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:

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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?

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!

On another level: Altitude at The Plaza Brunch

Bella at Salt Grill_wm

One giddy, happy Bella at The Altitude buffet brunch

One glorious, fine Sunday morning, I posted my favorite view of Jakarta. I was also in one of my favorite brunch places that time at Altitude, The Plaza, where three powerhouse international chefs came together to offer a rare brunch buffet.

The buffet itself is a rare occasion worth celebrating, since this buffet triad happens only once or twice a year!

Arshad and I are both fans of Salt Grill by Luke Mangan. We celebrate most of our life milestones here: my birthday, our anniversary, promotions, etc. Last year, we even won gift certificates from The Altitude, so naturally, he is part of the mailing list.

When the email came in about the buffet brunch with the 3 restaurants combined, it was a hands down “Yes, we are definitely going!.” We decided to celebrate Arshad’s birthday, albeit a belated one, at The Altitude to feast on this rare and sought-after buffet.

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Celebrating Arshad’s birthday at The Altitude’s buffet brunch

At Rp500k net for the food, I say it’s definitely worth it, what with the quality and vast choices. Free-flowing sparkling wine, red wine, beer and cocktails can be had for an additional Rp490k. I don’t think it’s a surprise what we opted for!

Sunday Super Brunch.jpg

Sunday Super Brunch at Altitude, The Plaza

As usual, I started my feast with salad and cheese, both of which came from The Salt Grill. Like I said in my previous post on brunch buffets, I rate restaurants based on how good their salad bar and cheese selection are, being the pescatarian that I am. As expected, my favorite restaurant did not disappoint.

Aside from these, Salt Grill was in charge of the carvery, where Arshad feasted on steak Arshad with his plate of meat from Salt Grill_wmand lamb. He said it was good, but since I don’t eat meat, I will have to take his word for it.

Salt Grill is well known for its no-nonsense grilled meat and steak, where it’s the quality of the meat that matters and the sauces are meant to enhance the flavor, not overpower the meat. For the meatlovers, this is definitely a highly recommended restaurant. They also offer salmon and barramundi for those who prefer fish and the restaurant does not take vegetarians for granted, either. That’s why for my husband and I, we get the best of both worlds at Luke Mangan’s The Salt Grill.

After the salad and cheese, my next go-to station is the sashimi and rolls, and Enmaru’s Executive Chef Takashi Tomie made sure that the diners had a fresh selection. Arshad even witnessed how Chef Takashi sliced and served a gigantic yellow fin tuna. The sashimi selection was very fresh and the salmon sashimi melts in your mouth!

Not to be ignored are the freshly-made rolls, but since I’m cutting the carbs down, it was best for me to stick to the mouth-watering sashimi.

Gaia by Oro Ristorante, on the other hand, offered the freshest seafood buffet alongside pastas, risotto and cheese. I was pleasantly surprised that they had freshly made burrata on the buffet spread and I gladly paired it up with my truffle risotto prepared inside a gigantic grana padano wheel.

I only went back to the Gaia buffet for the burrata but when I caught a whiff of the decadent truffle oil, I had to do a double take and ask for it! What was I saying about rice and carbs again? Yep, ignore that. Totally.

burrata and risotto from Gaia_wm

freshly made burrata and truffle risotto from Gaia by Oro Ristorante

For the seafood spread, the oysters were very fresh. We thought they were air flown from Australia but we were surprised that they came from the nearby islands of Pulau Seribu. At the same time, the octopus which was flavored with Italian herbs and spices was also something to be had.

For the sweet tooth, desserts are a aplenty. again, the Gaia spread was impressive, with all the pastries, cakes, different varieties of pana cotta and fresh fruits.

I’m not a dessert person, but the ice cream teppan from The Salt Grill was irresistible, so much so that I had two servings. Yep, you read that right. Two. I had fun watching how they made the ice cream teppan and they had the magic ingredient that I can NEVER say no to: honeycomb. Vanila ice cream + generous amounts of crushed honeycomb = BLISS for Bella. Honeycomb reminds me of my childhood and Violet Crumble, my favorite chocolate bar.

In summary, the Sunday Super Brunch was a great experience and this has now become my favorite Sunday brunch place here in Jakarta.

