The quest for vegan food in Manila

The introduction to this blog entry may well be the explanation on how I became a pesco-vegetarian who favors vegan food 80% of the time.

In September 2016, I decided to cut all meat from my diet: chicken, beef, pork and yes, even fish and seafood. My initial reason was very simple: I wanted to pass my medical executive check-up with flying colors. I’ve always been a healthy eater, with steak as a once a year luxury because raising cattle takes a toll in our environment. That, and I’ve always favored fish and seafood. I’ve never tried being a vegetarian for more than a week, so I said to myself, “Why the hell not?”

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Can you believe that everything on this table is vegan? Vegan lumpia, longganisa and adobo from The Good Choices, herbed cream cheese from The Real Happy Cow, pan de sal, brown rice, salad and local Filipino fruits. It’s a happy vegan’s lunch feast!

After the check-up (yes, I did get awesome results!), I ordered chicken wings and steak and eggs with my husband for our usual Sunday brunch to reward myself. Lo and behold, eating meat did not sit well with me anymore! The melt-in-your-mouth medium rare steak that I used to savor became repulsive, akin to eating a rotting carcass. The buffalo chicken wings, which was an all-time favorite, left a weird after-taste on my tongue.

Since then, I decided to become a pesco-vegetarian. Yes, I still eat fish and seafood because try as I might to battle my chronic monthly migraine with other medications, the only thing that works for me right now to relieve it are the combination of fish oil and lecithin. Some call my kind a “transitioning vegan,” but I honestly don’t know if and when I can fully transition as one, given my migraine situation.

Yes, I’ve tried everything else out there so to the vegans reading this, if you have recommendations on vegan-friendly migraine relief that I have yet to try, hit me up!

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My Mom’s version of vegan tinola, especially made for me

On most days, my preference is to eat clean. By eating clean, I mean eating vegan – no dairy, fish or seafood or any animal by-product – if I can help it.

Being an expat in Indonesia made it easier for me to prefer vegan food, as there are several restaurants and food delivery both in Jakarta and Bali. My challenge always happens when I come home to Manila.

Last December, when I came home for Christmas, that’s when I felt severely marginalized. Almost all the restaurants and fastfood chains did not offer vegan alternatives. Everything had meat or dairy in it.

For the Lebaran break, since I know that I will be staying in Manila for more than a week, I came prepared. I did my research and got in touch with vegan food suppliers that I discovered through Manila Vegans, a community of vegans and vegan-curious in the Philippines.

I’ve been posting photos on my Instagram about it and friends have been asking me where I found my sumptuous vegan dishes. Here’s a list of my favorites from two of the best vegan suppliers in Manila:

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Vegan tapa and longganisa with fried rice from The Good Choices Ph

1. Mock meat versions of Filipino meat delicacies, including longganisa, tocino, tapa and embutido from The Good Choices by The Veg Mom Ph.

The time has come when mock meat already tastes so close to the real thing, thanks to The Good Choices.

I ordered several packs of mock meat from them: longganisa, tapa, tocino, embutido and even chicken nuggets. There was also lumpiang Shanghai on the list so I ordered it out of curiosity as well.

The verdict: Everything I ordered from The Good Choices was tasty and delish! I do have Vegan_The Good Choices_tocino_wmpreferences though and the tocino is on top of my list. Even before becoming vegetarian, I stopped eating processed meat a long, looooong time ago and eating tocino without the guilt and the nasty preservatives is a welcome delight for me. It tasted so good with fried brown rice and heaps of garlic. It tasted like the real thing, my carnivore Dad couldn’t believe it’s vegan!

My Mom, on the other hand, prefers the longganisa. Like me, she is also a pesco-vego and has long given up eating processed meat. The longganisa was a treat for her, dipped in white vinegar with garlic and chili. The embutido was also very tasty and can fool a carnivore that it’s the real thing.

In terms of customer service, the response time of The Good Choices by Veg Mom was quite fast. They responded to inquiries on Facebook within a few hours and they gave timely feedback on the status of delivery. They are from the northern part of Manila, though, so delivery to the south cost me P350, with a P50 discount because I ordered more than 5 packs. To maximize the delivery cost, it will be better to order more items.

The Real Happy Cow_vegchon1_wm2. Vegchon from The Real Happy CowHow can this be even real? Crispy lechon kawali without the guilt and it looks and tastes like lechon kawali, even with the fat in between the meat.

This vegchon is very impressive. When I posted the photo on my Facebook and IG, my friends refused to believe it’s not pork.

To cook the vegchon, from the freezer, it needs some time to thaw. Cook the vegchon under medium fire around 4 minutes. 6 minutes cooking time will give you a very crispy version. For air frying, it can be air fried between 6-8 minutes.

