Ling Nam dishes up 55 years of beef wanton noodle soup
- Joseph Cortes () - January 19, 2006 - 12:00am
A long time ago, a trip to Chinatown in downtown Manila was never complete without a stop at either a Chinese restaurant or a noodle house. Bowls of steaming noodles, and platefuls of siopao and siomai were the day’s reward for a well-appreciated wandering down Ongpin St.

Nowadays, the traffic and the proliferation of malls have made such unplanned trips to the heart of Manila a hassle. Those who do brave the chaos of Binondo and its little side streets are rewarded by the sight of long familiar haunts. Old-timers still troop to Ling Nam Noodle House, one of the pioneer noodle houses in the area, and delight in its menu of noodle soups, congee, siopao, and siomai. It may be a very short menu, but you can never go wrong with your order. In less than a minute, a steaming bowl of hot beef wanton noodles, the store’s signature dish, is in front of you. And the proof of the pudding – make that noodle soup – is in the eating.

Peter Fung is the second generation in his family to run Ling Nam. His father Tomas Fung, now 84, opened the first Ling Nam Noodle House in 1950 along Zacateros St. in Sta. Cruz. In 1965, he moved the business down to its present site at 616 T. Alonzo St., where it is still drawing a faithfull clientele.

"Ling Nam had the original fast-food concept in the country," says Peter. "It was just a menu of beef wanton noodles and siopao. The other offerings, such as the lugao and siomai, were added later on to offer guests a variety."

And there’s a simple reason for the short menu. "When our customers come in, they already know what they want," says the older Fung.

Indeed, a trip to Chinatown then always meant a stop at Ling Nam. It was then a haunt of the country’s who’s who. The elder Tomas remembers the late great boxing champ Gabriel "Flash" Elorde coming in for noodles after practice at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum or after a round at a nearby boxing ring in downtown Manila. Other frequent guests included kundiman great Ruben Tagalog, vaudeville star Patsy, dramatic actor Ric Rodrigo, teen star Rosemarie, news anchor Angelo Castro, and even comedy king Dolphy. When Senator Alfredo Lim was then mayor of Manila, he would regularly drop by for a bowl of noodles.

"Until a few days before Levi Celerio died, he dropped by our restaurant for a quick meal," says Peter. "His favorites were the fish lugao and mongo siopao."

The restaurant’s name, Ling Nam, refers to the Fungs’ origin in Guangdong in southern China. "Ling" means mountain in Cantonese, while "nam" means south, and the phrase is a shortcut for an important mountain range in the region. "When people said ‘ling nam,’ it meant they were going to Canton. Ling Nam just means our restaurant serves Cantonese dishes," Peter explains.

Ling Nam became a success through word of mouth. Tomas says, "It was all an accident. We were just playing along as the years went on. It just so happened that so many people got interested to eat here."

At the T. Alonzo restaurant, diners have a choice of wanton soup, wanton, beef, asado, chicken, wanton beef, and wanton asado noodle soups. There is a choice between mien, or regular egg noodles, and hofan, or flat rice noodles, which Peter says is an acquired taste.

"Hofan noodles are only served here because only the Chinese are familiar with hofan," he says.

Dim sum offerings include special siopao, bola-bola, asado, mongo siopao, and tai pao (chicken and egg siopao), siomai and siomai soup, and asado slices. Available in the morning from 5:30 a.m., when the restaurant opens, until around 8 a.m. is a selection congees.

Many still consider the restaurant in Sta. Cruz a hole-in-the-wall establishment. It is, literally, the younger Fung admits. "We’ve never been able to renovate this place because it is just too small. If you look at the pictures from the Fifties and the Sixties and compare it with the way it looks now, it’s the same layout except that we’ve moved the stairs to the second floor from the front to the back of the restaurant."

Ling Nam gradually grew its business during the Seventies. During its peak in the early ’80s, it had 11 stores, located mostly in major commercial centers, such as the Ayala Commercial Center and Harrison Plaza, as well as in Cubao, Makati, and Baclaran.

Management and labor problems saw the restaurant chain slowing down in the next two decades. In 2004, the Fungs bought back controlling interest of Ling Nam. It is now offering franchises of the popular noodle chain to make its line of noodle soups and dim sum available to a bigger public.

Peter returned from Canada to now manage the restaurant chain. While the T. Alonzo outlet remains basically unchanged, offering the same short menu of noodle soups, congee, and dim sum, its new branch along MIA Road in Parañaque is offering rice toppings and sautéed noodles as an extra for its new market.

"Our market is basically middle-aged and older," he says. "They know the brand, and they know what they want. At our Parañaque outlet, we would like to try to reach a younger market who look for dishes with rice. That plus the updated logo and look will hopefully attract this new market."

This year, Ling Nam is opening three new restaurants in line with its franchising program, with branches opening in Makati, Greenhills and Cubao. It is also joining the three-day Bakery and Catering World 2006, which opens today at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. Its stall may be found at the expo’s franchising pavilion.
* * *
Ling Nam Noodle House is at 616 T. Alonzo St., Sta. Cruz, Manila. It also sells pancit canton, dried egg noodles, fresh egg noodles, and wanton and siomai skins. For inquiries and orders, call 733-5231, 733-5234, and 736-9510, or fax 733-5310. Its Parañaque branch is along MIA Road (near Uniwide Coastal Mall), with tel. no. 852-4455.

For Ling Nam franchising inquiries, visit Tri-Mark Foods Inc. at the third floor, 372 F. Blumentritt St., Batis, San Juan, Metro Manila, call 705-1275 and 0917-8556883, telefax 705-1875 or e-mail lingnamfoodcorp@yahoo.com.

ALONZO ALONZO ST. CRUZ LING LING NAM LING NAM NOODLE HOUSE NAM NOODLE NOODLES RESTAURANT
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