Ah, the legendary Ma Mon Luk restaurant along Quezon Avenue near the corner of Banawe. Mention the word mami and the first thing that comes into your mind would be this restaurant. Maybe your mom or dad remembers eating a warm and hearty meal in this joint. A steaming bowl of chicken mami, coupled with a siopao bun as big as your closed fist. Pour some siopao sauce in the mami broth, and you have a timeless classic to indulge in.
But have you heard the story behind the place? Southern Chinese immigrant Robert Ma Mon Luk, whose name the restaurant carries today, arrived in 1918 to try his luck here on our shores. He was trying to court a young lady in his hometown of Guangzhou, but her parents did not look too kindly on him; they were rich, he was poor.
Over time, Robert became a common sight in the streets of Manila. Carrying a shoulder pole with two pots on each side, he peddled the signature chicken mami dish the restaurant is widely known for. One pot carried the ingredients—noodles, chicken, and spring onion—while the other contained a coal-fired stove where the broth was heated. He regaled his customers with tales about China, appealing mostly to the students around the capital’s institutions of learning; he himself was a teacher before heading to the Philippines.
Years of hard work paid off, and he won the young lady’s heart upon returning to China. Ma and his sweetheart-turned-wife got married in the Philippines, and started a family—having three sons and a daughter. Incidentally, this branch we visited was the house where Ma Mon Luk and his family originally lived; it still stands today, with his descendants (carrying the surname Mamonluk) keeping his legacy alive.
The schoolteacher-turned-restaurateur successfully expanded the diner in different locations such as Cubao, Pasay, Quiapo, and Binondo. Years passed, and Ma Mon Luk’s six branches dwindled down to two – with the Cubao branch being the last store to close after a strike by the branch’s employees. Only the Quiapo and Quezon Avenue branches remain. The restaurant has withstood the test of time by offering timeless and homely Chinese staples.
As for me, however, the boo dragged me to this place after work. Upon finding out I wanted to eat there, she accompanied me from our office along Araneta Avenue. It was worth the long walk, however. Timelessness is the general theme of Ma Mon Luk; memories of times long gone adorn the place as soon as you enter. An old payphone is near the doorway, old rotary telephones are displayed in glass cases, old latch keys are framed on the wall, and a sewing machine-cum-lampshade serves as an accent piece. Pictures of famous personalities who have dined and news clippings decorate its stone-gray walls. It’s like the clocks froze, and we stepped back in our parents’ time.
I won’t say further stuff anymore and let the pictures below speak for themselves. A lot of food bloggers before me and—even before the food blogging craze—the older generations have raved about Ma Mon Luk. To see it in real life, however, is an entirely different thing—and a visit is highly recommended to experience its timelessness.
Until the next review, bon appetit.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I added in a few details from this piece by DLSU historian Jose Victor Torres, originally published in Rogue Philippines. The featured image for this entry was taken from this earlier blog post. Timestamp: 21 November 2017, 10:34 am.)
Ma Mon Luk Restaurant
408 Quezon Avenue corner Banawe Street
Barangay Dona Josefa
Quezon City 1113