“Nibbling our way through Chinatown: Four hundred years of history and up to four hours of decadence!” says the promotional material for Ivan Man Dy’s “Binondo Food Wok.” Indeed, Binondo has such a long and rich history that its story is inextricably tied with that of the country.
Binondo, according to Nick Joaquin in his book Manila, My Manila, was “a process to absorb the Chinese into Philippine culture.” It was formally established in the mid-1650’s through a land grant given to the Christianized Chinese. Before Binondo, Manila’s Chinese community was confined to ghettoes locally known as the “Parian.” The Parian was vital because it supplied the city with silks, porcelains, lacquered furniture, food products, as well as every kind of artist or craftsman. The Chinese, however, were persecuted at various points of history, as authorities get alarmed over their swelling numbers. With the creation of Binondo, a new Chinese community arose – the Chinese mestizaje – that was distinct from the Parian, with its residents increasingly identifying themselves with the native indios.
Or, as Ivan put it, Binondo was where they put the Chinese who were “well-behaved.” Still, Ivan continued, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Binondo was established just across the river from the walled city of Intramuros, “just within range of the city’s cannons.”
With such tongue-in-cheek quips Ivan peppered his spiels as we wove through the streets of Binondo. He made history sound as palatable as the Chinese dishes that the walk featured. Arrayed in a Chinese red silk blouse and traditional Chinese hat, he also carried a small Philippine flag that he used to wave at passing traffic to get us across the streets. He looked the very picture of the Chinese-Filipino integration that is Binondo.