They often say that Chinese cuisine is even better outside its country of origin. The large Chinese populations of other countries tend to fuse their culinary knowledge with local ingredients, resulting into brand new dishes that have found its way into the culture permanently. For instance, think of the United States, whose Chinese immigrants in California, invented numerus iconic dishes. Food offerings such as Fortune Cookies and stir-fried chicken (General Tso’s Chicken) are very popular with the public today, but are not actually common dishes you might find in restaurants in China.
The Philippines is no exception to this rule. In every mall (or even commercial street), you will find a Chinese restaurant in every corner. From homegrown eateries to international franchises, we pretty much have everything you might crave. Cantonese-style Milk Tea stores are booming all over the Metro. There are so many to try, that you can have a different type of Milk Tea every day of the week. Roast duck is now easily available, and is highlighted as “menu stars” in restaurants such as Kam’sor Grand Hyatt Manila’s No. 8 China House. Authentic homegrown eats are best enjoyed at any of our historic Filipino-Chinese eateries such as Ma Mon Luk, while food crawls in Chinatown will introduce you to inexpensive dishes exploding with flavors! We have it all—the choice is yours!
Why does Chinese food resonate so much with Filipino diners? I have a simple answer: we all grew up with it. The Philippines experienced a large migration from China in the 1800s, mainly due to the fact that the country was a good location for international trading. Today, we have almost 1.5 million citizens with Chinese ancestry. The infusion of cultures did not only bore economic growth for the country, but also fabulous cuisine. Fast-forward 200 years later, and in every school cafeteria and convenient store, you’ll find a metal steamer filled with siomai and siopao. How lucky are we?
For as long as I remember, Chinese food has always played a large role in my culinary journey. Siomai in particular has been a personal favorite. There’s just something about these traditional little dumplings that is so easy to love. They are hearty and lovely, filling and delicious. I cannot tell you how many pieces of siomai I’ve enjoyed as a child, eating the dish at recess time with a very Filipino sauce, the famous toyo-mansi. As a college boy in Taft, I would often sneak out of the classroom to buy siomai from my favorite Cantonese food vendor in Agno at DLSU. They served it over fried rice, and it was the perfect hangover cure! When I got older, I started looking for more gourmand versions of the dumpling. Each restaurant I visited had their own special twist on siomai, some more successful than others. But it always was interesting to see how different cooks/chefs put their own signature spin on the traditional dish. One thing was certain: we have so many varieties of siomai in Manila, that it’s almost impossible to narrow down THE BEST OF THE BEST. Still, I decided to try.
The Siomai Showdown Rules
The pandemic has changed dining out permanently. My family and I usually like eating at a Chinese restaurant at least once a week, to indulge in our favorite dishes. Today, even with less-strict quarantine rules, we still have all our meals at home. It’s better to be safe than sorry. One not-so-special day (about a month ago), I had a very intense craving for siomai. I decided to check out multiple food groups on Facebook and saw hundreds of home cooks and resellers selling siomai online. I did not know where to begin. Who do I order from? Should I just buy it from a restaurant? Should I be adventurous with my choice? Or should I try something new?
I couldn’t decide, so I turned to my family for advice. Everybody had different answers. “Order from Jasmine,” my mother said. She is a big fan of the New World Makati restaurant, which serves an epic dim sum buffet. “Let’s get Tim Ho Wan,” muttered my sister, who is probably the eatery’s biggest supporter. “Causeway is the best. It’s authentic,” added my brother-in-law. “Why don’t we order from all of the restaurants?” I replied jokingly. Everybody looked at each other, and though the idea seemed crazy, we were all in silent agreement.
My little craving suddenly turned into a hunt to look for the best siomai in Manila. We all decided that this was worthwhile for three reasons: 1) It was a fun thing to do as a family since no one goes out; 2) We would finally be able to figure out where to buy the best siomai in Manila; and 3) it would be great content for my new food column for One Mega (at the time, I had just been offered this position). To be able to do this properly, we laid down a few rules, which I’ll specify below:
(1) We would stick to mid-level eateries, premium restaurants, and popular online stores within Metro Manila. Our original list had a lot of convenient store siomai and kiosks, but we decided to remove them from the list last minute to even the playing field.
(2) Each order of siomai was paid for. Business owners and restaurants did not know that this was for a food blog and experiment.
(3) We would eat everything on the same day at home. The tasting would also be a blind tasting, meaning we did not know where the siomai is from. This helped us rid ourselves of any biases we might have for our favorite restaurants. Special thanks to my sister Bettina, who plated each siomai on the table, as well as had a numbering system so she could keep track of what was what. She did not participate in ranking the food.
(4) Each siomai would be graded out of 100 points from 5 categories: 10 points for Food Packaging, 10 points for Condiment Inclusion, 30 points for The Look of the Food, 30 points for Taste of the Food (Flavor, Taste, and Texture), and finally, 20 points for Price. My score would be x/100. But for my family’s score, I simply added up all the numbers and got the average, before converting it into a percentage score.
