Vegan Travel Food Spot: Veganerie Soul in Bangkok

I arrived hungry in Bangkok on a Friday morning. But I was buoyed by the thought of having lunch at the Veganerie, an all-vegan restaurant that I read a lot about when I was doing my research for my trip. So when I finally arrived at the hotel, after almost an hour because of the heavy traffic, I just quickly dropped off my carry-on in my room and booked a Grab car to take me to Veganerie Soul in Siam Paragon.

The ride to Siam Paragon, which is one of Thailand’s largest shopping malls, took almost half an hour. The driver dropped me off at Gate 4 of the mall which led to an area where several restaurants and cafes are located.  It was like a maze of dining establishments and stalls. It took a while for me to find Veganerie which thankfully had an empty table when I arrived.

Veganerie Soul in Siam Paragon (Photo from: https://www.veganerie.co.th/gallery/)

Vegan BBQ Pulled Pork Waffles

Vegan bbq pulled pork waffles, banoffee pie, and iced Thai tea

Deciding what to eat was not easy given so many mouthwatering dishes on the menu. I have been craving for waffles for weeks though so I thought I’ll have them for lunch. But I also wanted something savory so I ordered the Vegan BBQ Pulled Pork Waffles (vegan waffle with flax seed, grilled BBQ mushroom, coleslaw salad, soy mayonnaise, and black pepper served with a side salad). It was the best vegan lunch I had in a long time. Everything was delicious but the waffles stood out for me. They were thick, moist, flavorful, and still warm when I started digging in. It provided an excellent balance to the savory flavor of the pulled “pork”. The soy mayonnaise was a pleasant surprise as well. I could have mistaken it for dairy-based mayonnaise if I had not known that everything was vegan.

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee pie

I love banoffee pie so this was something I have been looking forward to since I read that they have it on the menu. I was surprised though that they served it first. I was tempted to eat it right away but managed to wait until after I finished my bbq pulled pork waffles. It was a toothsome finale to what had been a great meal. Their banoffee pie had a delectable mix of flavors – not too sweet with a subtle hint of saltiness at the base. The soft texture of the coconut cream, the smooth fresh bananas, and the firm chocolate and wholewheat base all came together for a burst of delicious flavors.

Iced Thai Tea   

Veganerie’s list of drinks was as extensive as their food selections.  I wish I could try all of them. I went for the easiest choice and had the delicious and refreshing iced Thai tea.

About Veganerie

I had the chance to visit Veganerie Soul again the night before my flight back home. I was joined by two friends from Hong Kong and Malaysia. We went there for dinner and here are some of the dishes we tried.

Vegan Banoffee Waffle

Vegan banoffee waffles

I tried the banoffee waffle this time. The banana waffle was served with slices of fresh bananas, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream. The server told me that I can choose which flavor of ice cream I want to go with my waffle. I asked for matcha so I was disappointed when they served the waffle with vanilla ice cream. I still enjoyed the meal though but it was not as mind-blowing as the waffle I had on my first visit. It was not as warm and lacked the texture, flavor, and moistness of the waffle they served with the pulled pork.

Brownie Smoothie

Brownie smoothie

Thick, creamy, and chocolatey with bite-size chunks of brownies oozing with dark chocolate flavor – the brownie smoothie is pure indulgence. Something that every chocolate lover like me would not want to miss out on.

Thai Green Curry & Baked Roti and Vegan Massaman Curry & Baked Roti

Thai green curry and baked roti

My friends tried the Thai green curry and the Massaman curry. Both dishes were served with baked roti on the side. Each dish was served in a small bowl and a separate container for the baked roti.

One of my friends wanted a meal with rice but sadly Veganerie did not have any rice dishes on the menu. But rice can be ordered as an add-on so my friend had one for his curry dish.

