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Nov 11, 2011 07:03 PM

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 :-)

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  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.