The Mysterious Allure of Kim Hiong Food Garden

Some things just take hold of you.

Our (my husband’s and my) affinity for the nostalgic Kim Hiong Food Garden (why this little austerely tiled structure  situated in the middle of the street and without even a small potted plant anywhere in sight is even called a “garden” is a puzzle) would probably mystify a lot of people.  Even the two of us have often wondered why we so bizarrely love this place.

Located along Ongpin Street, Binondo, Manila (which I wrote about here), the inside of this restaurant assaults your olfactory senses with strange, alchemistic smells presumably from the dark arts of unflappable mixing, stirring, and brewing of oddball mystery spices. The outside  environs mercilessly waft to your nostrils the warm odors  emanating from sidewalk junk and commodities like roasting chestnuts, flowers, fruits, and whatnots, this being a traditional Chinatown.

Bear and I would go to this place back when (like maybe 12 years ago) it was even manned by old-time servers who didn’t seem particularly happy to see us, and who occasionally greeted our eagerness for their magically superb steamed tofu with a dismissive wave of their hands and rapid head-shaking when they ran out of this apparently popular dish.  Yes, they literally waved us off like we were flies when they didn’t have in stock what we were then craving for with red eyes and hand-wringing.  We would get out, rejected and dejected.  And then be back in a week.  Like junkies.

i go bananas over their chili sauce which is remarkably so spicy it tastes like it has been fermenting since the 70’s

To be fair, they seem to have cared enough to have actually renovated the place a few years ago, so now it’s (a half notch) cleaner.  And the servers now seem to have been briefed on the trivialities of customer relations that they now actually smile and look you in the eye.  In our more recent visits, they have had in stock our usual feast of steamed tofu and wanton noodles (ah, seriously FIERCE!  Promise.)

My 6-year-old daughter, Lover, still throws a fit when we bring her to “the stinky place.” We admonish her not to say it out loud as it would hurt their feelings but she has no qualms about the Yang Chow Fried Rice which she says is  “hmmm, really yummy.”  I would have to agree with her on both counts.

Nobody could tell me with any measure of authority how old this place actually is (one of the waitresses, in answer to my queries told me the place existed in the early ’80s but I’m guessing it’s probably older than that).  I can’t really tell you that you should absolutely put Kim Hiong Food Garden on your travel itinerary at all costs, but this place is cool.  Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about how classy the place is (not).

Ah, Kim Hiong! You will always be our favorite.  Don’t ever, ever say goodbye!

How about you?

Do you have a super favorite dining place you just can’t keep yourself from going back to, despite everything?

Thanks for stopping by!

See you again 😉



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  1. What a brilliant blog. I so enjoy reading your writing. It is so detailed and descriptive. I do have a favourite place to go to. It is an Italian restaurant that is very small and always very busy. The fragrance of the dishes being cooked can be smelled as we drive into the parking lot. Take care and thank you again for the tour of your home country! Thea


  2. What fun. Sure beats the food courts we have in the malls here in the States.:)


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