Three great restaurants, quality selection of wine and a spectacular view of Jakarta rolled into one make up a wonderful Sunday experience in my beloved second city. Will I go back for another round should they do this again? Definitely! Never mind the hours in the gym that I had to spend afterwards! Everything was all worth it!

Altitude will have another event on the 5th of May. Though it’s not a joint buffet, the restaurant triad promises a night of sumptuous dinner, alcohol and entertainment to celebrate their anniversary. Too bad I won’t be in Jakarta at this time, but if you want to go, see the contact details of Altitude The Plaza below.

Print

Altitude The Plaza’s Anniversary Dinner

Altitude The Plaza, 46th floor

Jl. M.H. Thamrin, Kavling 28 – 30
Jakarta 10350
Ph: (62-21) 2992 2448
Direct No.: 085939922799
Fax: (62-22) 2992 2447
E-mail: info@altitude.co.id
Follow them on :
Facebook : Altitude The Plaza
Instagram : @altitudetheplaza

 

The experience is definitely 5 stars for me, with a lot of repeats in the future!

PS: This is not a paid promotion from any of the restaurants. I’m a real, raving fan of the restaurant triad. =)

5-out-of-5

Nasi tumpeng

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Nasi Tumpeng – “the dish that binds the diversity of Indonesian various culinary traditions.”


Nasi tumpeng is a cone-shaped rice dish. The yellow rice, shaped like a mountain has several side dishes of vegetables and meat. Tumpeng is a symbol of gratitude. After speech and prayers, the top of the tumpeng is cut and given to the most important or the oldest person in the group.

Weekend hits: What to do in Jakarta when you’re staying in the city

Last weekend was the very first semi-sane weekend that I spent in Jakarta, which was exactly what I needed: to stay put and have some quiet time after a work-week inundated by nothing but meetings and boardroom presentations.

I always get these questions from friends in Manila: “So what is your typical weekend in Jakarta? What is there to do in Jakarta? Is it still traffic during the weekends?”

To finally shed light on what’s happening here in my side of town (yes, it’s still traffic in some parts of the city), I’m sharing what a quiet Jakarta weekend looks like. Here’s my initial weekend top 5:

1. Healthy Saturday breakfast. In South Jakarta, my go-to restaurants for great coffee and avocado toast are Saint ALi in Setiabudi and Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen in the Plaza Festival complex.

Saint ALi is originally from Australia and luckily, Jakarta is the first branch outside of it. Their coffee game is strong and they offer a lot of variety. The baristas definitely know their coffee and you can ask for recommendations. I regularly order their flat white with Dama almond milk paired with my favorite Avo on Toast.

Another great news for those who love macarons: Saint ALi also partnered with La Maison Patisserie. There is an array of colorful macarons to choose from, with eccentric flavors, too. I tried the salted egg yolk and the salted popcorn and they tasted good, in a weird way.

On the other hand, Lucky Cat is currently one of the hippest coffee shops in town (yes, there is always a line and you can’t make reservations). They’re open 24 hours, too! They have a much shorter menu for both coffee and food, but if you’re into flavored latte or affogatto, this is the place to be! I prefer their mushroom and avocado on toast over Saint Ali’s, to be honest. It’s creamier and more savory, but since this place is one of the newest, it also runs out pretty fast.

Side bar: I don’t know why, but Indonesia seems to have better-tasting avocados, compared to the Philippines. Theirs is more buttery and sweet-tasting, you just can’t have enough of it.

Saint ALi
+6321-52906814
Price Range is around Rp300k for 2 people
Hours: 7am to 8pm
Address : Setiabudi Two, Ground Floor, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Setiabudi, Jakarta
Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen
+621-52961475
Price range: Rp300k for 2 people
Open 24 hours
Plaza Festival, South Parking, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Kuningan Jakarta

 

2.  Books! When I was a newbie in Jakarta, I had a hard time looking for English books. I didn’t know where to go. Indonesia has Gramedia bookstore but majority of the books they sell are in Bahasa Indonesia. There were English books but quite limited, in terms of bestsellers and new releases line-up. Luckily, I discovered Periplus in Plaza Indonesia in one of my cardio window shopping spree. Periplus branches are modest in size but they pack a lot of bestsellers and popular authors.

