Black Saturday was a quiet time with most people either staying at home or out traveling somewhere to take advantage of the long Holy Week break. I was chatting with my aunt a few days before that and ended up planning to meet up for lunch. She later told me that my cousins wanted to tag along so we agreed to have lunch at The Vegan Dinosaur.
My aunt’s family also used to live in Manila like me. But they relocated back to Davao about a little over a year before I did. She still works in Manila, but the rest of her family is here. She comes home as often as she can, especially on long weekends. We live on the opposite sides of the city though so we don’t often see each other when she’s home.
TVD was my top-of-mind choice since its halfway from where we both will be coming from. There are also not many places for me to choose from where I can enjoy a purely plant-based diet.
So we were at TVD on Black Saturday. They were already there when I arrived. We spent the time catching up and enjoying the food. The best thing about dining with them, apart from the company and the stories, is that I get to try a lot more food than my previous visits when I was alone.
It was a fun and satisfying lunch. And it is one of the reasons why I love TVD. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy their scrumptious dishes and treats.
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.
My hunt for veg-friendly dining options in Davao continues. Yesterday, my search brought me to Veggie Vegz Davao in Ilustre Extension street. It was about 40 minutes away from my home with light traffic.
The cafe is located on the second floor of the Esmar Plaza Building. I was there a little before 11:00 am so the place was still quiet. They were still not finished setting up the food but their bestselling kilawin, as well as the sisig, spicy tofu, and calderata, were already available. I asked if they have the oil-free, air-fried lumpia. The owner said they will still have to air-fry it and asked me if I was willing to wait for it. I said yes and added it to my order of kilawin, sisig, rice, and the camote tops juice with calamansi.
The kilawin was really good. The sauce seems to be a mix of soy sauce, sesame seeds, and some other ingredients that made the dish even more flavorful. The lumpia was crunchy and the camote tops juice was sweet and refreshing. I just had a few bites of the sisig though. It was spicy and delicious but I was already full after eating all the kilawin. So I just had the leftover sisig wrapped to take home with me along with additional orders of the kilawin.
I really enjoyed dining here and would like to visit again to try the kilawin again. I just wish that they have more oil-free options as well. Still, I was happy to get a taste of meatless versions of some of my favorite dishes that I thought I would have to give up for good.
Location: Door 13, Level 2 Esmar Plaza Building, Magallanes and Ilustre Extension Streets, Davao City
It has been almost seven weeks since I made the transition to a more plant-based diet. In that time, I have not eaten beef and pork, have slowly weaned myself from eating chicken, and now working towards cutting down on the occasional fish or seafood that I still eat. Making the switch was not as hard as I imagined it would be. Although it has its moments like when I have to eat out and struggle with the limited dining options available. This happened to me again recently when I met up with two former workmates — Mai who was visiting from Japan and Arlady who also lives in Davao. It was Arlady who suggested that we have dinner at Apo Andoy’s Filipino Heritage Cuisine which is near where Mai was staying.
It was the first time that I heard about Apo Andoy’s. Not surprising, really, since I do not go out much. I quickly agreed to meet there because I thought it best to have dinner with Mai in a place where she can enjoy Filipino food. But at the back of my mind, I was wondering if there is something oil-free, and plant-based I could eat there. Davao is mostly a meat-centric city, at least from my point of view, with so many grill restaurants. And most vegetable dishes are mixed with beef, pork, chicken, fish, and other seafood or flavored with fish sauce. Still, I was excited to visit the place primarily to see Mai and Arlady again and also to try whatever plant-based dish I can find there.
A Homey Feeling
I arrived at Apo Andoy’s around past 6:00 pm. The restaurant is in Balai Belen Travellers Lodge located inside a village in Dacudao. It was still fairly early for dinner so there was only a couple of guests when I came in. The place was quiet but I noticed that a long table has already been reserved. It seemed like it was going to be a busy evening for the restaurant.