(5) Finally, we decided to deduct 5 points from any restaurant that was late with our order. To save up on delivery fees, we created a pick-up schedule for three cars. For example: I was assigned Ortigas, which meant I was able to pick up siomai from five different restaurants that were close to each other. It was faster and more economical for us to do it this way. The reason why I decided to strip off points from “late” restaurants was that we called every single establishment the day before, specifically asking them to have our food prepared at a particular time. Normally, I would not mind if my food is a few minutes late, but during a pandemic, being outside of my house was the last thing I wanted to do.
The Siomai Showdown Results
Before I present the results of the Siomai Showdown, I would just like to say that there were so many restaurants that I wish we could have included in this little experiment. Jasmine, which is located in New World Makati, is probably my go-to restaurant for Chinese food. Sadly, they were closed at the time I decided to do this. You also won’t find Gloria Maris(which I love)on this list for reasons I prefer not to write about. We also passed up on the chance to order from some of Chinatown’s most iconic restaurants, such as Wai Yingand David’s Tea House. The reason was mainly that I didn’t want to spend on the delivery fee, as I live quite far from Binondo. From 25 original establishments, we were only to get siomai from 14. Hopefully, this is a good enough sampling for some readers. Personally, it’s good enough for me, since I now know where to get the best siomai in the vicinity of my home.
The ranking below is listed from “worst” to “best”. Please remember that this is all subjective. So if one of your favorite places is listed quite low, it’s based on OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE as a family. Each siomai was also blind tasted, so we had no idea what restaurant they were from when we were ranking them. Because of this, the results are really quite interesting. I’ve also decided to write down the exact notes I wrote down on my scorecard during that day, so you guys can see what I was really feeling at that particular time.
NOTE: Addresses included are the branch I bought the siomai in.
#14: Next Door Noodles by North Park
PRICE: PHP 108 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 32/100
FAMILY SCORE: 14%
NOTES: “Brown paper bag with a plastic container inside. Typical sauce. School siomai honestly looked better. Honestly, this is kind of inedible. I didn’t finish my piece.”
Next Door Noodles Ortigas is located at CW Home Depot Ortigas, 1 Dona Julia Vargas Ave, Cor. Meralco Ave, Pasig. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8637 8163.
#13: Nathaniel’s Bakeshop
PRICE: PHP 180 for 20 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 42/100
FAMILY SCORE: 47%
NOTES: “Sadly, the food looks chucked into the green packaging. The sauce tastes like toyo-mansi. It looks very homemade and actually reminds me of siomai I would buy at school. It’s a bit too sweet for my taste. And quite carrot-y, too. I’m not a big fan of this.”
Nathaniel’s Bakeshop is located at E, 221 Katipunan Ave, Project 4, Quezon City. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8442 5387.
#12: Mann Hann
PRICE: PHP 165 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 49/100
FAMILY SCORE: 50%
NOTES: “Brown paper bag with Man Han branding. The sauce was too spicy and tastes a little cheap. The dumpling is very dark and not too attractive looking. However, it tastes very much like comfort food. I’d eat this again, but it’s not my first choice.”
Mann Hann is located at 249, UP Town Center, 216 Katipunan Ave., Diliman, Quezon City. For order or inquiries, call + 63 2 7960 1730.
#11: Lugang Café
PRICE: PHP 348 for 8 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 56/100 (minus 5 points for being late)
FAMILY SCORE: 62%
NOTES: “It comes in a very nice printed box and nice paper bag. It’s very typical though and looks better than it tastes. This definitely fails in comparison to the other dumpling wrap siomai we had earlier (NOTE: later revealed to be the siomai from Shi Lin). The wrap is too thick!”
Lugang Café is located at Mega D, L3, SM Megamall, EDSA Cor. J. Vargas Avenue. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8631 6436.
#10: Tuan Tuan
PRICE: PHP 165.90 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 58/100
FAMILY SCORE: 62%
NOTES: “Packaged in a super sleek paper bag. The condiments taste quite typical. The siomai is one of the prettiest of the bunch, but sadly it is also one of the hardest on the table. It was really hard to chew this.”
Tuan Tuan is located at Mega D (Megal Fashion Hall), SM Megamall, EDSA Cor. J. Vargas, Ortigas Center. For orders or inquires call +63 2 8632 7483.
#9: Wang Fu
PRICE: PHP 133.71 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 61/100
FAMILY SCORE: 73%
NOTES: “Plastic container and paper bag makes it look very clean. Condiments are spicy and tasty, but very traditional. The chili overpowers the taste of the dumpling. The look and taste are very typical. It’s reliable, but nothing special.”
Wang Fu is located at UP Town Center, Katipunan Ave., Diliman, Quezon City. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 7958 5723.
