It will probably take several visits before I get to try most of the food at The Vegan Dinosaur. They just have so many options that I find it hard to choose which one I’ll have. Today’s breakfast choices, however, seemed to have inadvertently focused on one key ingredient – matcha. I’ve missed having it so much that I somehow ended up ordering the Marvellous Matcha smoothie bowl made with matcha powder, banana, pepitas, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, sunflower kernels, granola, and almond. And for drinks, I had the Green Matcha (matcha powder and soy mylk).
I wasn’t sure if the hot drink would pair well with the smoothie bowl. But they somehow complemented each other. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there’s a thing like too much matcha.
I wanted to try their Raw Superfood Brownie (nuts, dates, cacao nibs, cacao powder, seeds, and dried fruits) for dessert. But it wasn’t available. Since I’ve already tried one of their bliss balls selections, I got the Vanilla Mango Chia Pudding (chia, mango, raw agave nectar, soy mylk, walnuts, and almonds) instead. One of the best things about their desserts is that they come in reusable containers that I can take home. It proved quite handy since I couldn’t finish the chia pudding because I was already full. I was able to enjoy the rest at home.
There is a certain measure of comfort in eating in a restaurant or cafe that serves purely plant-based foods. It just makes the whole dining experience more relaxing because I don’t have to spend so much time studying the menu and asking if I can order a vegetarian or vegan version of the dish I want.
One of the perks of looking for vegetarian and vegan restaurants here in Davao is that it has allowed me to become a tourist in my own city. I’ve found myself in unfamiliar places and in areas that I haven’t been to for many years.
I’ve been spending time exploring the HappyCow’s list of veg-friendly dining options here in the city for a few weeks now. But it hasn’t been easy since the restaurants and cafes listed are fairly far from where I live and the places I usually frequent. So I have to schedule my visits on weekends. I have written about the ones I’ve been to so far here and here.
Today was about finding the Kong Ai Vegetarian Centrum located in Sta. Ana. It’s another area that I’m not quite familiar with. I read that the restaurant sits only a little over a 100 meters away from the NCCC mall which I can still vaguely remember from previous visits when I was young. So I picked the mall as a landmark and started my search from there. I walked along the street that reminded me so much of Divisoria in Manila. I saw the mall a few minutes after and turned right as soon as I reached the corner slowing down my pace as I looked around to see if I could spot where the restaurant is. I finally spotted it across the street thanks to its bright yellow store signage that stood out in contrast to the faded off-whites and greys of the buildings.
It was only about 10:00 a.m. in the morning so the place was quiet except for the two people behind the counter and the lone customer in one of the tables inside the restaurant. I could see that they were still preparing for lunch. There were only two kinds of dishes on display. I was seeing a lot of greens in one. I was tempted to eat there but I could see that the only options I have at that time have been cooked in oil, which I’m really trying to avoid. So I just ordered some steamed buns, which I really like even from before I went plant-based. I also wanted to try the vegetarian siopao asado so I got some of those too. And then I saw that they carry some plant-based products including the Meat Magic that someone from a vegan group page I follow has previously mentioned. I added one to my haul and left.
It was really a bummer that I couldn’t stay long. But at least I know now where to find it. I’d just have come back next time.
When I made this promise in the first week of January —> “a carnivore’s challenge to self 2018: less meat, more plants”, I did not imagine that I would jump right into it as much as I had in the past month. It took a trip to a hospital emergency room one night two weeks after I said it for me to finally realize that it was time to make some big changes in my diet. I only spent about less than four hours at the ER and was able to go home that night. But the experience was enough motivation for me to commit to a more plant-based lifestyle.
I have been thinking of eating less meat for a long time. But I love eating meat so I could not imagine myself becoming a vegetarian. I thought eating more plant-based foods would be extremely difficult for me.
It has been six weeks since I started eating low-fat and plant-based foods. And surprisingly, it was not as hard as I thought it would be.