The couple left and I waited alone in the empty room enjoying the quiet and homey feeling. A large group came in after a few minutes. There were only two empty tables left (each table seats 4). The restaurant staff quickly connected both remaining tables and approached me to ask if they can get one of the chairs since I told them earlier that there are only three of us. I said yes and the new group was seated and immediately placed their orders. I was still alone at that time so I could not order yet, something that I would regret later in the evening.
A Meat-Lover’s Paradise
I would have probably enjoyed the food at Apo Andoy’s if I had not gone plant-based. Mai and Arlady ordered the beef tapa (which was purportedly President Duterte’s favorite food to eat there), lengua which was served with mashed potatoes, and the Vigan longganisa. Sadly, most of the dishes were meat-based and cooked in oil. There was only one salad option for me — and even that had salted egg and dilis (anchovies).
The Long Wait
It took almost an hour before our orders got served. I think this was because the first big group to arrive immediately placed theirs as soon as they were seated. And the largest group that made the reservation already started trickling in by the time we started ordering. So we waited a long time for our food. My salad came last — right after all of Mai and Arlady’s orders were served. And it was nothing like I expected it would be. It consisted mostly of cucumbers, small cubes of salted egg whites (where was the yolk?), lots of anchovies, and very small amount of one type of lettuce which I hardly noticed. It was really salty. To be fair, the rest of the food on the table looked scrumptious. And both of my friends seemed to have enjoyed them. Mai said the lengua was really good.
I was still hungry by the time I finished what for me has been a disappointing meal. But I did not have much expectation going in because I knew from the getgo that it was not a veg-friendly restaurant in the first place. The goal was to let Mai enjoy some Filipino dishes for dinner. And the food looked delicious even if I did not get to taste them except for that salad that I swear I will not eat again.
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
Breaking away from my default mode of eating at my favorite go-to restaurants, I decided to have lunch at Osaka Takoyaki’s Davao branch located in SM Lanang. I was at the mall to do something I completely forgot to do yesterday while I was there. I wanted to reward myself for what felt like a tedious chore so I thought I’d better check out the new Japanese restaurant and have a bowl of ramen.
I learned about the restaurant opening a branch here in Davao when my former Japanese Kendo teacher posted two photos of the menu on his Facebook timeline last November.
I’m not really a takoyaki fan. The ones I’ve tasted here in Davao, and I had many, were mostly hit-and-miss affairs. I also hate crowded places so I tend to avoid newly-opened restaurants since they always seem to get packed with people eager to try something new. But since it has already been almost two months since it opened, I figured I could finally give it a try.
The restaurant is located on the ground floor of SM Lanang near the fountain area. So I headed to the exit near the supermarket, saw the fountain right across, turned right, walked a few steps, and saw the Osaka Takoyaki.
The interior was more spacious than I imagined. And my timing was perfect since it was still past 10:00 am. Too early for lunch so I was the only other customer apart from a couple who came before me. I picked a spot right next to the wall at the back. A server approached soon after I sat down and gave me a glass of water. He left and quickly came back with the menu. Since I already know what I want for my super early lunch, I told him I’ll have the Tonkotsu ramen. He asked if I want to have it as a set lunch and explained the options I have, which turned out to be a better one for me. So I said I’ll have it and picked the takoyaki and the orange soda to complete the set meal.
My Tonkotsu ramen was served after only a few minutes quickly followed by the takoyaki with toppings of dancing Japanese fish flakes (Katsuobushi) that was just so delightful to watch. It was almost too pretty to eat…almost. It tasted so good my tongue got burned as I kept stuffing it in my mouth.
The Tonkotsu ramen was flavorful, but it was the takoyaki that turned out to be the best find for me on this visit. It’s like finding something to finally fall in love with in a food that you have been having countless times but didn’t exactly like enough to keep craving for.
I was hoping to try the dessert but the green tea ice cream I set my heart on was not available. The server said the only desserts they have at that time were the kakigouris. I was tempted to get the Green Tea Milk Beans kakigouri but decided to skip dessert for my next visit.
Overall, it was a scrumptious and satisfying lunch. I love the interior, the details, and the service. I’m not sure how different the vibe will be during peak hours. But I particularly like the peace and quiet of the store’s pre-lunch rush.
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.