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.
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.
Almost two years after the Manila to Geneva and return flights from Brussels, Etihad Airways gave me another reason to be impressed with its customer service. My choosing the airline at that time was unplanned. I was looking for the cheapest flights that will get me to Geneva, which is the nearest airport of entry for me to Aix-les-Bains in the Savoie region of France where I was headed. Etihad had the best price then so I picked it not knowing much about it.
The flight to Geneva was a pleasant experience. I was happy with the food and the in-flight services so I thought I got a good deal out of it. And it was the same on my return flight from Brussels. I cannot remember when they gave all the passengers the Etihad Guest miles programme form to fill up. But I recall filling it up not really thinking that I would be able to use it since I do not travel often.
Over the months following that trip, I have been getting regular email updates on flight deals and other information. I think I received emails every month or just often enough not to be annoying so I did not unsubscribe from the mailing list like I tend to do with other merchant newsletters and notifications I get.
Some of the most recent emails I got from them was to inform me that my miles were about to expire. I did not open the first three emails related to that and finally got around to checking the fourth one when I received it. I was clueless about what I was supposed to do with those expiring miles. But I was impressed by how they made it easy for me to figure out my options.
I started checking out the items in the Etihad Guest Reward Shop to see what I can get so I could use the expiring miles. I opted for a backpack since it is something I could always use, especially on future trips. As I was exploring my options, I was still half-expecting that getting whatever reward I choose will not be as easy as it seems to be. I was also expecting that I will end up paying something for it like maybe the shipping cost or whatever. So I was really surprised when the transaction was smooth and seamless. I also did not have to pay for the shipping. So I got a nice backpack for free all thanks to the frequent reminders that got me using my miles before they expired.
I was also happy with the reward merchant’s service. I had a change of mind about the backpack’s color I initially picked after I finished ordering it. I read from the confirmation of the order email I got from Etihad that I will have to contact the merchant directly for any changes. I sent an email the next day asking if they can change the color from black to navy. But I was not optimistic that it will be changed since a day has already passed and they might not be able to read my email in time. But a few days after, I got an email from the merchant that my request has been applied to the item and it has already been shipped via UPS. They also sent a tracking number that provided up-to-date information about the current location of the package.
Less than a week after I placed the order, I got my new Fjallraven backpack and in the color I requested.
I have been impressed by Etihad’s service during that trip in 2015. And I even wanted to travel with them again when I was booking my flight for the trip a month ago. But the airline was not among the options available. So I booked with another airline. I may not have traveled with them again this time. But I hope to do that again in the future.
The plane touched down the runway of Istanbul Ataturk Airport at 4:10 AM of the 31st of July, one hour ahead of the 5:10 AM ETA. I was feeling a bit worn out already as I have been technically on the road for over a day having left Davao on the 30th of July at 8:10 AM. I spent almost 11 hours at NAIA Terminals 3 and 1 waiting for my evening flight to Istanbul and spent most of the roughly 12-hour flight awake as my two seatmates sitting on the window and middle seats kept making trips to the toilet.
But despite the creeping fatigue, I was buoyed by the prospect of seeing even a little of Istanbul. I was looking forward to the sightseeing tour that Turkish Airlines offers for passengers with at least six hours of wait time at the airport.
I wanted to take the 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM tour schedule that includes a visit inside the Hagia Sophia. But as my ETD to Kaunas, Lithuania from Istanbul is at 4:00 PM (which got delayed for 1 hour and 20 minutes), the much shorter 8:30 to 11:00 AM sightseeing tour will have to do.
With still about three hours to kill, I decided to explore the terminal and see if I could find a place to get a cup of coffee. But I had trouble finding a table at the many coffee shops I saw. So I decided to look for the Old Bazaar I read about where I could buy some souvenirs. I figured I should buy what I need already since I may not have the time to do it on my return flight.
Luckily, I quickly found the shop and spent some time there browsing a wide array of items many of which I really liked. I managed to stick to my list and bought what I needed except that I could not find the black soap I promised to buy for my friend Anna Liese and the Istanbul or Turkey mini-bell for my friend Chalyn.
At around half past six in the morning, I decided to start looking for the Hotel Desk where I needed to be at 8:00 AM if I do not want to miss the tour. I had a bit of trouble locating it so I asked one of the airport staff at the information booth just across the passport control area in the departures terminal. The girl told me to head out to the food court, take the elevator located on the left side, and go down to level 1.
As I reached level 1, I asked one of the airport personnel I saw there where the Hotel Desk is located. He told me to pass through passport control first. I was surprised to see the long queue. It took me more than 15 minutes to reach the line closer to the booths. But it was then that things got a bit frustrating. Some people were so eager to go first that there were double lines queueing for each booth and with many people jumping lines to get ahead.
I finally managed to get through after a little over ten more minutes of waiting. I passed through customs to get to the exit, turned right, and walked straight looking for Starbucks that serves as an easy-to-find landmark for the Hotel Desk that sits beside it. There was no one in line so I went straight to one of the windows and asked about the tour. The guy asked for my boarding pass, checked it, and told me that I will have to take the 8:30-11:00 AM tour. He then told me to wait at the cafe and wait for my name to be called.