Veganerie Soul is not as spacious or cozy as Veganerie Concept based on what I have seen in photos. I wanted to visit the latter but did not have the time to do it. But overall, I had pleasant and memorable dining experiences at Veganerie Soul. I can’t wait to visit the other branches as well the next time I’m in Bangkok.

 

(Originally published on Vegtravelbuddies.com)

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Meatless in Buenos Aires: Top Reasons to Love the Paris of South America

Buenos Aires is known for its asado and the social ritual around it deeply embedded in Argentine culture. So imagine my initial doubts on how I could possibly pull off going meatless in the land of carne. I have only been plant-based since January this year and have been increasingly vegan-curious in the past months. But if there is one thing I learned on my recent trip to the city, it would be this: it will surprise you in so many wonderful ways. Here are just some of the top reasons to love Buenos Aires – the Paris of South America:

The Veg Food Scene

Quinoa salad
Delicious quinoa salad recommended by the food server at Villegas, a nice restaurant in Puerto Madero near the Puente de la Mujer.

Buenos Aires is surprisingly veg-friendly for a place renowned for its meat-centric barbecue. The city has a fairly good number of vegetarian and vegan dining options. The HappyCow app showed about ten veg dining options within a 2-kilometer radius from where I was staying. One was only less than 500 meters away. The cafes and restaurants I visited have veg options. I had my first dinner at Deltoro Burgers. To be honest, I was not sure if there was something I could eat there when my friends and I entered the place. I was happily surprised that they have a veggie burger and sandwich on the menu. Their delicious veg burger was huge and came with a generous serving of fries. Some of my most memorable meals in BA were the veg falafel sandwich which I bought from a food truck at the Urban Park in Puerto Madero and the quinoa salad in Villegas restaurant near the Puente de la Mujer.

The Architecture

Plaza de Mayo
Casa Rosada

The city boasts of stunning architecture to gawk at. Plaza de Mayo is a good starting point for a stroll to admire the buildings nearby. Casa Rosada (Pink House), an old Customs House building which now serves as the office of the President of Argentina, stands out because of its striking color. Several other beautiful buildings surround the area so prepare to spend at least an hour of your time there to see the unique features and gorgeous details. From Plaza de Mayo, take a walk towards the city’s iconic landmark – the Obelisk (Obelisco de Buenos Aires) and you will not be disappointed. The historic national monument sits in the midst of some really awe-inspiring buildings. Teatro Colón, one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses, is only a few minutes’ walk. This high concentration of awe-inspiring buildings in the area is just a taste of the architectural gems you will find as you explore more of the city.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

El Ateneo building facade
Inside one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
View from above

This bookstore deserves a spot on the list, especially for a bookworm like me. If there was no time to explore and I was asked to pick just one place to see, I would have easily picked it over other more popular attractions. The old theatre turned bookstore is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. It lives up to the hype. I have seen photos of the bookstore before, but nothing compares to the experience of seeing it with my own eyes. The building has a beautiful facade and as you step into the bookshop, your eyes and senses start to feast on its lovely interior. Make sure to take your time exploring every floor to soak up every breathtaking detail and to browse some of the wide arrays of books and other items available. A cafe sits on what used to be a stage which is a great place to sit and enjoy the bookish vibe with a cup of coffee. El Ateneo is located in the Recoleta neighborhood and is only about a 15-minute walk away from the famous Recoleta Cemetery. Book lover or not, you won’t regret visiting it.

The Barrios

One of the things I like most about Buenos Aires is how some of its neighborhoods or barrios have more than one attraction. This makes for a compelling reason to plan your sightseeing by neighborhood.

Puerto Madero

The view from my room.
Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge)

I stayed in this neighborhood in a hotel about a 15-minute walk away from Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge). The rotating footbridge was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava and is a popular attraction in the area. It looks even more gorgeous at night. The area is a commercial district with several cafes and restaurants. What I liked most about staying in this barrio was how it was conveniently located to a lot of other attractions. It is within easy walking distance to Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, the Obelisk, Teatro Colon, and Galleria Pacifico shopping mall among many others. You can also just take a stroll to the famous Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo.

