As with all of our trips, we wanted to make sure we got to see the real Manila, the one that the locals experience on a daily basis. We decided to join a Market Tour given by Smokey Tours (whose tour proceeds fund a local NGO focused on typhoon and disaster relief) after reading several great reviews about their services.
Our meet up point was at Carreido LRT station. But prior to the tour, we wanted to get some lunch! I absolutely love Lechón, so I wanted to introduce Scott to it, and there’s no better place than in La Loma, where the streets are lined with restaurants serving this delicious dish. For those of you who are not familiar with Lechón, it is a whole suckling pig roasted to perfection over charcoal. The skin gets super crispy and the meat is super juicy! This dish originates from the Spanish and is frequently found in Latin America and many Caribbean countries.
I mean what better way to celebrate a birthday or holiday than to buy your own pig and celebrate?! We stopped into to Mila’s Lechón (on Calavite St.), and left with full and happy tummies.
So after lunch we had to figure out how to get to the meeting point for our tour. One of the things you will notice immediately about Manila is that there are these Jeeps that look like minibuses. We were told that these Jeepneys were made from US military jeeps that were left over from World War II. Instead of letting the jeeps go to waste, the locals took them and retrofitted them with extended cabs and added seating and the Jeepney was born. Locals advised us that the actual name derives from “Jeep” and “knee,” as you sit in close quarters inside the Jeepney and your knees touch.
So you may be wondering how you ride these Jeepneys. Each vehicle has a set route and in the front windshield it tells you its final destination. Additionally, on the side of the vehicle it tells you what street it drives on. They do not travel far and it only costs 15 PHP to ride. You basically hop on, pay the driver and hop off when you get to your destination. As a tourist, I think it’s a little bit difficult to know which Jeepney to ride, but you may decide you just want to hop on one for the experience! And make sure if you see the one with the stop you want, wave furiously so they see you! Or else they won’t stop.
You’ll also see these little motorcycles with side cars a lot, we weren’t brave enough to try one, Scott wasn’t even sure he would fit inside!
So before our tour even started we walked around the market a bit. You will find the people of the Philippines to be very friendly. They seem to love foreigners and love being photographed! I had so many people ask me to take their picture, like these 3 here.
Apparently in Filipino culture, eating is extremely important and they have many meals and snacks during the course of the day. I’m starting to think I might be part Filipino 😉 So in true Filipino fashion, we did some snacking during our tour. First off was Suman, which is a sticky rice with coconut milk that is wrapped artfully in coconut leaf and steamed. Once you get it unwrapped you can sample the sticky rice as is or you can try it with a brown sugar coconut milk sauce. The original flavor has a very subtle coconut milk flavor, we really liked it with the brown sugar coconut milk sauce.
Next was a fruit that we had seen all over the city, but I had thought was a variety of lime. However, we found out that it was actually a Dalandan, which is basically a Philippine orange. In Tagalog, mata mis means “sweet” and these were sweet, but still had a nice tang.
Pictured here is the Carabao mango, which is the mango of the Philippines. It is so super sweet! I really miss good tropical mangoes, they are hard to find here in Korea and super expensive when you do… Don’t miss out on eating these while you’re there!
We didn’t taste these, but they aren’t scallions.
I was interested to find out what these reddish eggs were that we kept seeing. They are known as Itlog maalat itik which is a salted duck egg. We have this in Chinese cuisine as well, but we don’t color it, our guide said that historically they colored the eggs so they don’t get mixed up with fresh eggs and nowadays people won’t buy them if they aren’t colored. The eggs are definitely salty, but not overly so and the egg is a little grainy, not smooth like a normal hard boiled egg is. The salted eggs are often eaten with rice and fish.
Meat is regularly sold out of stalls like this, and the meat as you can see is not refrigerated. A lot of countries operate this way, you pick up your fresh meat daily for your meals.
Salted fish is a huge part of the Filipino diet, our guide mentioned that you can buy the fish already salted and you can pan-fry or deep-fry it and then eat it with rice and vegetables.
Smoked fish is also very popular.
Another very popular snack is skewered meats. As you see here, most of the items are chicken innards and even congealed blood. We didn’t stop to sample anything here.
Next stop was Muslim Town located in Quiapo. There are approximately 500,000 Muslims in the Philippines and those that live in Manila shop, eat, and worship here.
Located inside Muslim Town is the Manila Golden Mosque that was built in 1976. We were told that former First Lady Imelda Marcos (also well known across the world for her vast shoe collection) had the Mosque built in preparation of the visit of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan President. However, even though the Mosque was constructed, Gaddafi never made his visit to Manila.
We didn’t enter the Mosque as we were in shorts and I did not have a head covering. So if you are interested in going in, make sure you are dressed appropriately.
Also in Quiapo is the Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The Black Nazarene has quite a devout following and those who believe will take a handkerchief and rub it on the statue of the Black Nazarene and will kiss his foot. They say that they save this handkerchief and use it if they or any loved ones are ill. They will run the handkerchief over the ailing person and many followers speak of the healing powers that occur. This statue originated from Mexico and was brought to Manila by missionaries.
Outside the churches, you will see many people selling strings of flowers (used as offerings inside the church), beads, and other religious artifacts.
Manila is known for having the oldest Chinatown in the world. This Chinatown was officially established in 1594 by the Spaniards, but prior to this date had already been a central hub for the Chinese of Manila.
You can get some authentic Chinese food there along with some tasty snacks. One of our favorite is Hopia, this is a pastry that has different fillings (my personal favorite is the Ube).
Although we enjoyed our walk through the city, the reality is that many people live in a completely different environment than we are used to. Many live in slums covered in trash and in extreme poverty. It was definitely an eye opening experience.
After all our sightseeing in the city, we decided to unwind down on the boardwalk of San Miguel by the Bay. The boardwalk is right near the gigantic Mall of Asia.
There are quite a few restaurants and bars setup on the boardwalk area. It’s the perfect spot to grab a nice San Miguel beer and watch the sunset on the Manila Bay. There were tons of people down there all just relaxing and taking in the view and waiting for the 7 PM fireworks (which go off every Friday and Saturday night).
There is security everywhere in Manila. When you walk in a mall, when you walk into a hotel, and our hotel even had k9 dogs that sniff the car before you are permitted to drive onto the hotel property. You can see one of the security officers down on the boardwalk, he is weilding some serious artillery!
The city of Manila is full of friendly people, delicious food, and interesting cultures and sights. It is definitely worth the time to walk through and to get to know the real Manila. I highly recommend it.