 list when I go back home. Thanks.

    • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

      No, I have never heard of Muslim hopia. I tried to Google it after reading your comment and I found no references. But I am terribly intrigued. We’re going back to Chinatown this week and I will ask around. I want more than a bite of that as much as you do. :)

      • Nina

        Thanks, please if you can ask around. I am so obsessed with it that my children and friends are getting tired of me bubbling about it. Correction: it is also made of crushed walnuts not crust. Thought it could be well compared to the best Parisian pastries! Another unforgettable Xian pastry is the persimmon cake which again I cannot find here. However, I found a recipe and will try to make one as soon as the persimmon is truly ripe. The Muslim hopia is also known as crystal moon cake and supposedly became famous when Empress Cixi popularized it when she was “exiled” in Xian.

        • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

          My husband loves persimmon! Gotta find persimmon cake as well. :D

          • Nina

            Here’s a recipe of the persimmon cake, just in case you would like to try it though the filling of the ones we had was different. The filling was: crushed black sesame, a bit of dried, minced dates, honey and osmanthus. You should see the long line at this hole-in-the-wall stall again in the Xian Muslim quarter.
            http://www.travelchinaguide.com/tour/food/chinese-cooking/persimmon-cake.htm#qa465943

          • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

            Looks very doable. :) Thanks!