Recoleta

La Recoleta Cemetery
Eva Peron’s tomb
The Floralis Genérica

This neighborhood is brimming with fascinating attractions. From architecture, art and culture to everything in between, you will find plenty of things to see and experience here. It is home to the El Ateneo, one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops. La Recoleta Cemetery, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, is also located in the neighborhood. The cemetery houses over a thousand vaults some of which are National Historical Monuments. Many visit the place to admire the graves of many notable Argentines including that of Eva Perón. Other unmissable sights include the Floralis Genérica, the National Library, and El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) which boasts an extensive collection of works of Argentine and European artists. Most of the attractions are only a few minutes walk away from each other.

La Boca

El Caminito
The alley’s colorful houses.
Taking a walk in Caminito.

I went to La Boca to see El Caminito, a street museum that retains a strong traditional vibe, at around 10:00 in the morning. I realized it was still fairly early since most of the cafes, restaurants, and other establishments there were still in the process of setting up for the day. But I enjoyed strolling on the cobblestones of this quaint alley with its colorful houses and fascinating details. The tango dancers at the Feria de Artesanos Caminito are also said to be a common sight here, but I wasn’t able to see one during my visit. La Boca is also home to one of South America’s renowned football stadium La Bombonera.

Palermo

Street signs in Palermo
Map near the entrance to Paseo El Rosedal
Stop and smell the roses.

This is the city’s largest neighborhood and also widely popular as a shopping destination. It has a wide array of trendy bars, cafes, and restaurants. Art enthusiasts will find several galleries and museums to explore. Palermo is also a great place to enjoy some nature time with its abundance of parks and green spaces. Stop and smell the roses at the Rosedal rose garden (Paseo El Rosedal), which I did on a cold and cloudy spring day. It was still early spring so many of the more than 18,000 roses that are said to be planted in this garden were not yet in full bloom. But I saw many different types of roses already blooming. The vast garden has a lake, a Poet’s Garden, and more.

The Paris of South America did remind me of the City of Light. But it also exuded a distinct and charming blend of its own unique culture infused with some Italian and other European influences. I would love to visit it again someday.

(Originally posted on Vegtravelbuddies.com)

A Memorable Flight to Buenos Aires with the Wild Boars Soccer Team

To say that the flight to Buenos Aires was an interesting one in many ways would be an understatement. As often the case with my trips, it had a lot of firsts. But what stood out were the unexpected things that happened.

The Longest Flight 

No seatmates in my Manila to Doha flight

I have not been to the Americas before but I knew it was going to be a long flight. The knowing did not make the experiencing part easier though. I started my journey with a one and a half-hour flight from Davao to Manila on October 3. I had an almost four-hour window for my nine hours and twenty-five minutes flight to Doha which arrived at almost 4:00am of October 4. The Flight time from Doha to Buenos Aires was 18 hours and 50 minutes with one stop in Sao Paulo Guarulhos International airport in Brazil. I think the flight to Sao Paulo took a little over 15 hours. I was already feeling uncomfortable at around 12 hours into the flight. So I was really hoping that we arrive in Buenos Aires soon.

The stop in Sao Paulo airport was supposed to be for only an hour and 25 minutes. We were just sitting there in the plane as the passengers with Sao Paulo as their final destination disembarked. Then we waited again as new Buenos Aires-bound passengers started boarding. But the wait time stretched on without any sign of us leaving. My discomfort was mounting and I could sense the other passengers’ growing frustration as well. After over an hour past our scheduled departure, we were informed that they are checking out a technical issue. So we waited again. After what seemed like a long time, we were told to disembark and wait for further instructions at the boarding area. They gave us transit boarding passes. And then we waited long again at the designated boarding gate.

I thought I will not be holding on to this Transit Boarding Pass for long.

