Food, Travel

DINING IN AUTHENTIC BINONDO STYLE

I first asked my dad if he has already been to To Ho. Fortunately, neither in my family has been there yet. So I was with my dad upon visiting this restaurant since the servings might be big for one person. I usually eat in small portions only, similar as the ones served in fastfood chains and Japanese restaurants.

PLANNING THE TRIP

Since I was not really familiar with the place, I first searched for the restaurant via Google Maps. I decided to simply draw the map on my notebook so that my mobile phone will not be at risk.

THE TRIP TO NEW TO HO FOOD CENTER

From our place in Sta. Mesa, we decided to take a jeepney bound to Divisoria. Why a jeepney bound to Divisoria? Because it passes through Claro M. Recto Avenue, one of the gateways to Manila Chinatown. We also found it more challenging to either ride a taxi or book an Uber/Grab Car on our way to Binondo since most of the streets there were one-way traffic. It was likewise challenging to bring our family car since the parking was not the only issue. It would be too far from most of the Divisoria malls, even from the Lucky Chinatown Mall in Reina Regente. The jeepney took our usual route to Downtown Manila which was Legarda St. The traffic was quite heavy since we went there on a Saturday. Apparently, upon reaching the area near San Beda College, it turned out that Mendiola Street (alternative route to Downtown Manila for most private cars) was closed due to an ongoing protest. The traffic was quite light near the University Belt but it was again heavy upon crossing Rizal Avenue. We originally decided to take off the jeepney near Benavidez St., but we decided to take off near Teodora Alonzo St. since the traffic was too heavy.

From Alonzo, we took a long walk to Soler and another long walk to Sabino Padilla (formerly Gandara). It was likewise a challenge for us to walk along the said streets since there were too many cars parked along them. The traffic was likewise heavy there. I tried remembering what I have drawn in my map. Trusting my memory, we walked towards the right side of Tomas Pinpin.

Unfortunately, we realized that it was already Ongpin St. at the end. We decided to ask a random storekeeper where the restaurant was located. It turned out that my memory was contrary to what I have drawn in my map! We were supposed to walk towards the left side of Sabino Padilla.

THE AREA

We have already found the New To Ho Food Center in Tomas Pinpin. It was located near several furniture shops, mostly selling Uratex goods. Since the airconditioned dining area was still closed, we decide to take a seat at the innermost part of the non-airconditioned area. Despite not being equipped with airconditioning units, the six ceiling fans were able to combat the heat inside. The area was quite old, which reminded me of the Ramon Lee restaurant in Ronquillo. The furniture likewise looked old, albeit manageable for dining. It reminded me much of the carinderias (budget eateries) I have seen in Xiamen, China and Phuket Town in Thailand, in terms of ambiance. Most of the diners we have seen were pure Filipinos and only a few Chinese. While the waitstaffs were Filipinos, the headcook was a Chinese since she looked a bit white. The waitstaffs were all wearing blue collared shirts. While most of the restaurants we have dined have specifically designated tasks (i.e. taking orders, issuing the bills, washing the dishes), the waitstaffs here were all multitaskers. They changed from one task to another every time, which gave me the impression that they were a bit undermanned

THE FOOD

I asked one of their waitstaffs first for their recommended dishes. These were the top three recommended dishes: Pork Asado, Lechon, and Pancit Canton. We decided to order Lechon. In order to have a balanced diet, we ordered Nido Soup, Pancit Miki Bihon, Calamares, and Lo Han Chai. We unanimously decided not to order rice anymore since the soup and pancit were filling (nakakabusog) enough. We ordered everything in their smallest sizes. I likewise ordered a can of Sprite to balance the taste. Sprite is my usual drink whenever iced tea is not available in a particular restaurant. My dad ordered his usual bottle of SMB Pale Pilsen for only Php 43, much cheaper than in most restaurants in major dining hubs like Malate and Greenbelt areas.

The Lechon was the first food item served since it was categorized as one of the Cold Cuts. The Cold Cuts were treated similarly to the Spanish Tapas, which were eaten as an appetizer. The serving of the Lechon was quite generous. It was quite similar to the Filipino Lechon Kawali, in terms of the skin’s crispness and the meat’s texture. No trace of MSG (Ajinomoto). We were able to finish this.

The next food item served was the Nido Soup. It was well seasoned for the flavor was not overpowered by the egg. Usually, when my family orders Chinese soup, the egg tends to overpower the soup’s flavor. But not for Toho. Again, no trace of MSG. We decided not to consume all of the soup to give way for the other dishes.

The Pancit Miki Bihon and Calamares were served simultaneously. The serving was likewise generous so it was a good decision for us not to order rice anymore. Toho’s version of Pancit Miki Bihon was one of the most decent versions of pancit in the budget category. As for the Calamares, the serving was also plentiful and delicious. The challenge for us was how we can consume everything? What more if we ordered everything in medium sizes?

The last food item served was the Lo Han Chai. I remembered my parents who brought home Lo Han Chai from MXT in SM Sta. Mesa where they dined a few days ago. I likewiseordered this dish with my family when we dined in Luk Foo in Quezon City. Toho’s version was quite different since it had a lot of green peas, Chinese pechay, and a lot of young corn. However, the reason why Toho’s Lo Han Chai was inexpensive was that it did not have Shiitake Mushrooms and Taingang Daga. It only had button mushrooms as the edible fungus. It still tasted well though.

OTHER INFORMATION

I asked one of their waitstaffs if they have an idea regarding the history of the New To Ho Food Center. They requested me instead to wait for their boss at 1pm. At 1pm, I was able to ask a few information from Ms. Kathleen Wong, one of the descendants of the restaurant’s founder. She mentioned that the present area was still the same since 1888. However, it got razed by fire in 1983 and it was renovated in 1986. The original name of the restaurant was Antigua Panciteria and was later changed to To Ho Antigua, with To Ho meaning “Good Enough”. Year-wise, it was actually older than most restaurants like Ma Mon Luk, Savory, Max’s, and even The Aristocrat. It truly withstood several historical events like the 1896 Philippine Revolution, World War II, and even various typhoons that hit and flooded the metro.

FINAL WORDS

Staying true to its brand, my dad and I both appreciated the food. Area-wise, it was quite neat, despite the rustic look. I would have suggested to have more waitstaffs to ease the working environment. If we were to return to To Ho soon, we realized that it was easier to go there by going to Quiapo first, then to Plaza Sta. Cruz, and ride a jeepney from Dasmariñas St. to Tomas Pinpin.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: I originally wrote this for my Field Methods class. I posted this with slight revisions.

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