HOME > Chowhound > China & Southeast Asia >


Manila Chinese Food

There is a type of Chinese cuisine in Manila that I haven't seen in North American Chinatowns. It is Amoy Chinese food. It shares many nomenclatures with Taiwanese food but the preparation is quite different. Man Han, with branches in Quezon City and Makati, is perhaps the best place to sample this cuisine. Ha Yuan is also good. Then there are individual restaurants in Chinatown that are good for particular dishes-- Ma Kong for chicken butt noodle soup (mami,) New Manosa for Lo Mi and stuffed prawn, Tang Qiao for Ma Ki, Panciteria Peace for stewed pork leg.
These are some dishes to try:
Lumpia (egg roll) is quite different from all other egg rolls, quite delicious and healthful. It is like a burrito stuffed with a melange of shredded veggies, tofu, meat, shrimp, ground peanuts etc.
Ma Chang. Steamed bamboo leaf wrapped glutinous rice with pork belly, sausage, mushrooms, dried shrimp. The oil from the chunks of pork belly infuses the dish with a fragrance and flavor that makes it different (better) than Cantonese or Shanghai versions of leaf wrapped glutinous rice.
Lo Mi. Udon like noodles in a thick soup made with shrimp, pork, mushrooms, cabbage, shallots etc.
Diok Pit He. Deep fried stuffed prawns wrapped in a pork stomach "webbing."
Ma Ki. The same characters as Taiwanese Rou Geng but tastes very different. Gingery chunks of beef or pork in a glistening thickened soup.
Pork Leg Cha Bihon. The chunks of pork leg makes this fried rice vermicelli dish fantastic.
O Chien. Oyster omelette. Unlike Taiwanese version, the use of chives gives it a great flavor.
Ngo Hiong Keng. Similar but better than Taiwanese Chicken rolls.

The restaurants I've mentioned above are every day lunch places and the dishes are priced accordingly. While Man Han and Ha Yuan are clean and comfortable eating places, the others are very much less so :-)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thank you for the nice, informative post, poggibonzzi! It reminded me of many favorite dishes. I'll probably be salivating in my sleep tonight, visions of lomi, machang and ngo hiong dancing in my head. . .

    The fresh lumpia is a particular favorite: I have to have it at least once every visit back to Manila. And I cannot imagine why such a wonderful dish hasn't made it across the Pacific and caught on like a California wildfire. It really is one of those rare dishes that is as good for you as it is delicious. Well, maybe the reason it hasn't caught on is the same reason I haven't made it myself--a heck of a lot of work julienne-ing those veggies. A couple of family friends who make the lumpia insist that everything be cut by hand--they say the slicing blades of a food processor will make for mushy vegetables. I bought a ceramic julienne slicer, but I don't think it will work either. Maybe a real mandoline--but I keep imagining bits of julienned finger mixed with the green beans.

    It is interesting that although most of the Filipino Chinese are of Amoy or Fookien descent, it seems that most of the prominent Chinese restaurants are Cantonese. I wonder if it is because, as was true of Filipinos and Filipino food a couple of decades ago, Chinoys (Filipino Chinese) feel they get better Amoy/ Hokkien food at home than at local Chinese restaurants.

    Incidentally, though it belongs to another genre of Chinese food, I had some excellent food at Lugang in Greenhills: xiao long bao, steamed fish head with pickled peppers, crisp fried chicken, and shaved peanut ice come to mind. I haven't had XLB like that since Taipei.


    Now to go back to my wistful dreams of lumpia. . .

    1. Quite similar to Hokkien/Fujianese food in Singapore and Penang (Malaysia)!

      1. Interesting indeed. Manila was a center for China trade after the Spanish discovered its perfect harbor in 1570. The Spanish brought silver from the Andes to Manila where it was trans-shipped to China aboard Fujian junks. By 1620, the annual flow was 20 tons. By the 1630’s, the Chinese Ministry of War estimated that 100,000 Fujianese shipped out annually to Manila for work. These influences can wane it would seem. Taiwan only became “Chinese” after the Dutch colonized it. The Dutch set up base on Taiwan in 1620 (Java being too far from China) in order to compete with the Spanish. Only then did mainland Chinese come to the island as farmers and hunters.

