You know it when you hear it.
Binondo in Manila is synonymous with food haven, having some of the oldest restaurants in the country serving Chinese cuisine for generations of Filipinos.
Purportedly the world's oldest Chinatown, the 420-year-old Binondo established by the Spaniards in 1594 is known for its trade and commerce, historical significance, and culinary scene.
But with the mushrooming of new and modern-designed food establishments in the area, how do these restaurants maintain their charm and keep up with the constantly changing demands of Filipino foodies?
1. New Toho Food Center
Located along Tomas Pinpin Street, New Toho Food Center is the oldest restaurant in the country, where even some of the Filipino heroes, including Dr. Jose Rizal, were reportedly one of its first customers.
Founded by Manuel “Po Kong” Bautista in 1866, this 150-year-old restaurant has retained its original menu since its debut, with their bestsellers, Roasted Pork Asado, Canton, and Lumpiang Shanghai.
Originally known as Toho Panciteria Antigua, it was burnt in 1983 and was reopened with its present name—New Toho Food Center.
According to its current owner Alger Wong, Toho lasted for more than a century because it has become a tradition of many Filipino families in the metro.
"Restaurants have been competitive everywhere, incorporating fusion dishes. But we remain a strong business because dining here has become a tradition for most of our customers. They pass it to on to their next generation," he said.
Wong is planning to bring back the restaurant's original name this year.
2. Sincerity Cafe and Restaurant
Living up to its name, this restaurant has been bringing sincerity to different generations with its inexpensive but savory dishes for 60 years now.
A dream of bringing Xiamen cuisine to Manila has led to the opening of Sincerity in 1956 by Uy Mo Koan and Uy Lim Bee with only P600 ($12.56) as their capital.
Located along Yuchengco Street, this restaurant is known for its cheap kikiam and oyster cake.
For its owner Lynda Uy, the quality of the food they offer is the reason why Serenity is still operating until today. "Ask my customers and they will tell you how great our food is. It's really with the quality of the food."
3. Quick Snack
In an alley crowded with fruits and vegetables stalls along Carvajal Street is a humble restaurant that has been serving since 1967.
Pilar Lim took Quick Snack from Cebu to Binondo with only traditional Filipino-Chinese dishes on its menu.
In 1980, Lim's grandson took over the management of the restaurant. As its name suggests, the restaurant is famous for its good dishes that are served fast.
Quick Snack is also best known for its fried noodles and stir-fried kangkong with Lim's original satay sauce.
Other dishes that this restaurant is famous for are Fresh Lumpia, Rellenong Hipon, and their vegetarian dish, Vege Lomi.
4. LGA Fast Food
Its location may not be endearing to the appetite, but this restaurant has drawn popularity among Filipinos with its variety of dishes that customers can choose from.
LGA Fast Food is among the food stalls at the famous Estero Food located beside a creek in Ongpin Street.
The restaurant has been closed for several years and just reopened in 2006 with its current owner Angela Sy.
LGA is famous for its Frog Legs, Seafood Vegetable Mix, and Buttered Chicken. For its long-time employee, Annie Sarad, who witnesses the flock of customers in the restaurant every day, their regulars are the testimony of their lasting business.
Every customer that comes in says dining here is their reward to themselves, Sarad said.
5. Chuan Kee
Originally a grocery store with an eatery at the side, Chuan Kee is one of the most visited restaurants in Binondo.
Located at the threshold of Ongpin Street, this restaurant began operating in 1940 and has been well known for its kiampong.
It was owned by Co Bio Tsing, but Gerry Chua who owns the famous Eng Bee Tin took over its management in the 1990s when Tsing left for Hong Kong.
At present, Chuan Kee is located in a two-storey building with an extension called Café Mezzanine on the second floor.
According to its brand manager Myrna Uy, the restaurant has been introducing new dishes to the public every year.
"We really need to update our menu constantly and add more dishes," she said.
Uy said a good location is also important to a lasting restaurant that's why Chuan Kee has been renovated several times and is now modernized compared to its original structure.
Robert Vergara, Jr. is a fourth-year Journalism student from the University of Santo Tomas. He is currently the Assistant Online Editor of The Varsitarian, the official student publication of UST. Follow him on Twitter: @_robertvergara