For a truly vegan experience, The Real Happy Cow suggested that I used Andok’s lechon sauce bottled and sold in the supermarkets since this brand does not use pork liver in making their sauce. The caveat here is that you need to eat it within 30 minutes, otherwise it won’t be crunchy anymore.

The vegchon sells for P150 per pack and can be cut delicately into 8 pieces.

Check the vegchon out up close, mainly made from soy and tapioca starch. Doesn’t it look like the real lechon kawali?

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The Real Happy Cow’s veg pata roll

3. Vegan crispy pata. If you think vegan lechon kawali is a stretch, wait ’til you taste The Real Happy Cow’s crispy pata roll. Selling for P200 per roll, this can be eaten as crispy pata with soy sauce and chili as sauce on the side, or as the meat in kare-kare.

The crispy skin is made from shitake mushrooms.

The vegan crispy pata roll is thicker than the vegchon, thus requiring a longer time to cook (6-8 minutes). A cooking hack would be to slit through some of the sides of the roll so that the middle portion can cook faster.

My Mom and daughter ate it as it is, without added salt and with spicy soy sauce. I prefer my veg pata in kare-kare. I loved it so much that I requested for it to be prepared for me twice when I was in Manila!

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My Mom’s version of kare-kare with the veg crispy pata roll

The Real Happy Cow’s delivery fee was P200. They’re also from the south like me so the fee was cheaper. In terms of response time, they’re lightning fast. They’re super friendly, too, and generous when it comes to cooking tips and tricks.

Overall, these 2 food suppliers allowed me to be vegan during my 1-week trip in Manila. Their food line-up is also proof that vegan food has already matured through the years and that we can have delicious, tasty meals without harming animals. Eating clean has never been this convenient.

By the end of the month, I will be coming home again to Manila for a weekend trip and I’m definitely going back for more of their vegan food. Can’t wait!

I ate my way through Lisbon

A month ago, Arshad and I made our way to Lisbon, Portugal to meet his parents and spend a few days together with them before we continued our journey to Spain.

Both retired, the preoccupation of both my Mum and Dad-in-law are the two favorite things that I share with my husband: travel and food. Yes, we intend to follow their footsteps when we are older, but for now, we will remain to be green with envy when they call to invite us for a week in Brazil or a month’s visit to my sis-in-law in Melbourne (Dad, limited vacation leaves!).

Lisbon with the Arshads & the Rahmans

Bella with Arshad and her in-laws in Cascais, Portugal

Lisbon was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. I didn’t expect much from the city, since I was really looking forward to Madrid and Barcelona, more than anything else. When I got to Lisbon, though, and as we made our way to the suburbs of Sintra and Cascais, I didn’t realize that I was in for the food trip of my life!

There were so many things to gush and rave about Lisbon, but the most memorable for me was the FOOD, thus the 2kg. weight gain after the trip. All worth-it calories, if I may say.

Both Mum and Dad were game to try the food, desserts and wine, and most of our photos captured us eating our way through the city of Lisbon and its equally charming suburban areas.

Here are some of the memorable local food and restaurants that we tried, savored and yes, in some instances, repeated, which completed the journey.

When in Lisbon, include these gustatory delights in your checklist of must-try food:

1.  Sardines, sardines and more sardines.  There is no escaping sardines in Lisbon. I wanted to remain pescatarian even when traveling, and Lisbon being a sardines country was something that I embraced and celebrated the moment that we touched down.

Sardines is everywhere. You’ll see sardines grilled, served as tapas, canned or part of a pasta dish or risotto.  Traditionally, sardines is served grilled, with rustic bread or boiled potatoes and fresh greens on the side. My personal favorite is just straightforward grilled, copiously drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Heavenly!

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Grilled sardines with boiled potatoes and fresh greens on the side

Another take on it would be to just put it on top of grilled rustic bread with grilled tomatoes and herbs with fresh salad.

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Time Out Market’s take on sardines drizzled with extra virgin olive oil on grilled rustic bread

Sardines is also great for souvenirs and giveaways to friends. Both Jakarta and Manila, where we come from, are very big on souvenir gifts for friends and family (do not dare go home without anything!) and canned sardines is a good idea for “pasalubong” or “oleh-oleh.” We bought canned sardines and pate’ for friends and family.

Sardines can be had everywhere in Lisbon, but I particularly liked the one that I tried in Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris at the Praca Republica.  The sardines was HUGE, fresh and not too salty. The availability of tables al fresco was a plus for me, given the great spring weather during our trip. It was just nice to eat sardines with chardonnay while watching people go by!