Making the transition
Some of the changes I made to my diet include:
Giving up fatty foods like meat (beef and pork)
Eating very small servings of chicken (skinless and breast part only) and seafood (fish and shrimps) twice a week at most while also preparing myself to give them up completely at some point
Eating oil-free meals or dishes cooked with a little olive oil
Cooking my own meals
Eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and plant-based proteins
Choosing low- or non-fat dairy and plant-based milk
Giving up my favorite sweets and desserts like chocolates, cakes, pastries, other sugary treats, and more. I do not plan on giving up dark chocolates for good. But I want to avoid them for now. I was able to give up chocolates for six months in the past before a competition when I was still actively training as an athlete so I know can do it if I want to.
The things I learned switching to a more plant-based lifestyle
For me, it is more than just a diet. It is a lifestyle. Something that I choose to do and would require a lot of changes in my food choices and how I do things. It is a work in progress and so far here are a few things I have learned along the way:
Going plant-based is more aligned with my beliefs and values. The change is not only good for my health but also for the environment. And as I learn more about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, I become more motivated to fully commit to it.
Eating out can be a challenge. I now find it hard to find restaurants that serve oil-free, low-fat vegetarian or vegan dishes. There are less than ten veg-friendly dining options in the city (that I know of) and most of them are located far from home.
I started to cook my own meals again and trying out more plant-based recipes.
I now spend more time in supermarket aisles that I rarely frequent before.
It was not a difficult and depressing transition that I imagined it would be. It may not be easy most of the time, but I find it doable.
I have not been eating out much since I started my plant-based journey. But here are some of the places where I enjoyed some veg-friendly meals:
1. Noonsaram Korean Cafe Location: SM Lanang Food Hall, Davao City
My list of Korean foods I love to eat got shorter by a lot since I started with my low-fat, plant-based diet. But there are still some dishes I can eat if I choose carefully. The first time I dined at Noonsaram at the food hall in SM Lanang, I ordered the kimchi-jjigae and asked if they could cook it without the meat and put only a little of the sesame oil that they use for it. I like how easy they made it for customers like me to make that request. On my next visit, I had the bibimbap and made a special request not to include the beef that usually goes with it. It still had an egg in it since I still have not given up eggs yet. I wish they will have some purely plant-based dishes on their menu though. But for now, I am happy with the ones I have tried there.
2. The Green Bounty Kitchen Location: G/F SM Lanang, Davao City
A salad is a safe and easy option for a struggling plant-based eater like me. So during the first week of my new diet, I found myself at The Green Bounty Kitchen at the mall. I was initially concerned about how much oil the Asian vinaigrette would have. So I did not put much on the Dabawenyo Salad (lettuce, turnips, pomelo, and shrimps) that I ordered. I love the Cucumber Calamansi Cucumber drink that I had with it.
2. The Vegan Dinosaur Location: Door A, Values School Building, Ruby Street, Marfori Heights, Davao City
I finally got to visit the only all-vegan restaurant that I know of here in Davao. I have been planning to eat there for weeks now but was not keen on making the long trip from home. So when I had to go somewhere near the area, I made sure to make a detour to check out the place. I like the restaurant’s ambiance and enjoyed reading the menu and seeing so many choices — including oil-free options! I had the Quinoa and Tofu BBQ and the Cacao Crunch Bliss Balls for dessert. I was initially hesitant to order the bliss balls because it has chocolate in it (cacao powder and cacao nibs) and was not sure how my stomach would react if I eat it. But I wanted to find out if I can eat them and not experience any side effects. So I went and ordered them. The bliss balls were the first dessert I had in six weeks that are not the crackers, fruits, or the honey Grahams that I have been eating to satisfy my sweet cravings. I was happy to discover that they were not only delicious but that I can actually eat them without experiencing any side effects.
I may not have gone fully plant-based yet. But I am easing into the transition much easier than I thought I would. And I am already enjoying a lot of things about it despite the challenges I find along the way.
