Walking along the streets of Binondo during the tail-end of a chilly January, you will be greeted by a sea of red lanterns floating above your head, rows of kumquat trees (an Asian shrub) bearing vibrant oval-shaped oranges, and stacks of boxes of different flavors of
The Chinese tradition of decorating with red lanterns and eating kumquat and Chinese delicacies play an important role during Chinese New Year because they are believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the year to come. Also crucial to Chinese New Year traditions include lighting firecrackers, joining dragon dances, praying to the deities at the temple, and eating a "reunion dinner" with the family. This special dinner is considered to be a sacred gathering, especially for those with family members away from home.
In the northeastern part of China is a region named Dong Bei. Lisa Lee, a light-spirited local from Dong Bei, says that jiaozi, or dumplings, are a traditional dish commonly served in the northern part of China during Chinese New Year-compared to the south, where they celebrate with
On the eve of this important holiday, she recalls her family members gathering around a table to help one another make the dumpling's dough and form it into small, flat circles which they stuff with a mixture of ground meat and vegetables. Some insert a coin inside one of the dumplings, and it is believed that whoever gets this lucky dumpling will be rich in the coming New Year.
When all the dumplings are tightly sealed, they drop it in boiling water until it floats to the surface. When the clock strikes midnight, everybody is wide awake and ready to stuff their faces with these tasty dumplings. Lisa adds that they often even drink the boiled water used in cooking the dumplings.
Fifteen years ago, Lisa and her husband moved their closely-knit family to Manila to provide
There wasn't a long-term gameplan to stay in the Philippines. Once their child finished studying, they were all supposed to pack up their bags and return to China. What they didn't foresee was that Dong Bei Dumpling's rise to fame will forever change the course of their lives. After 15 years making fresh dumplings, Dong Bei Dumpling is now considered to be one of the most famous restaurants in Binondo, Manila. A quick Google search of Binondo's must-try food will often include a stop at their restaurant.
Dong Bei Dumpling is inconspicuously located in between narrow buildings along Yuchengco Street. It's a simple and small space with
Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors allow you to watch from the outside, as the Dong Bei Dumpling staff work with their hands, coated in flour, making the dumpling dough. Their hands move with speed and certainty, which can only come from months to years of mastering this difficult skill. Our tip? Don't blink or you'll miss it.
According to Jomart
What makes Dong Bei Dumpling worth the trip are the dumplings itself: freshly made just before it is served at your table. You can see how the women have created an efficient system of kneading the dough, cutting it into small pieces, and tossing it with flour.
The workers at Dong Bei Dumpling typically prepare the dumplings as soon as the shop opens. They start with making the dough and patiently knead the dough until it's soft, roll it into a long log, and then cut it into small pieces. These are tossed in the air with flour before flattening it out with a rolling pin.
Northern Chinese dumplings are typically filled with a pork and vegetable filling. Dong Bei Dumpling's menu includes a variety of dim sum to choose from, but one that is always ordered is the Kuchay Dumplings. These tasty dumplings are made with a mixture of pork and Kuchay (chives). A more-than-generous amount of this pork and vegetable mix is added to the flattened dough before they meticulously seal it in.
In a matter of a few minutes, the dumplings are served
For something simple and yet so special, Dong Bei Dumpling's never had a marketing scheme to make them as famous as they are now. Lisa is visibly low-key about the business: she is not one for big and bright signages that shout their name, because she would rather have people find out about their dumplings through word of mouth. It also helps that Chinese residents in Binondo dine here or order the frozen versions to take home. Because it is true: if there are Chinese people eating their food, it means that it's good.
When quizzed, "Do you miss home whenever you eat dumplings?" it took Lisa a second to think about it, and with gleaming eyes, she slowly nodded her head. She proceeded to reminisce that the last time she went back home to Dong Bei was two years ago and that she would only stay there for a few weeks, and then come back to Manila.
She excused herself suddenly, only to explain that she had to personally give her husband his lunch, which Jomart said was his favorite chicken. Lisa also brings her apo's baon in person. These simple acts of love from an amah says a lot about Lisa and how important family is to her, as important as keeping their stomachs full.
It just goes to show that even if you are miles and miles away from your motherland, a taste of childhood comfort food and being surrounded by
Dong Bei Dumpling is located at 642 Yuchengco Street, Binondo, Manila, and 438 KB Binondo Tower, Tomas Pinpin Street, Binondo, Manila.