        All this in Timothy Brook's "The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Empires." Harvard University Press; Cambridge, 2010.

        5 Replies
        1. re: scoopG

          Wow, that is fascinating! I have at least a couple of ancestors who were part of that migration. Limahong, an infamous pirate (or settler, depending on your point of view) is supposed to have been one of them. I wonder how they lived, and what they ate, and whether anyone has written a history of how this Chinese diaspora has influenced and evolved in Southeast Asian cooking--and maybe even in Mexican and Spanish cooking. It's pretty apparent in some dishes, but I suspect that it goes pretty deep and that there are some pretty colorful stories involved.

          1. re: pilinut

            Great story. There is a book that might help...will have to dig it out. Compiled by some prof in Singapore I think...all about the diaspora I believe.

              1. re: scoopG

                Thanks again, scoopG! I've placed a copy on my Amazon wishlist.

          2. re: scoopG

            Interesting :-) I grew up being told Fukienese pirates settled Taiwan. So in this sense Taiwan was Chinese since the aborigines were driven to the mountains. Thanks for mentioning Brook's book. I should add it to my reading list.

          3. Fujianese influence - that explains why the Tagalog terms for some vegetables were adopted from the Hokkien dialect:

            Bokchoy (Cantonese: pakchoy) = petsay in Tagalog = pek-chye in Hokkien

            Cilantro = kintsay in Tagalog = kin-chye in Hokkien

            String beans = sitaw in Tagalog = chye-taw in Hokkien

            Coriander = wansoy in Tagalog = wan-sooy in Hokkien

            2 Replies
            1. re: klyeoh

              How interesting....would love to sample the food!

              1. re: klyeoh

                Yes in the Philippines, Chinese means Fukienese, more specifically Amoy (Xiamen) part of Hokkien. Transliteration from Amoy Chinese as you have pointed out and not Mandarin or Cantonese is the way to understand the Chinese roots of many Filipino words :-) Of course it is possible to argue Amoy Chinese is not a Chinese dialect at all but a separate language altogether overlayered with Mandarin Chinese.

              2. Perhaps not the cuisine you posted about, I nevertheless had thoroughly enjoyable meals at Szechuan House Restaurant at Aloha Hotel on Roxas Boulevard near the Manila Yacht Club, Golden Bay Seafood Restaurant near MoA, and a small Chinese rastaurant in Caloocan City a couple of blocks south of EDSA (that doesn't narrow it down much) but I forget the name! My family in Bagong Barrio would know the name.

                1. Looks like most of Manila's oldest restaurants are Chinese/Fujianese ones:

                  Any thoughts as to the food served at Ambos Mundos (Est. 1888), New Toho Food Centre (Also Est. 1888), Ma Mon Luk (Est. 1920), Ramon Lee's Panciteria (Est. 1929), Boy Ching Woo (Est. 1939), Ongpin Manosa Restaurant (Est. 1940) and Savory (Est. 1950)?

                  I'd always heard about Ambos Mundos & would certainly liked to visit it one day.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Gee, I've never heard of most of the places on that list! How did you hear about them? Most of them are, or were, probably in Chinatown.

                    I do remember going to Mamonluk in Cubao with my dad, who loved the place, around 30 years ago. They were famous for their siopao (char siu bao), among other things, but I thought the food was atrocious. Savory is still around and has a number of branches, but saving one visit over 25 years ago, when I had a decent fried chicken, I can't comment on the quality of the food. But I doubt that either place will make it to a chowhound's top 10 (or top 30) places to eat in Manila.

                    What have you heard about the others?

                    1. re: pilinut

                      I got the list from the blog (link provided in my earlier post above) which, in turn, got the names from Yahoo News Philippines.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        I know for a fact that New Toho, Ma Mon Luk, Ongpin Manosa and Savory still exist. Ramon Lee's not sure anymore. I personally like Country Chicken better than Savory but then that is my preference only.