I learned about The Vegan Dinosaur when I was looking for veg-friendly dining options in Davao on HappyCow. This was soon after I made the transition to a more plant-based diet. I have been thinking of visiting the place for some time now. But it was far from where I live and I do not frequent the area where it was located. So it took me a while to visit it. Yesterday’s errand was relatively near the cafe, which gave me a chance to finally check it out.
It has an intimate, cozy, and welcoming feel to it. For a first visit, the place felt curiously familiar and welcoming. I was there around 11:00 am so it was still pretty quiet. There was only one customer at the counter who looked like a regular to me. I picked the table beside the glass wall at the left side of the cafe and enjoyed reading the menu. There were so many options including oil-free dishes and treats that I could not wait to try.
I initially wanted to try the Quinoa & Tofu BBQ (nut-free and gluten-free). The description on the menu listed turmeric quinoa, grilled tofu with BBQ sauce, spirulina gomashio, sprouts, and ranch dressing as ingredients. But I do not like BBQ sauce that much so I just ordered it for take-out for my dad. I ordered the Tofu Buddha Bowl (oil-free, nut-free, and gluten-free) instead made with grilled tofu with teriyaki sauce, greens, carrots, red cabbage, sprouts, corn, cucumber, and tomato. But when one of the servers asked me a few minutes later if it was okay for them to substitute the BBQ sauce with teriyaki sauce for the Quinoa & Tofu BBQ because the original sauce was not available, I decided to cancel my Buddha bowl and ordered the Quinoa & Tofu for myself as well. I have developed a fondness for turmeric in the past weeks so I was eager to try the turmeric quinoa.
But what excited me most about dining at The Vegan Dinosaur were the treats and desserts available. I have a sweet tooth. Giving up sugary, creamy, and dairy-laden sweets and treats is probably the hardest part of switching to a low-fat and plant-based diet for me. Snacks, desserts, and treats for the past weeks consisted mainly of fruits, Graham crackers, and Mentos candies. I was happy to see some oil-free and dairy-free options on the menu. I ordered the Cashew Caramel Bliss Balls (oil-free, gluten-free, and soy-free) made with ingredients that include cashews, dates, and desiccated coconut. But the server said it as not available so I ordered the Cacao Crunch Bliss Balls (also OF GF SF) made with cashews, dates, cacao powder, and cacao nibs. It was the first time that I had anything that has chocolate in it in a long while. And it was so delicious.
The Vegan Dinosaur has become one of my happy places where I can be sure to find all-vegan meals and treats that would satisfy me.
Location: Door A, Values School Building, Ruby Street, Marfori Heights, Davao City
It has been a while since I posted about coffee and serendipity here, here, and here. And there have been quite a few memorable coffee shops since the last post. The latest of which I visited for the first time last December 31. Located on the 3rd floor of the Abreeza Corporate Center, Habi at Kape is a quaint cafe tucked away from my usual haunts in the adjacent mall which is why it slipped under my radar.
I only found out about it while looking for a coffee shop where I could meet my sorority sister who visited Davao last December 29 to January 1. I was thinking of taking them to Bankerohan public market to try the sikwate (hot chocolate made from tablea)/tsokolate batirol and puto maya like I did with my two other friends who visited the city separately a few months back. But since it was already the 31st I was worried that the market will be even more crowded with last-minute shoppers. So I looked for a cafe serving local dishes and drinks, especially the sikwate or tsokolate batirol which I always recommend to friends when visiting Davao.
My online search led me to some articles about Habi at Kape and its Facebook page. Someone posted photos of the menu and saw that they not only serve sikwate but also coffees from Davao and Bukidnon. They also have a merienda buffet for Php200/person every Friday to Sunday from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
I quickly arranged to meet with them on December 31st and called Habi at Kape to make a reservation for the merienda buffet. But I got a message early morning on the 31st informing me that the merienda buffet was canceled and that they will be open until 5:00 pm only. I was a bit disappointed about missing out on the buffet. But I figured there must be very few reservations as most people are already busy with the New Year’s Eve preparations. I told the staff it was okay and that we are still going.
I found the cafe more quickly than I expected. While I did not see the store’s sign, the decor and shelves displaying local food products from the Davao Region were hard to miss.
