Panciteria Antigua | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Panciteria Antigua

Old Manila Walk food tours are the best thing to happen to Binondo since Rizal threw his tsinelas in the river. The Chinatown food scene is not only bustling, it can become so crowded on weekends that it is being killed by its own success. Almost all the shops and eateries with long lines were first identified and promoted over a decade ago by Ivan Man Dy who, after giving Anthony Bourdain a walk around his neighborhood, brought a deluge of TV, blog, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok influencers who were not born when estero eateries were the rage in the 1980s, and before the now defunct Smart Panciteria on T. Pinpin Street that figured in my childhood.

I have my own Chinatown favorites for specific things. I avoid the long lines at Wai Ying on Benavidez and go to these places on the same street: AMO for hopia different from Eng Bee Tin, Holland, or Polland; Min Nan Di Yi Wei that has oyster empanada and pig face (a Chinese sisig) to suffer gout for; perhaps have mami at Masuki, and conclude with coffee and pastries at Apologue whose bare retro setting won’t look out of place in Bonifacio Global City or Tokyo. When I am in the mood, I walk beyond Ongpin to Ramon Lee’s Panciteria on Ronquillo Street for their famous fried chicken, and the original Ling Nam Noodle Factory and Wanton Parlor at the far end of T. Alonzo Street where you can specify noodle firmness, al dente, to your liking.

I should brave the lines and try Toho one day if only for historical rather than culinary purposes since it claims to be the oldest panciteria in the country, reportedly founded in 1888. Postwar, my father used to frequent a Panciteria Moderna in Santa Cruz that gave Panciteria Antigua some competition. It seems Panciteria Moderna is extinct though an internet search led me to the New Moderna Food House that I find amusing because it is not only modern but new as well.


During the Holy Week, I fell into a rabbit hole browsing through prewar periodicals like El Renacimiento, La Vanguardia, and the Tribune to trace Toho’s 1888 origins as Panciteria Antigua but found advertisements for another that proudly billed itself as the “Family Panciteria of the Nation since 1865.” Is this one and the same Panciteria Antigua or did ownership, management, or cooks change over the decades since Toho’s earliest photos date to the postwar period?


In the 1930s, Panciteria was as famous for its softball team as it was for its food. Listed as floor managers in the 1940s were Cris Mines, Paul Bautista, and J. Mauricio Pimentel. They had many gimmicks to draw in customers because of stiff competition from a galaxy of panciterias in the area. So in 1944, they came up with the “Lumpia Grande Frito” that sold for P2. “May be imitated by (sic) never equalled,” according to their ads that dared customers to “Try and be convinced.” They also had special drinks “Rice-Orange” and “Rice Zarzaparilla” that, at P2.50, was more expensive than lumpia. Manager Cris also invented the “Mines cocktail” and had live music for lunch service from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. by Freddie Sothelo and His Hawaiian Swingsters.

Other specialties of the Panciteria Antigua were “pato tim con gulay” (braised duck with vegetables), “bola-bola con salza” (meatballs in sauce), and “ha hop frito,” whatever that is. Their regular advertisements were always different and quite amusing. One suggested that “the most ideal gift of the season for girl friend is LUMPIA GRANDE every zestful always delicious a complete food in itself.” Some ads were reflections of wartime Manila: “AIR RAID OR ALL CLEAR. We are always open, we offer another new creation: Antigua Rice by the bowl. It’s a square meal in itself.” Postwar, their menu carried “genuine beef panada.”

I found ads in La Vanguardia for the Panciteria Nanking at the corner of Ongpin and Gandara which was the “most modern and sanitary” in 1930. Others were New Asia Panciteria on Plaza Santa Cruz, Señorita Restaurant, and Panciteria on Daitoa (Taft Avenue near Padre Faura) which boasted “first-class Cantonese cooks” offering fried lapu-lapu and non-Chinese dishes like vegetable soup, tom turkey with dressing, candied sweet potatoes, buttered string beans, shrimp salad, and ice cream.

Over in Cebu, the restaurant of record was Emiliano Son Panciteria on Juan Luna Street which curiously highlighted their “Always prompt, sanitary, and courteous service” more than their food and menu. A 1943 issue of the Visayan Shimbun classified eateries in Cebu as restaurants, carenderias, refreshment parlors, cafeterias, and panciterias. Names of the panciterias were Greater East Asia, Nanking, New Nanking, Aurora, New Orient, Funshin, Kiaolam, Rotunda, Lido, New Lido, Fukiyama, Capitol, New Capitol, Sen Hing, etc. A feature in Progress Magazine defined “chopsuey houses” as the most expensive and frequented by the “better class” of people. Panciterias were for the middle class. While “down and out classes naturally frequent the five-and-ten kind of joints.” Common denominator of all panciterias and chopsuey houses was the bad smell you picked up upon entry because all of them were dirty and needed to be raided by the municipal sanitary department.

From my quick research alone, it seems panciterias are worth a Ph.D. dissertation.



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