A Tour of Malabon’s Heritage

Malabon is a neighboring city of Valenzuela, though surprisingly, aside from passing through McArthur Highway in Barangay Potrero, I have never explored much of the city. The city even launched a tricycle tour that takes guests around its old houses and a number of dining areas some four years ago, but I never got around to joining one of those tours.

It’s this year that I get to go around Malabon. It’s not even the original plan. The idea was to go to Obando and do a photoshoot there. My brother wanted to see Obando, a part of Bulacan province that’s wedged between Valenzuela and Malabon, and he’s really intrigued by it.

So on a weekday morning, we find ourselves driving to it. The city comes alive in May, when couples dance during the fiesta to pray for children. Otherwise, there’s not much to see other than the church, which is closed nonetheless.

We backtrack and head north to Malabon, instead. The city is part of Metro Manila and is one of the most densely populated in the Philippines. Originally part of the Province of Tondo and later on Rizal Province, the city grew to become a residential and industrial town. It forms Metro Manila’s northwestern subsection called CAMANAVA, a portmanteau of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela.

Unlike its neighboring cities, however, Malabon has managed to retain many of its Spanish-era structures, and this is one of the city’s pride. The most notable is the San Bartolome Church built in 1614. The church was built in the Greco-Roman style, with eight ionic columns supporting the pediment. Inside, the church’s ceiling

Near the church, just behind the Malabon City Hall, is the Plaza Rodriguez, a multipurpose outdoor venue. There’s not much going on today, other than staff mopping the floors and students standing around chatting.

The city’s colonial charm picks up a few minutes’ drive north around the Immaculada Concepcion de Malabon Church. Here, dilapidated houses line the narrow highway, many of which are closed to the public. A few of those houses (Sy Juco House, El Casa Katipunero, etc.) listed in some blogs are not in Google Maps, and even regular tricycle drivers (those not conducting tours) are not familiar with them. We find an interestingly looking structure just in front of the church and snap some pictures in front of it.

One ancestral house we do get to explore is the Angel Cacnio Art Gallery further north. Cacnio, a native of Malabon, is notable for having designed the old 20-peso and 100-peso bills. The house features his works as well as those by his children and other artists of Malabon. The house itself is closed, but the compound is open and portions of the house can be viewed through the glass door at the back porch.

Of course, you can’t go to Malabon and not have a plate of Pancit Malabon, a noodle dish made with shrimp paste, fish sauce, and crab fat — ingredients reflecting Malabon’s coastal location. The dish is then served with various toppings, often hardboiled eggs, pork, and spring onions.

There are other dining possibilities around the city. There are cafes serving the usual dishes as well as coffee; a number of informal eateries serving lugaw; and the famous Dolor’s Kakanin serving traditional desserts. There’s really much in Malabon to keep you busy for at least half a day, it’s a wonder why it has taken us all these years to explore it.

Model: Paola Domingo