My sis and her friends arrived soon after I got there. And her friends were immediately drawn to the wide array of items on the shelves that include different brands of tableas, chocolates, preserves, and more as well as the shops beside it that sell traditional items and souvenirs.
All of us ordered the Sikwate (Php70), Nilimbiran Suman at Tsokolate (Php80) and initially, two orders of HABI Pancit Luglug each serving of which is already good for two (Php170). My sis and her friends are all from Pampanga — a place that has rightly earned its reputation as a foodie haven and home to delicious Kapampangan cuisine. I have spent a lot of time in another sorority sister’s home in Angeles City during weekends and school breaks while we were studying in UP in Diliman. The Kapampangans love good food. I was not sure if they will like the food. But I was hoping they will like Davao’s sikwate. So I was surprised and happy when they all said they love not just the sikwate but also the suman and pancit luglug. One of them even ordered another serving of the pancit luglug.
I loved how quiet it was while we were there. But I read that the place is quite busy most days. I can’t wait to try their merienda buffet next time.
I have this thing with homegrown foods lately, especially the everything Davao cacao products. I love tablea (pure chocolate made from cacao beans) since I was a kid. And I even know how to make one from tree to table. My grandmother used to make them straight from the cacao trees in her backyard. I used to help her in preparing, drying, roasting, and grinding the seeds and in molding the thick, gooey substance that comes out of the grinder. I spent countless hours enjoying tsokolate batiroland champorado. So I am really happy to see how Davao’s cacao industry is gaining more attention over the years.
The mall is not exactly the best place to find a lot of artisanal food products not just from Davao but from other areas in Mindanao and across the country. But I find that the Kultura store in SM Lanang is a good place to discover some food items I have not seen or tried before. I usually make time to visit and see what new treats I can find.
So I made a detour to the store on my way to the supermarket the other day. I immediately noticed several unfamiliar items including a wide array of preserves (strawberry, macapuno, mango calamansi, etc), chocolates and chocolate-covered fruits like durian and dried mangoes to name a few.
I picked a bottle of the Island Gem strawberry preserve. While I am not really a fan of strawberries, I am forever in love with the strawberry preserves from Baguio. I am not sure where exactly in the Philippines this particular bottle was made. But I wanted to give it a try. I also picked a bottle of the malunggay (moringa) pesto thinking I can use it to cook some pasta.
I finally used the pesto last night to make my homecooked spinach fettuccini with malunggay pesto. I totally loved it! I can’t wait to try the other items I was tempted to buy that day.
It’s rare for me to leave home without my blue tote bag, that I sometimes switch with my backpack, which I use to haul just about everything I think I need with me all the time. I’ve been using it for years. Frankly, I’m surprised that it lasted this long given all the heavier items that I put in it more times than I could count.
The I-Can’t-Leave-Home-Without-This Stuff
Small pouch that contains 2 lip balms, 2 lipsticks, 1 small container of liquid hand soap, 1 hand sanitizer, 1 dental floss, and a small round mirror
Just recently, my friend gave me two reusable straws with their own cleaning brushes. She knew I’ve stopped using straws this year. One was a regular-sized straw while the other one I can use for drinks like the milk teas with sinkers at Serenitea which I really like.
Making the choice to limit my use of plastic has its share of cringe-worthy moments and challenges since I started doing it in 2002. I thought I’d be used to the different reactions by now when I tell the cashiers or the salespersons not to put the items in plastic bags. I prefer to put whatever item I buy in my bag or use the foldable reusable bag I carry with me. But in the past months, I’ve had some strange encounters with cashiers. One of them adamantly refused and told me that it’s against their store’s policy. She then added that I could just remove the item from the plastic after I leave the store — totally missing out the point.
I also find that most stores and restaurants don’t make it easy for people who want to reduce their trash. And that it’s really easier and extremely more convenient to just use whatever’s handed to you. It gets tempting sometimes to just go back to old habits, especially when you’re dealing with salespeople who think you’re just being “difficult”. Still, I think it’s worth doing. And that’s that.