                        1. re: dazed2

                          Thanks for the update, dazed2. I've been exposed to Filipino cuisine since 1975, when one of my father's classmates & oldest friends served as an envoy in Australia's embassy in Manila. Today, I have 2 cousins with Filipino spouses, so we continue to have opportunities every now & then to savor Filipino delicacies both in Singapore, and also during the occasional holiday in the Philippines.

                    2. re: klyeoh

                      Ma Mon Luk, New Manosa and Savory are the only ones that ring a bell for me. None of my Filipino Chinese friends ever recommend Ma Mon Luk, ostensibly because its quality has greatly declined over the years. They don't recommend New Manosa either, mostly because it's a filthy place not because its food is not delicious. Savory is famous for its juicy roast chicken. In my youth in Manila, it was the best chicken available. I don't know if it retained its greatness over the years. I should try it the next time I'm in Manila :-)

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        OMG I'm so happy I found this thread. A lot of the times when I was visiting family in Manila we'd wind up at what I called "the weird noodle place" and I always wondered what it was because the noodles came with this odd sauce. And I've become increasingly obsessed with the noodles and sauce wondering what it was and why I hadn't come across noodles like it elsewhere. Ma Mon Luk! Thanks CHers, now I can channel my obsession into recreating these noodles ;)

                        1. re: ggom1

                          Was that "odd sauce" thick, brown, kind of gummy--mucilaginous? If so, it was probably the Ma Ki Mee that carolchow referred to in her post.

                          I had it for the first time earlier this year, though I had heard of it from Chinoy friends (colloquial for Filipino Chinese; "Pinoy" is colloquial for Filipino). I thought it was interesting in a mostly good way, but I don't think it will ever be on my regular noodle eating list.

                          1. re: pilinut

                            Ma Ki Mee is similar to Bak Kee Mee in Hokkien (Fujianese) restaurants in Malaysia. In Penang, I went to "Ang Huay Lor", one such Hokkien spots:

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              Oooooh, all those noodles look sooooo good! I must get myself to Penang soon!

                              The Bak Kee Mee in the picture looks much more appetizing and less gummy than the one I had, which was more like a sauce than a soup.

                      2. I've been craving for Ma Ki Mi today. I remember the best one I had was in a place called Aranque. I could not find the recipe and finally I found one and just whipped up a pot and I came pretty close to the taste but I don't have the appropriate noodle. I just don't know what kind of noodle was used, it was yellowish in color so it must be somekind of an egg noodle but the color is darker more like a sweet potato color. I wonder if they make noodles out of sweet potato flour. It was so delicious, and that was around 35 years ago and I still remember how great it tasted. Thanks poggibonzzi for listing the different comfort foods of my childhood. I don't remember their names. Even the misua eaten on birthdays, were to die for!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: carolchow

                          Ahhh misua brings back such memories. My mom cooks misua with fresh shrimp, shallots and raw carabao's milk. I haven't seen it offered in restaurants anywhere and I mean anywhere. As for Maki, I've asked many people for a recipe. I'm told fish paste added to tenderized meat, sweet potato starch to thicken the soup. I have yet to make it successfully.

                        2. if i'm not mistaken the egg roll dish you've indicated is called lumpia sariwa.
                          and can be found by filipino caterers in north america.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: plug

                            Lumpia sariwa, a Filipino dish is quite different in taste from Hokkien Lumpia although they both use the same wrapper. The former would not have sugar peas and often is dominated by the taste of palm heart. To be sure, Lumpia sariwa simply means fresh lumpia and refers to lumpia that is not fried and the fillings can be a mix of veggies or just palm heart :-)

                          2. Now that I've been back in Manila for over a month, I think I really should return some of the favors other hounds have generously done for me by posting my new favorite Chinese restaurants on these boards.

