Long before the Spaniards came, the Chinese have been trading and mingling with the natives of Manila. The coming of the Spaniards made life and business harder for Chinese settlers though. The Spanish government gave them the land across Pasig River from Fort Santiago (well within the Fort cannon’s firing distance) in 1594 to encourage their cooperation and loyalty, as well as to keep the Chinese culturally at a distance.
This worked well enough for all concerned. The city benefited from Chinese trade, commerce, and craftmanship skills (like goldsmith works, cabinet-making, masonry, foundry and shoe-making) and the Chinese enjoyed a tax-free occupation of part of the city and limited self-governing privileges.
Today, Binondo is a center for authentic Chinese cuisine and wholesale wheeling and dealing. It has over a hundred banks and Like any other Chinatown in the world, Binondo is colorful, crowded, and noisy. Chinese festivals are celebrated with fireworks and all the pomp the Tsinoys (as Chinese Filipinos are called locally) are capable of.
But beyond the bustle of business and ringing of the cash registers are the colors and nuances of the life the people of Binondo have made for themselves. Given their difficult history in the city, Tsinoys have developed a rather unassuming lifestyle. Just like everyone else, business tycoons enjoy their coffee and pan de sal (salted bread) at streetside eateries; they brush elbows with vagrants on the streets, inconspicuous in the crowd.
In line with this way of life, many of the gems of Chinatown are difficult to spot—because they seem so ordinary at first! For instance, a modest storefront, with just one or two tables of products in a small room, may actually be the supplier of the most exquisite dark chocolate tableas (used for baking) in the country, which you could buy at a fraction of the cost of products sold at supermarkets!
So you really have to keep your eyes open and sense of smell active.
But then, that’s part of why Binondo is so interesting to visit, the delightful discoveries beside the best-value buys.
Here are notable streets with corresponding specialties in Binondo:
1. Ongpin – gold & jewelry
2. Evangelista – industrial equipment
3. Benavides & Masangkay – car supplies
4. Alonzo – hardware
5. Nueva – shoes, leather & rubber goods
6. Gandara Mill – machinery & tent supplies
7. T. Pinpin – furniture, upholstery, & crystal chandelier
8. Ylaya – textile & garments
9. Abad Santos cor Tayuman – sewing equipment
10. Dagupan – rice
Divisoria (wet & dry goods) and Raon St (electronics) are also considered part of Chinatown. You can also find many bargain computer and printer shops in Binondo. The Binondo Catholic Church is also a special attraction.