A weekend well-spent is a Periplus shopping spree and an afternoon spent in a coffee shop reading one of the bestsellers you just bought. In my case, I usually go to the Lotte Shopping Mall in Ciputra World since it’s in my ‘hood.

3. Batik shopping. My love for Indonesian batik is infamous among my friends. I wear them everywhere, for any occasion. For cheap batik shopping, Ambasador and ITC malls in South Jakarta are the places-to-be. One of my secret shopping jaunts though is the Bellagio Mall. There is always a bazaar in the middle of Bellagio Mall with around 5 stalls selling batik from Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung. It’s very near my office and apartment so I end up buying whenever I pass by (or whenever I can come up with reasons to do so!). Price ranges from Rp150k to Rp300k.

For the bold and the brave, Thamrin City is the best place to buy batik coming from all over Indonesia. Imagine 5 floors of batik shops! I always, always get lost whenever I go, but I never get tired of going. You can find batik fabrics, RTW, shoes, bags and handicrafts. There are 2 main caveats: beware of pickpockets and traffic is a b*tch. Better to park your car if you’re driving in Plaza Indonesia or just go take Uber or Blue Bird taxi.

4. The most underrated but most divine treatment: Crème bath. Crème bath is essentially a hot oil treatment, with a pleasant twist: the head and scalp massage lasts for an hour! For someone like me who loves a scalp massage more than any kind of spa treatment, this is my best stress reliever! Most salons would have this treatment, but my favorite spots are at Alfons in Lotte Shopping Mall or Hair Code at Epicentrum, Rasuna Said.

Jakarta also has a better blow styling method that is longer lasting. Whenever I have to go to a Sunday brunch, I head to the salon first to get my crème bath treatment and a blow-dry after.

Alfons Salon
+621-298890677
Hours : 10am – 10pm
Lotte Shopping Avenue
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940
Hair Code Epicentrum 
+621-29889292
Hours: 10am – 10pm
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940

 

5. Speaking of my most favorite thing: Sunday champagne brunch at Hotel Mulia. Back in 2011 when I was still single and bored with nothing much to do during the weekends (except for the top 4 above), my girlfriends and I made it a habit to have Sunday brunch together with free-flow wine and champagne.  Jakarta boasts of several hotels offering Sunday brunch, but I am most fond of the restaurants in Hotel Mulia, specifically, Il Mare.

First of all, the interior design of Hotel Mulia with its grandiose staircases makes me feel like a queen when I descend the stairs to go to the restaurant. Mulia has this old, elegant look that makes you feel like you’re an aristocrat of the olden days about to partake in a sumptuous feast of fresh oysters, lobster and champagne.

Oh yes, did I mention the fresh oysters already? What’s good about Il Mare is that the buffet spread is just enough in terms of size, but it doesn’t shortchange the customer. The buffet packs in a lot in terms of diversity in their offering – fresh seafood, sushi, sashimi, steak, pasta, grilled food, cheese and all the desserts you can think of.

I love the buffet brunches in Mulia, so much so that this deserves a separate blog entry!

Il Mare buffet with free-flowing wine and cocktails go for around Rp638,000.00++. Reservation is a must and when there are occasions such as Christmas or Chinese New Year, it’s always better to call a week ahead.

IL Mare, Mulia 
+621-5747777
Hours: 12pm – 2:30pm for brunch, 6pm – 10:30pm for dinner
Jl. Asia  Afrika, Senayan, RT.1/RW.3, Gelora, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10270
This is my first Top 5 weekend hits in Jakarta. I will be posting more of my favorites soon. For now, it’s time for a lazy weekend.

The Almond Zucchini Experience: Of Cooking Lessons, Chardonnay and Dinners

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I wanted to celebrate my birthday this year in a unique way.  After a quick beach trip, I invited some friends to a cooking class that will segue’ to a  dinner celebration at Almond Zucchini. If you are looking for a unique experience with your friends – something fun, something playful and something gustatory at the same time – I highly recommend that you book Almond Zucchini for your special occasions. It’s an experience worth trying more than once.

Did I say we were drinking chardonnay while cooking?