I observed that there were already a handful of passengers that seem to be waiting for the tour as well. But Starbucks still have plenty of tables and seats so I was finally I able to get a cup of coffee that I have been longing for since I arrived.
Just before 8:00 AM, one of the Turkish Airlines staff started calling names. I was confused because I did not hear my name. As the group was about to leave, I went to the Hotel Desk to ask if that was for the tour and he told me that it was for the group going to the free accommodation. The hotel stay is for passengers with at least 10 hours of layover who probably prefer to sleep or rest than go for a quick tour of the city.
At about 8:20 AM, the staff called the names on their list. There were more than twenty of us in the group. We were told to follow the tour guide and we left at exactly 8:30 AM. We walked a bit to where the bus will pick us up and waited for about ten minutes there. We got on the bus as soon as it arrived and it left the moment everyone was on board.
I have read a lot of things about Istanbul and seen numerous photos of it over the years. I thought I have a fairly good idea of what I will see. But there was something about actually seeing some parts of the city that made me wish I have more time to enjoy the sights longer than the few seconds that it takes for the bus to pass by. What little traffic on the road was a welcome experience for a change for it meant slowing down to take in some of the views.
I was sitting in the window seat at the right side of the bus with a great view of the coastal scenery. We were coming from the European side of the city where the airport was located. On the left, there were many fascinating sights as well including the views of the Yedikule Fortress, Old Samatya Armanian District, the Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul City Walls), Hagia Sophia, and so much more. I was really hoping we could at least slow down or stop for a few minutes just to see more of them. But we were on a tight schedule. I just have to remind myself that the short tour is much better than just staying at the airport and not seeing any of it at all.
I did not take many photos as I did not want to miss the sights as the bus continues on its route. The first stop was at Galata Bridge. Our tour guide told us we will spend ten minutes there to take photos. The sight of birds flying and gliding gracefully against a backdrop of the water and the cityscape was among the most beautiful things I have seen as the bus journeyed along the coastal road. And I got to see it again as we spent time at the bridge. Birds were soaring above the Golden Horn that glistened as the thin clouds on the clear, blue sky offered little cover from the bright sunlight.
The second and last stop was at Dolmabahçe Palace where we spent twenty minutes wandering around taking photos. There was a cafe at the palace grounds with outdoor seating with a nice view of the European coast of the Bosphorus.
We left Dolmabahçe Palace at exactly twenty minutes after we arrived and continued the sightseeing tour, this time en route to the airport.
I have always been fascinated with the things I have read about Istanbul. While I thought of wanting to see it at some point, I did not really have that much of a strong desire to do it until that moment when the tour started last week. As the tour guide started telling us about the city, I found myself wanting to explore it at length, see its breathtaking architecture and landmarks, taste as many of the foods as I can, and drink plenty of Turkish coffee and tea, among many other things.
If there was one thing I was sure about as I stepped off the bus back at the airport, it would be this: I want to come back. I started the tour just curious about what I would see. And I finished it already in love with the city.
Opting to book with Turkish Airlines for my flight to Lithuania led to some really interesting discoveries. I initially had a reservation with KLM which was supposed to have a ten-hour layover in Amsterdam. I flew with KLM before so for me it was a good choice except that I was a bit iffy with the departure date and time from Kaunas, Lithuania because it meant staying another night in Vilnius then traveling at dawn to Kaunas to catch my flight.
I was not sure if the organizing committee of the event I was going to will arrange a transportation for us from Vilnius. And I did not want to risk getting lost like I did as I was leaving Aix-les-Bains in 2015 so I chose to be on the safe side and looked for other flights which will leave Kaunas on the 6th of August. I thought that I would be more comfortable traveling on my own to the airport in the afternoon than at the crack of dawn.
The Turkish Airlines flight came up on top as I was making comparisons with at least three different sites with KLM coming in a close second. The former was cheaper by almost a US$100 and the arrival and departure times in Kaunas worked for me. So I picked it.
But like KLM, the Turkish Air flight also had a 10+hours of layover. I was wondering how I will spend the long wait time at the airport in Istanbul so I started doing some research.
I was happy to discover that Turkish Airlines actually offers a choice of either of the two services for their passengers with over ten hours of layover in Istanbul Atatürk Airport — 1) a free hotel accommodation or 2) a free tour of the city (for those with waiting time of at least 6 hours). I immediately decided to take the second option and proceeded to learn more about it. I found out that I need to get a Turkish visa which, thankfully, I can get online.
Applying for a Turkish e-Visa is easy when you have the required supporting documents like a valid Schengen or US visa.
Here’s how to get a Turkish e-visa in three simple steps.
Go to the evisa.gov.tr website
Click the Red “Apply Now” Button located at the top left side of the screen
Fill out the form and make sure to double check all the information as anything that does not match what is on the requirements will make your e-visa invalid
Once you have completed the information, you will get a confirmation email. Check the email message and click the link provided to proceed to payment