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?”

vegan table_wm

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!

Vegan Tinola_wm

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:

Vegan_The Good Choices_cooked_wm

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?

The Real Happy Cow_crispy vegan pata2_wm

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!

The Real Happy Cow_crispy vegan pata_wm

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!

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