Unearthing Lucky Chinatown’s food and culture secrets (GMA News Online)

Cua pao, the perfect snack

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last May 1, 2014)

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “Chinatown” is food. Growing up, my mom brought home goodies like hopia, tikoy, champoy, fried siopao, pork floss, and more. Indulging in such treats would always bring a smile to my face.

Today, more than ever, Chinatown in Binondo has become known as a food destination where one can gorge on not-so-ordinary delectables.

For those unfamiliar with the place, Chinatown may seem like a labyrinth of retail stores and other establishments. Instead of not knowing where to go and walking in circles, you may opt to join a tour of a specific place like Lucky Chinatown, which is the only upscale mall in the area.

Some of its nooks and crannies hold interesting tidbits about Chinese tradition, and I had the privilege of exploring them through the “Awesome Food & Culture Secrets of Lucky Chinatown” tour, organized by Lucky Chinatown and hosted by RJ Ledesma of Mercato Group and Anton Diaz of the food and travel blog “Our Awesome Planet.”

Weekend walking tour

The tour falls on a Saturday, when the weekend food vendors appear on the Lucky Chinatown Walk strip outside the mall. However, the first stop during my tour was at a stall called “Botanical Herbal Hall” located inside Annex A.

The second stop was the Miao De Amituofo Pureland Temple, which was situated along the Lucky Chinatown Walk. It’s a small place of worship where devotees can enjoy some peace and quiet and offer their intentions through lit incense. The person in charge explained some Buddhist religious practices and even taught us how to do it correctly.

The next agenda on the tour was to take a look at selected food stalls in the strip. We headed to Fu Dao Dumpling where we witnessed the making of the pastry by hand. These particular dumplings were added to a crimson-colored broth exuding a spicy aroma. We were there during lunchtime and there was a queue for the sate seafood noodles with dumpling shrimp, dumpling noodles, and Taiwan pechay in a sate soup base. You know the food is good when people are willing to wait for it.
The group was introduced to different tea varieties possessed of medicinal benefits such as removing internal heat and clearing toxic materials. The Chinese have been enjoying tea for over 4,000 years and they believe that drinking this beverage could help prevent disease and make you healthier. We sampled the plum tea, pear’c tea, lo’5 tea, but my favorite was the may bloom tea that aids in lipid lowering and strengthening the stomach. The tea doesn’t have any artificial ingredients; you can definitely taste its all-natural quality.

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