#8: Causeway Seafood Restaurant
PRICE: PHP 238 for 15 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 66/100
FAMILY SCORE: 66%
NOTES: “Despite being a frozen siomai that we cooked at home, the plastic container it arrived in was very sticky and covered in chili. The soy sauce included was very typical. However, the siomai itself is classic, delicious, and authentic. This is a good siomai that does not look as pretty as it tastes.”
Causeway Seafood Restaurant is located at 1100 Banawe St., Quezon City. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8740 9302.
#7: Eat Fresh Hongkong Famous Street Food
PRICE: PHP 100 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 73/100
FAMILY SCORE: 72%
NOTES: “This looks like street food—something that I would buy at the side of the road. The soy sauce is very weird and thick, but I find it surprisingly really good. The look of the food is pretty, comforting, and classic. Overall, it’s very good. It’s perfectly balanced, and it tastes really nice with the thickened sweet soy sauce.”
Eat Fresh Hongkong Famous Street Food is located at 32 General Ordonez Ave, Marikina. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8544 4126.
#6: North Meats South
PRICE: PHP 208 for 15 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 75/100
FAMILY SCORE: 77%
NOTES: “Packed in a typical plastic container. Wow, this amazing crispy chili garlic is so perfect with it. It’s a unique topping. It’s also very pretty for frozen siomai. The colors are so vibrant. If I were to buy siomai for home consumption, this would be it. Really good!” (PS. the crispy garlic is an additional expense. It does not come with the siomai).
For orders or inquires, please send a DM to their Instagram: @northmeatssouth.ph.
#5: Shi Lin
PRICE: PHP 220.5 for 6 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 81/100 (minus 5 points for being late)
FAMILY SCORE: 84%
NOTES: “Brown paper bag with Shi Lin sticker, which is nice and personalized to the restaurant. I like the yummy black vinegar sauce—you can’t really go wrong with it. The food looks really pretty. A perfect dumpling aesthetic, which is I appreciate 100%. This is close to a perfect bite. It’s like eating a siomai and a xiaolongbao at the same time. Taste-wise, it’s great, but sadly I need to minus 5 points because the food was cooked only when I got there.”
Shi Lin is located at 5F Shangri-la Plaza Mall, Shaw Blvd. Cor. Epifano de Los Santos Ave., Pasig. For orders or inquiries, call + 63 2 8477 8878.
#4: Tim Ho Wan
PRICE: PHP 160 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 87.5/100
FAMILY SCORE: 79%
NOTES: “Branding galore! But the paper bag looks good. Whenever I see someone carrying this bag, I get hungry. The sauce included tastes like a special blend—like it was something made particularly for this restaurant. I love it. The dumpling looks nice and expensive, and it’s extremely flavorful. Super delicious!”
Tim Ho Wan is located at L1 SM Megamall, EDSA Cor. J. Vargas Ave., Mandaluyong City. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8633 5042.
#3: Summer Palace
PRICE: PHP 182 for 3 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 92/100
FAMILY SCORE: 90%
NOTES: “Packaging is nice. Circle container is a nice change from all the rectangle ones I picked up today. It was in a big, white plastic bag with my name on it that was ready for pick-up when I arrived. Soy sauce is a nice color—spicy and super good, too. Siomai is beautiful and bountiful. It’s one of the largest siomai on the table. It’s not dry, and you can really taste the shrimp.”
Summer Palace is located on the Mezzanine Floor, Tower Wing, 1 Garden Way, EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8633 8888.
#2: Lung Hin
PRICE: PHP 299.25 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 95/100
FAMILY SCORE: 87%
NOTES: “Packaged in a typical plastic container, but it had a nice sticker with take-away instructions. I appreciate that. The sauce has a good balance of flavors and a nice color to it. Siomai looks explosive! I suspect this is from a hotel. The black topping is a nice change from the orange. I think that’s a mushroom on top. It tastes really lovely. Not traditional but feels like an homage to the classic siomai Filipinos are used to. Tastes really premium.”
Lung Hin is located at Marco Polo Ortigas Manila, Marco Polo, Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig. For orders or inquires call +63 2 7720 7777.
#1: Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining
PRICE: PHP 188 for 4 pieces
CHINO’S SCORE: 98/100
FAMILY SCORE: 93%
NOTES: “Beautiful packaging. It came in a really nice square plastic container and a tall square paper bag with branding. The condiments are amazing—my favorite yet. It has a marvelous aftertaste. The siomai has great color, and I really love that pop of orange. Super sarap! Perfect! I can taste everything in this. It’s the perfect balance of flavors. Maybe the best siomai I’ve ever had. Tastes really expensive too!”
Xiu Fine Cantonese Dining is located at 115 Connecticut St., San Juan. For orders or inquiries, call +63 2 8650 7189.
Chino Hernandez is a former editor at Lifestyle Asia, who left publishing to start his dream of owning a food business. His brand Delicachino serves Spanish-Filipino favorites inspired by Pinoy family meals. He is a foodie who enjoys sinful, decadent eats. Chino’s other hobbies include collecting physical home media, and recently, working out and staying healthy.
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