                            Spring, by Ha Yuan,a restaurant mentioned by poggibonzi--the best Hokkien-style lumpias I've had outside of friends' houses! Also excellent cua pao (steamed buns with braised pork belly slices and preserved greens, a.k.a. hong ba). Spring is owned by a young woman, granddaughter of the couple who started Ha Yuan. After earning her stripes in finance and living in Singapore, she realized her real calling was--surprise--the kind of food she had grown up around, but enriched by a modern, cosmopolitan sensibility. Spring offers several kinds of lumpia, aside from the original, a Singapore-inspired one (my favorite with chili sauce and crunchy bits), a Fookienese one with sweet Chinese sausage bits (my other favorite), a seafood one and a couple of others. The vegetables are cooked and tender, but not, as is usually the case, braised to a pile of mushy, indeterminate plant matter. I've been eating these a couple of times a week. The cua pao, too, is a delight, the bun fluffy, but holding its texture even as one bites down through the moist, fatty pork and vegetables. I still have to work my way through the rest of the menu, which seems to have some very promising noodle dishes, but I am having difficulty passing up my current favorites. Spring is on Benavidez St., a block from Paseo de Roxas, near Greenbelt 1.

                            Boon Tong Kee, PowerPlant Mall, Rockwell. This is a franchise of the Singapore restaurant. The "Signature Boiled Chicken" comes pretty close to the better Hainan chickens in Singapore, and currently beats out the local Wee Nam Kee and Tao Yuan. The condiments are shipped from the mother restaurant, so are pretty authentic. One of the local franchisees told me that the chickens, locally grown, are dressed fresh every day. The chicken rice is full flavored and the green beans with XO sauce and the spinach with eggs are also very good.

                            Tin Hau, the Mandarin Oriental, Makati. After years in the shadow of Shang Palace in Shangri la, Tin Hau is on the ascendant. The former has been pretty disappointing lately, but Tin Hau has happily stepped up to the plate. The past few visits there have been very satisfying: charcoal roasted duck, suckling pig, eggplant with minced pork and salted fish, and the stellar homemade spinach tofu with enoki mushrooms are reasons enough to return. The lemongrass jelly (have the ill-matched calamansi sorbet on the side) and sesame balls are great for dessert.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: pilinut

                              Thanks pilinut!!! I am heading to Manila in a few weeks and I am a junkie for Lumpia... You CANNOT find a decent one in Vancouver. I love both the Philipino Fresh Lumpia OR the Chinese Poppia. Definitely going to hit your recommendations!!

                              1. re: chung006

                                Why the "OR"? Have BOTH! The lumpiang ubod (palm heart) at Milky Way on Pasay Road and Via Mare in Greenbelt, Rockwell, or even the Landmark department store is delicious! Just go easy on the raw garlic they put on the side. (I find it best to stir a very tiny bit into the sauce, rather than add it straight into the lumpia.)

                                It is a mystery why Vancouver and the SF Bay Area don't have the fresh lumpias/popiahs, given the wealth of produce (except for fresh palm heart), ingredients, and labor saving devices available. Maybe someday we won't have to cross the Pacific to feast on lumpia.

                                Looks like you will be here at the height of the Christmas holidays! Don't forget to bring loose clothing: there's a lot more than just lumpia out here ;-)

                                1. re: pilinut


                                  LOL... I didn't mean OR. actually I love BOTH, and can't wait to eat both of them... Only 3 days till I fly out.

                                  If you can help with exact restaurant name and location, that would be awesome!

                                  Chinese Poppia - Milky Way Restaurant- located at Pasay Road?
                                  Filipino Lumpia- Landmark Department store?

                                  Thank you in advance!!

                                  1. re: chung006

                                    The Filipino Lumpia can be had at Milky Way on Pasay Road, now called, Arnaiz Avenue, or at any of the Via Mare restaurants, these are in Greenbelt mall, Landmark department store, and Power Plant mall.

                                    The Fookien popiah are best at Spring on Benavidez Street.

                                    Have a great trip to Manila!

                                    1. re: pilinut

                                      perfect!!! going to be there in 3 days!! just eating my way through Macau and HK right now..... thanks again, really appreciate this.