Here’s me looking forward to more adventures with my bag(s) — and everything in it.
Spending time with friends who are visiting Davao, either for work or leisure, is a great time for me not just to touch base but also see the city with fresh eyes. The lure of reconnecting with friends I have not seen for some time overcomes my usual desire to avoid going out and being caught in the city’s increasingly worsening traffic problem.
So it was welcome news when a longtime friend told me she will be in Davao for two days to do some research work. She arrived just before midnight on the 30th of November and left early evening on the 2nd of December. It was her third visit, but she spent most of her time in her previous visits outside the city exploring Samal Island and climbing Mount Apo. The short visit was a good time to stay at the heart of the city and experience it. It also allowed me to see what has changed, what remained the same, and what I call the in-betweens — the subtle things that are easy to miss out when you are too busy looking and paying attention.
The Traffic Problem
What used to be a roughly 20-minute trip from home to Abreeza or Gaisano Mall on a weekday now stretches to at least 45 minutes. Weekends can be just as bad except early in the morning when it is much lighter. And it is even worse when I try to venture farther to Ecoland or Matina. I thought I have escaped the nightmarish traffic woes of Manila when I decided to go back home to Davao in 2009. I may have enjoyed a few years respite from it. But those restful days are over and I have to deal with living with heavy traffic again. This makes walking a much better option. But Davao City is not really what I would call a “walkable” city. It may be safer to walk here than in Manila. But walking here can be a far from pleasant experience when it is too hot or raining heavily.
Bankerohan Public Market
The perpetually busy and crowded Bankerohan Public Market can be overwhelming. And it has evolved into a tourist attraction in its own right. Known for its overabundance of cheap produce from across the Davao Region, it is a great place to find a wide array of fruits and food products. A lot of tourists go there to buy pasalubongs and/or try its famous tsokolate de batirol (sikwate) and puto maya.
Looking for Durian
I was honestly surprised by some of the videos I have seen showing people’s reaction when they try to eat durian. I did not realize a lot of people hate it so much. The smell can be nasty but I thought that they would learn to appreciate it once they get to taste the fruit. I was wrong. I felt bad thinking about the people who received durian candies from me as pasalubong and promised to avoid doing that unless I am sure the recipient eats durian.
My friend’s visit sparked a question in my mind about how the city’s famous fruits seem to be in short supply lately. I know it is not in season, but I find it unusual not to see a lot of them out there. Even during the last Kadayawan, durians were unusually expensive. The many small trucks and makeshift stalls selling them at roadsides that were familiar sights during the Kadayawan month were also conspicuously absent.
As my friend and I explored the fruit market in Bankerohan, we only saw a handful of stalls selling unripe ones. The famous durian restaurant just across the Fruitasan do not have them either. I was used to eating fresh durian all-year round and this was the first time I had trouble finding one. So my friend and I settled for the frozen D101 variety that one of the vendors in the fruit market was selling.
My friend told me that eating durian in the hotel room is not allowed so we have to finish it off before she turns in for the night. We tried asking the hotel staff at the restaurant if we can it eat there but were told we have to take it outside the premises. Who would have thought that finding a place to eat [frozen] durian in a city famous for it can be so troublesome? Thankfully, there was a 7-11 nearby with an outside seating. I grabbed a beer and settled in to enjoy my first taste of the D101 variety which tasted amazing.
Davao’s Cacao in the Spotlight
Davao has long been known as one of the countries best places to find abundant and different varieties of durians. Not to mention the best and cheapest mangosteens when in season. It is also home to top quality bananas and mangoes. And in recent years, a new addition to the list has been stealing the spotlight — the region’s cacao which produces the finest tableas that a growing number of Dabawenyos are beginning to enjoy.
I was actually surprised that it took this long for it to get noticed. Cacao and tableas are part of my childhood. I remember learning how to make pure and rich tableas from the seeds of cacao fruits harvested from the trees in my grandparents’ backyard at their home in Davao del Norte. My grandmother makes enough to last for months and even send some for us living in the city and to my uncle who was based in Manila.