I found Almond Zucchini online when I was looking for cooking lessons that I can sign up almond-zucchini-signage_wmwith during the weekends, since that’s the only time I can spare for such activities. I found their web site and sent an email to inquire about the schedule and what kind of cuisines they are teaching.

I received an e-mail within the day informing me of their group classes and cuisines.  Rianto, the owner of Almond Zucchini and Pantry Magic (they actually cross-promote each other), was delightful to talk to. His response time was fast and he was patient when I had delays in my replies when I was traveling.

In the course of our conversation, I found out that they can also host private lessons amongst friends or for bigger groups as a team building exercise. I chose the package with a maximum of 6 people.  The choices for cuisines are Indonesian, Italian, Thai and a slew of desserts.

Since I really wanted to learn how to cook Indonesian food, I chose the Nasi Bali menu, consisting of:

  • Nasi putih – white rice
  • Jukut urap – blanched vegetable salad with fried chili dressing
  • Ayam pelalah – shredded chicken with chillies and lime
  • Sate lilit – minced seafood skewer
  • Sambal matah – Balinese chili
  • Dadar gulung – pandan pancake with coconut and palm sugar filling

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I chose the 4pm slot in time for dinner. Upon arrival at the Almond Zucchini Studio, we were greeted with a platter of fried zucchini covered with ground almonds and a pitcher of cold apple juice.  It was a good first impression. It also assured us that we won’t be starving while preparing our own dinner!

While munching on our fried almond zucchinis, we asked Chef Cindy why the studio was named as such. Apparently, and this one is a good trivia, it means that the cooking studio has everything, from A to Z. Smart and creative, if you ask me.

The cooking studio was very clean and organized. When we arrived, the lobby had several lockers where you can put your bags and things so they don’t get in the way of your cooking.

We were each given bright orange aprons and we were handed copies of the recipes.  All the ingredients, kitchen utensils and cooking paraphernalia were all prepared for us on the kitchen counters.

april-cooking-the-herbs-for-sate-lilit_wmSince there were only four of us, including my husband, we each chose one dish to prepare and cook. I chose the sate lilit and sambal matah since I was most interested in these two dishes.

Each of us was assigned a cooking station, armed with our laminated recipes. Chefs Cindy and Nurman were assisting us in cutting, slicing and dicing our ingredients. For my sate lilit, I had to use the food processor to ensure that my shrimps and fish are all properly minced.  I didn’t realize sate lilit was the most complicated to prepare! Nevertheless, I had fun preparing it.

Almost all of us were foreigners trying to cook local food so we all had a lot of questions. rinda-preparing-to-blanch-her-vegetables-for-jukut-urap_wmOur chefs were very patient in answering the barrage of questions we had, including where to source the local ingredients, some of which I have never seen in my entire life. Chef Nurman told us that we have to go to the local market for these, which was not surprising because I don’t see them when I buy my grocery at the Ranch Market.

While the chefs were guiding us in preparing and cooking our dishes, a staff was also arshad-cooking-dadar-gulung_wmgenerously pouring us our chardonnays, which added more fun in the process.

We managed to finish our dishes and plating before 6pm. To our delight, all the dishes were successful and more than edible. They were actually delicious!

Our table was set and we were served the dishes that we, ourselves, prepared and cooked in the afternoon. It was a lovely, unique experience. Of course, it was extremely satisfying that despite being newbies, we managed to cook decent Indonesian dishes.

mark-in-charge-of-the-plating_wmOverall, everything was done with the best and highest level of professionalism. Rianto, Chefs Cindy and Nurman and the rest of the staff were all gracious and accommodating. Almond Zucchini not only exceeded my expectations, but also made me want to do the experience all over again. I highly recommend this to friends who want an intimate way to celebrate milestones and occasions with a twist. In fact, I’m already thinking of another reason (or excuse) to do this again!

 

 

For more information on Almond Zucchini, you can send an e-mail to: info@almondzucchini.com.

Their cooking studio address is:  Almond Zuccini, Jl. Prapanca no. 6, Jakarta Selatan

Phone numbers: +621 7399303 or +6281 330 179 342

Rating of the experience: 

5-out-of-5