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Bella enjoying her sardines al fresco at Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris

 

Here’s how to find Sintra’s Restaurante Cafe’ Paris:
Address: Praça República 32, 2710-542 Sintra, Portugal
Hours: 9AM–10PM

 

2. Seafood. Of all kinds! Lisbon was teeming with fresh fish and other seafood. I just can’t have enough of Lisbon’s fresh seafood. Since they are always fresh, they are prepared simply: grilled or pan-fried and drizzled with a lot of olive oil.

Lisbon is Europe’s only capital city along the Atlantic Coast, lying in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic ocean. Being a coastal city, it boasts of fresh fish and seafood and most restaurants will have a “fresh catch of the day” in the menu.

I tried the bacalhau, cod, prawns and grilled octopus tentacles. Personally, I favored grilled octopus, as it is my quintessential favorite and the big prawns on risotto.

For fresh seafood in Lisbon, I highly recommend Nune’s – Real Marisqueria. Everything we ordered was fresh and the fish was right off the tank. They had warm, rustic bread on the side with luscious butter and several good wines that can be paired with the fish and seafood. You can find Nune’s in Rua de Bartolomeu Dias in Lisbon and for reservations, it’s very easy because it can be done online through The Fork.

Here are the details of Nune’s – Real Marisqueria:

Address: R. Bartolomeu Dias 112, 1400-031 Lisboa, Portugal
Hours: Open everyday · 12PM–12AM
Reservations: thefork.pt

 

3 .  Pastel de Nata or Portuguese egg tart from Pasteis de Belem. You can get pastel

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Pastel de Nata from Pasteis de Belem: photo from TasteIt.pt

de nata or Portuguese egg tart pretty much anywhere in Lisbon, but I highly recommend that you buy it only in Pasteis de Belem. Once you have tasted the egg tarts from Case de Pasteis de Belem, all the other egg tarts will pale in comparison.

Just a quick trip down historical lane: the pastel de nata is believed to have been made by the Catholic nuns in the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, which stands just across the road from the Case de Pasteis de Belem. These sumptuous pastries were the means to raise funds for the monastery’s upkeep and maintenance.

Pastel de nata is a custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon or sugar. Mind you, there is a LONG LINE that traverses outside the cafe’ so it takes a lot of patience for these to be had. Arshad and I had to line up for it, but believe you me, the line and the wait are worth it.

Pasteis de Belem has been selling pastel de nata for more than 150 years and this is something that you cannot miss if you find yourself in the area of the Belem district.

The cafe’ is open everyday. Check out their details below:

ADDRESS:
Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92
1300 – 085 Lisboa
Portugal

E-MAIL:
pasteisdebelem@pasteisdebelem.pt
apoioaocliente@pasteisdebelem.pt

4. Salad with goat cheese and ice cream. Yes, you read that right. It was my Dad-in-law who discovered this at Lisbon’s Time Out Market, where the greens are topped with fresh blueberries, very light and creamy goat cheese and a dollop of ice cream. I tried it and immediately fell in love so we had to go back to Time Out Market so I could have it for myself. Salad never tasted this good and decadent!

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Since I’ve mentioned Time Out Market several times already, here’s how to find it:

Address: Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-109 Lisboa, Portugal

Hours: Open everyday · 10AM–12AM

 

5. Vegetarian dishes. Despite being a sardines and seafood country, there are restaurants that will serve delectable vegetarian dishes. I’ve tried mushroom and truffle risotto but I was biased towards the vegetarian lasagna that I had at Lisbon’s Carmo Restaurant and Bar. Several restaurants will also accommodate requests for some of the dishes to be “vegetarianized,” and will be willing to replace the meat with mushrooms and vegetables.

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Cheesy and creamy vegetarian lasagna from Lisbon’s Carmo Bar and Restaurant

Aside from the vegetarian dishes, one notable vegetarian-vegan-friendly condiment is their chili oil. I’ve been to several restaurants with this heavenly bottle of spicy oil, filled with red chili and garlic. The bite is superb and I drizzled it on anything: my lasagna, risotto, sardines, etc.

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Chili oil with a bite: just a few drops and you already get the spice in your mouth

I found both of these in Lisbon’s Carmo Restaurant and Bar:

Address: Largo do Carmo 10, 1200-049 Lisboa, Portugal

Hours: Open everyday · 8AM–12AM

Reservations: thefork.pt
Overall, Lisbon is teeming with must-visit beautiful places. But for me, I’d always remember this beautiful yet underrated city because of the delectable food it has to offer.

 

Will I ever consider a second serving of Lisbon? Definitely! And next time, I’ll make sure I have enough time for the other interesting places in Portugal. =)