I love cacao so it is great to see so many good quality products now being sold in stalls and supermarkets in malls here. I brought my friend to Cacao City which opened last month. I first heard of the store from my sister who gave me the deliciously divine Wit’s Sweets and Savouries’ Durian Granola which she bought from there.
The everything-Davao cacao products store is located beside the Pasalubong Center at Palma Gil just beside People’s Park. It showcases local brands like Malagos Chocolate, Cacao de Davao, Cacao Culture Farms, Rosario’s Delicacies, Wit’s Sweets and Savouries, and more.
My travel misadventures this year seem to share a common woe — airport pickup fails. The first one was in July at the Kaunas airport where a mix of a flight delay, miscommunication, and whatever fateful reason left me stranded there alone waiting for the transportation that unbeknownst to me has already left with the Greek team that was on the same flight as me. I had no idea that I was supposed to leave with them. I must have missed seeing the person holding the sign in the midst of all the noise and excitement from the crowd waiting at the airport for the Lithuanian gold medal-winning team coming home straight from a successful stint at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics.
After almost an hour of waiting, I finally managed to locate the volunteer tasked to pick up delegates from the airport. She told me I was not on her list of arrival schedules so she thought she got everyone on board the bus that already left. She made some calls and later told me to take the bus plying the Kaunas airport-Vilnius route then just take a cab to the hotel from where it will make its final stop.
Solo trips are not new to me. But there is something about being unprepared that unsettles me. I berated myself for not thinking of a contingency plan trusting that all arrangements have already been taken cared of. Thankfully, the over one hour trip to Vilnius and the few minutes taxi ride to the hotel went smoothly.
Little did I know that two months after I would find myself in the same predicament. What happened in Kaunas was still fresh in my mind so I made sure to confirm the arrangements with the event organizers in Singapore at least twice.
The October 9 Davao to Singapore flight was scheduled to depart at 7:20 pm but got delayed for almost 30 minutes. To quote the pilot who told us the reason when we were finally on board, “A bird was ingested by the engine” (I assumed during landing on arrival from SG) and they had to make the necessary safety checks. It is one of those things that are guaranteed to stress out a nervous flyer like me. It was far from a relaxing flight with several instances of turbulence throughout. We were scheduled to arrive a little over 11:00 pm. But the arrival was further delayed by thunderstorms over Singapore. The aircraft spent over 20 minutes just circling around unable to land.
The plane touched down past midnight and it was almost 1:00 am when I finally came out of the arrival hall to look for the person who was supposed to pick me up. I had this bad feeling that no one will be there so I was not really surprised when I could not find anyone there to meet me. I did not get any response to my messages to my contact so I had to make my own arrangements. I looked for an ATM to withdraw money for cab fare. Because there was no way I am going to wait there for hours when we have an early start the same morning. I was so tired and needed a few hours of sleep before our work there start.
The only good thing I remembered thinking while I was dealing with all of it was that I was in Singapore so I felt safe with the idea of leaving the airport at past 1:00 am to go to the hotel on my own. Finding a taxi was easy because Changi has an excellent airport transportation service.
The taxi rates are not cheap though. But they at least have options so passengers can take the least expensive ones. I found out that taxi rates are higher past midnight. The elderly driver was nice but he could not speak much English.
A few minutes out of the airport, the rain poured heavily. I could not see anything in front of us and I figured the driver must be having a hard time as well despite the windshield wiper doing a good job of clearing the waters cascading down the glass. The trip took over thirty minutes and as we reached the deserted roads going to the hotel, the driver asked me why I chose to stay somewhere so far and without access to public transportation. He told me that the I will have to take a taxi every time I have to leave if I want to go sightseeing. I told him that I have no choice since the organizers booked me and my colleagues from other countries there.
Frankly, at that moment when the taxi stopped in front of the hotel entrance, I was just happy to finally arrive, get my key from the front desk, and get some much-needed sleep.