Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Toho Antigua: The Oldest Restaurant

Toho Antigua:  The Oldest Restaurant
          The cochero was slumped in his horse-drawn carriage, taking a short power nap while waiting for passengers. I moved to the left, a little bit close to the horse, aimed and clicked my camera. I took shot of the calesa. That was when the cochero finally sensed and realized that we wanted to take a ride. With the sound of the galloping horse made clearer by my Phonak hearing aid, the cochero asked as the traffic light turned red: Saan po ba kayo? I answered in jest:  Nandito kami sa likod mo.  But I quickly turned serious: Dalhin mo kami sa T. Pinpin Street.  Sa Toho Restaurant.

The Welcome Landmark at Manila Chinatown.  Manila Chinatown is the oldest chinatown in the world. Toho Antigua is located along T. Pinpin St. which is near this welcome signage.

Experience the old calesa ride. There is a calesa terminal across Binondo Church.  There is another one at the right flank of Binondo Church. Haggle with the cochero.

Toho Restaurant is also near Escolta St. and Dasmarinas St. Since it is the oldest restaurant, an old calesa parked in front as props would be an attraction.

           Rig and pedicab drivers, vendors and traffic enforcers know where Toho Restaurant is. It is one of the most popular restaurants in Binondo. Located at T. Pinpin Street near Escolta Street, Toho Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in the country, having been established in 1888. It was some 8 years before the Cry of Balintawak and the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal at Bagumbayan in 1896 and some 10 years before the proclamation of a Revolutionary government in Kawit in 1898.  And Jose Rizal was one of its regular patrons. Toho restaurant offers traditional Chinese dishes such as Pancit Canton, Lumpiang Shanghai, Beef with Ampalaya, Corn Soup, Camaron Rebosado and Fried Chicken. And the prices are reasonable.

Kikiam and Crunchy Stuffed Camaron

Lechon Macau and Peking Duck on display entice passersby to dine in at the restaurant.

Halo is a mixture of intestines, liver and other pig's parts.

Non-airconditioned dining area at the ground floor

          While it is now officially called New Toho Food Center, I stick to its old name: Toho Antigua Panciteria. During the American regime and even after independence was granted to the Philipppines by the Americans, Toho was one of three notable Chinese restaurants along T. Pinpin street, the other two being San Jacinto and Rice Bowl. San Jacinto is now located elsewhere while Rice Bowl closed shop many years ago. If there is anything going for Toho nowadays, it is the historical value of the restaurant. Many family and corporate gatherings, celebrations and other social and political events were held at Toho Antigua.

The stairs leading to the air-conditioned dining area at the 2nd floor. In the 60s, when smoking was still allowed inside air-conditioned rooms, there was that combined smell of green tonic cologne, food aroma and cigarette smoke
In the 60s and 70s, this dining area was almost always filled to the brim.  During the BAA and MICAA days , the San Miguel Beermen under Coach Ning Ramos and the Utex Wranglers  and their supporters celebrated significant court victories dining here.
Old photo of Toho Antigua taken in 1954

Getting ready in case diners arrive in droves.
National hero Jose Rizal regularly dined at Toho Antigua Panciteria.

           The owners of Toho should start banking on the popularity of its number one patron, Dr. Jose Rizal, to drum up interest in the old resto.  A huge portrait of the national hero near the entrance would be an eye catcher.  And spicing up the menu would do wonders. Why not include items such as Padre Damaso's Soup #5?  Or Maria Clara's Sweet Green Peas with Shrimps?  Or Sisa's Nakakabaliw na Asado? Or ask the guard manning the entrance to wear a Guardia Civil uniform instead of the standard blue and white. The heirs of Tai Tang can use their creativity.

Yang Chow Fried Rice

Beef with Ampalaya

Miki Bihon

Pinsec Frito or Fried Wonton

Camaron Rebosado
           As we were going down the stairs of Toho, several diners were on the way up. While the place apparently lacks the luster of the old Toho, patrons nonetheless keep coming back for the Chinese dishes that had given full satisfaction to diners of the 19th and 20th centuries.  And dining at Toho gives others the chance to roam the streets of Chinatown and the nearby Divisoria area. 

After dining at Toho, one can walk through the streets of Binondo.
Tikoy or Chinese rice cake

Assorted fruits for sale

Photo taken several days after the Chinese New Year

A cluster of fruit vendors

One of the many branches of Amo Hopia & Bakery

Cantaloupe or sweet melon

Star apple or kaimito

           I intend to dine again at Toho next month to try the Pata Tim and Asado. And to ride again the iconic calesa. To hear again the sound of the galloping horse. It takes me back to the old days.

Leave your car behind and take the LRT.

- Konted