Thursday, September 08, 2005

Memories of Chinese Restaurants Past

At present I am currently enjoying a book a Chines Murder Mystery book. One of the poignant aspects of the book is that some of the scenes occur in Chinese Restaurants with names like Heavenly Palace or the Eight Happy Gods. The book was detailed even in the description of the food , in one scene the characters discovered an important witness while eating stuffed crabs in one of the local restaurants. Reading the book got me so hungry that I had to order a bowl of congee from Chowking, one of the local Chinese fastfood outlets near the house. It may not be as sumptuous as the cooked crabs in the book it was filling. One of the descriptions of a Filipino is that nearly all of us Spanish surnames, speak in English and prefer to eat Chinese food. Even our national hero Rizal when he celebrated his graduations and victories celebrated at the local Panciteria. And while in Europe hit by nostalgia for home, Rizal conspired with his friend Alejandrino to cook pancit. They had to ration the pancit for a week or so. Unfortunately, Alejandrino was unable to control his appetite and finished his part before the alloted time. Rizal of course was able to discipline himself and eat his portion , rationed part at the alloted time. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a string of Chinese restaurants have opened around Cubao. Not counting Chowking outlets and Gloria Maris there are at least three new restaurants that opened - Fat Choi, DuckDuck and Big Bowl of China (well something similar to that name). The gradual discoveries of these restaurants gradually brought back to mind the old Chinese restaurants or panciterias I encountered growing up in Cubao and in Manila. As far as I remember there were only three main Chinese restaurants in Cubao when I was growing up. The Aurora boulevard-based Ma Mon Luk restaurant served mami (noodle soup), siopao (bun) and siomai . And there were many waiters in that restaurant all wearing big red bow ties. I am not quite sure now if there were other food items sold ala carte but the main staple was always the mami, siopao and siomai. Ma Mon Luk even expanded to a nearby branch along Edsa. I even remember an article in a book featuring the success story of Ma Mon Luk, the founder Ma Mon Luk started out the business hawking his three basic food items. The article even had a picture of him doing some Tai Chi stuff with the sword. Nearby Ma Mon Luk was another Chinese restaurant, Hong Ning. The restaurant was similar in atmosphere to Ma Mon Luk - same type of waiters, wooden chairs, marbled top tables, huge electric fans and the menu - a one or two page piece laminated in plastic, Hong Ning had a special section that was air-conditioned on the second floor for patrons willing to pay extra. Hong Ning's specialty was hototay, pancit canton and hong ning chicken, my grandfather used to get one chicken free every christmas. They even had lechon macua and assorted meat dishes, including a delectable intestine dish and tabaron. Whenever we had surprise guests I remember being given money and going to Hong Ning to buy a number of dishes. Hong Ning's chicken of course had stiff competition from the nearby Robina chicken house. This was of course the boom of lechon manok all over Metro Manila. Then there was the restaurant along Edsa near the compound of the Aranetas (the whole commercial district of Cubao could be called the compound of the Aranetas but this compound refers to their residential land), The Golden Peking a more high class restaurant that served eels. I remember the family going here to celebrate. Unfortunately, these restaurants are all gone now. Hong Ning transferred to another location and slowly died. Ma Mon Luk closed its branches, except for the one along Quezon Boulevard near Banawe. Whenever I visit my friend Jimmy we somehow still find a reason to pass by. And they still serve their mami, siopao and siomai the same way. Golden Peking became a firing range or a gun reseller. You can still see its old build just before you reach P Tuazon, of course the long queue of buses into Farmer's Market will obstruct the your view. And as for Robina chicken, I learned that last remaining outlet is the one near Munoz Market. These are of course the Chinese Restaurants and tea houses in Cubao. There are of course others outside that still exsist. In Greenhills Le Ching, Le Ching Too and Luk Yuen are still there. Mrs Ho is gone, There used to be Chinese canteen at UP at the back of AS and they used a lot of plates from Mrs Ho, the owner or manager was a guy so we eventually called the canteen Mr Ho. Sun Moon Garden,with its lazy susan tables, is still there. Ling Nam along with Joe Kuan, West Villa and a host other establishments seems to have been swallowed by fate. San Jacinto an old Chinese restaurant has a branch at Quezon avenue and along Libis. A friend of mine ate their with the family and he was feeling bit tipsy, he was allergic to monosodium glutamate or MSG - it makes him drunk. He warned his sister and his sister just smiled at him and said not to worry but go on eating (since the food was deliciouse), anyway if it became critical they can take him to the nearest hospital. Fortunately my friend found a cure for his illness in China, according to a doctor (supposedly Deng Xiao Ping's doctor) all he had to do was drink a lot of tea. Near the Quezon avenue - based San Jacinto are a few Chinese restaurants worth a visit, Spring Deer,Shagri-La,Kowloon are a few I can think of. In Binondo, I remember going to Green Lake with my mother and grandfather, a restaurant near the welcome arch just before the Church, and eating with friends along the Estero-based eateries. And somewhere along Rizal ave eating probably one of the most savoury chicken dih in Manila with a friend at Ramon Lee's. And another restaurant in Ermita whose specialty was cua pao, and these were really nice cua paos! Perhaps that is the reason why I never took a liking to a lot of these instant food or quick-cooking food chinese (or not). Nothing is like a dish authentically cooked. New ones of course replaced those that have disappeared but I guess the craving for chinese food will not disappear. Rule of thumb though when selecting a Chinese restaurant choose one that is most frequented by the Chinese and Chinoys. Same rule of thumb I follow when selecting Japanese mini-restaurants, but that is another story.


Blogger blackshama said...

Dr Lu was head of the Institute of Chinese Medicine at Guangzhou. The institute does scientific research on acupuncture and TCM. What I remember was that Dr Lu spoke English with an impeccable Cambridge accent (better than that of fellow Cambridge grad Lee Kwan Yew). No trace of a Chinese accent at all. Dr Lu studied Western medicine in England since he was a scholar of Deng Xiao Ping.

In a dinner hosted by the Chinese Academy of Science I ingested a lot of MSG and here comes Dr Lu with a weird kind of tea. The tea looks like rabbit poop. It was mixed in hot water and I had to drink it. Since I was groggy, I didn't care.

Voila, in less than 3 minutes, I was OK again.

9/09/2005 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess even eating places immigrate: both Ma Mon Luk and Hong Ning are among the relatively popular Filipino restaurants in Chicagoland.

9/09/2005 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger juned said...

blackshama, :)
Anonymous, Well its good to hear that they have survived :)

9/10/2005 03:23:00 PM  

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