After a while, they gave us food stubs we could have our meal at one of the cafes there. Another round of waiting before they finally told us that we will have to stay in Sao Paulo until the replacement plane arrives. What followed was a tiresome process, and not very organized on the ground crew’s part, of us lining up in passport control,  claiming our luggage, and heading out the arrival area to line up for the buses that will take us to the hotel which was about a half-hour drive away from the airport. It was almost midnight when we arrived with no clear idea of what time we will be leaving again to return to the airport.

Waiting to board the bus that will take us to the hotel.

I have not experienced getting stuck during a stop-over on an international flight before. I just thought that Qatar Airways could have handled it better given the positive reviews I heard about the airline. But they fell short of my expectation. While they had us fill up a form where we wrote our mobile numbers so they can inform us if it is time to check out and leave for the airport, I received no notification at all. We ended up staying until the afternoon of the next day. And it was a good thing I noticed someone knocking on the doors of her friends otherwise I would not have known that the buses that will take us back to the airport have already arrived.

Arriving late at night at the Wyndham Garden Hotels
My room

We left Sao Paulo exactly one day after our scheduled departure from there. The trip from Davao to Buenos Aires took a total flight time of 30 hours and 5 minutes plus the 24 hours spent  in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The longest time I have ever been inside a plane so far.

The Wild Boars Soccer Team

I was heading out to Buenos Aires to serve as a jury/international umpire in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). I have already noticed some athletes and coaches from another country at the airport in Manila who will be on the same flight as me. So I was not surprised to see more from other countries at the boarding area in Doha. There was this group of Thai kids in uniform though that captured and held my attention from the moment I saw them. For some reason, I was captivated and could not help observing them, especially since they were seated as a group around me in the plane. They looked like the youngest bunch among the multi-nation young athletes I was traveling with. I noticed how they stuck together mostly quietly and generally exuded a calm and joyful aura. I even thought that they seemed to be well-disciplined as the adults in their group guided them as we were herded off to the hotel when our flight got canceled.

Waiting for the bus

The next time I saw them was when I was headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The first thing I noticed was the laughter of some of them as they were taking photos outside. I lined up with them to get food at the buffet table and saw more of them up close. They seemed genuinely unbothered by all the inconveniences and the delay. Instead, they looked quite content and just happy to be there. And I think it rubbed off on me because I began to relax and accept that I already missed one day of my schedule in Buenos Aires. I still had no idea what sport they play. I was still curious. Just being around them was uplifting.

At Sao Paulo airport. The Wild Boars with the Qatar Airways crew before boarding for our flight to Buenos Aires.

It was only after we arrived at the airport when I finally realized who they were. The twelve boys and their coach whose story I have diligently followed since I read the first news of them getting trapped in the cave in Thailand. The team that was at the center of an amazing rescue that unfolded the tales of which I absorbed for weeks. I saw that the Qatar Airways flight crew were much quicker to realize who they were. They immediately had a group photo with them. It was then that the other passengers began asking who they were.  And soon enough they were like celebrities with many asking to have their photos taken with them.

Taking a photo with some of the boys.

I do not usually approach and ask famous people if I could take a photo with them. But I was more than happy to make an exception with The Wild Boards. I was not going to pass up the chance to have one with them. Because I have been rooting for them since they got lost. And the story of their rescue and how people from around the world rallied together to bring them out safely from the cave continues to inspire me.

The Wild Boars, who were invited by the IOC, arriving before the start of the Opening Ceremony of the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games 2018.

The road, or should I stay the plane ride, to Buenos Aires was not comfortable and easy. But it has been a great experience despite the discomforts, the delay and detour, and the unpleasant things that happened. Realizing that I have been traveling with the Wild Boars since the flight from Doha and looking back at the things I learned just watching them before I knew it was them was one of the best highlights of my trip.

5 Things I Learned on My First Trip as a Vegan-Curious Traveler

This year started with a lifestyle change. I made the switch to a plant-based diet, which is a big step for a meat-lover like me. I was not really sure if I would be able to sustain it for long, but the transition was not as hard as I initially thought it would be. I was surprised by how I was able to adapt to the changes with relative ease. If I were to identify with any labels at this time, it would be this: vegan-curious. Someone who is still exploring veganism and eating vegan for most of the week but has not gone full vegan yet.

I have not traveled as a vegan before. So I took the chance to go on full-on vegan-curious mode on a recent trip to Indonesia. And here’s what I learned about veg-traveling for the first time.

1. Special meals are a whole new in-flight dining experience

Vegan meal (VGML) on the flight to Jakarta

Many travelers know that airlines offer special meals for various dietary requirements. But apart from those with dietary restrictions, not many people have probably tried it. I finally had the opportunity to give it a try on my recent trip. There was no online request option in the airline I was booked so I had to make the call. I was surprised that the airline call center agent I was talking with did not seem to know what vegan meant. I had to give her the airline meal code (VGML) to make sure I get the correct meal I was requesting for. I was surprised though when she asked me why I was asking for a vegan meal.

Vegan meal (VGML) on return flight

The best thing about the special meal is that it gets served first right before the rest of the passengers. And I did not have to choose between “beef” or “chicken” or settle for whatever is left among the choices available. There was nothing really special, apart from it being vegan, about the meal I had on my flight to Jakarta. But the food on my return trip was really good. Overall, VGML is something I would recommend even to non-vegan travelers.

2. Airports are not the easiest places to find veg-friendly eats

Waiting for my flight to Palembang at Jakarta airport Terminal 3

Finding delicious and healthy foods in airports can be a challenge even for non-vegans. I realized it gets trickier when you’re a vegan traveler. While some of the best airports in the world have a growing list of veg-friendly options, a lot of airports still have to step up their game. The trip brought me to four different airports. I had trouble finding something to eat in at least two of them. I was already expecting this so I brought my own vegan snacks.

3. Starbucks is a safe bet

Soy latte and peanut butter panini

One of the perks of becoming vegan-curious was learning that Starbucks have vegan options available. So I was happy to find one just across the street from the hotel where I was staying in Palembang. It was reassuring to know that I could easily get vegan-friendly drinks and food if needed. Palembang has vegan and veg-friendly cafes and restaurants according to HappyCow. But they were located far from where I stayed so I was not able to visit one. It was reassuring to see the familiar logo of the coffee shop in Jakarta and Palembang airports as well as across the street from our hotel. At least I know there was a place I can go if I have trouble finding a vegan meal.

4. Some traditional Indonesian dishes are naturally veg-friendly

Fresh starfruit for dessert

When you hear that a city’s must-try dish is a fish and tapioca-based food called pempek, you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be vegan in such a place. But I soon found out that some traditional Indonesian dishes are naturally veg-friendly. The grilled vegetables I had for my first meal was so flavorful. And there were always vegan-friendly options at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. One of my favorite dishes is gadogado, which is made with different types of boiled or steamed vegetables, fried tempeh or tofu, and hard-boiled eggs. It is usually served with delicious peanut sauce and krupuk or deep-fried crackers. Just have the eggs and fish or prawn-flavored crackers removed to make it vegan.

5. Mindful eating deepens the experience

Before the breakfast rush at The 101 Rajawali

Eating vegan in an unfamiliar place deepened my experienced with the food and culture. I was paying more attention to every dish and in the choices I made. There was always something new to taste and discover. It gave more depth to the entire travel experience.

Traveling as a vegan for the first time has its share of challenges and can be a bit daunting. But it can be enriching in a lot of ways.

(Originally published on Vegtravelbuddies.com)

A Black Saturday Vegan Lunch Date with My Aunt and Cousins

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.

Lunch date with my aunt and cousins
Cousins

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.

Cranberry Walnut Salad (Cranberries, walnuts, pepitas, jicama, carrots, tomato, tahini, apple cider vinaigrette)
Cranberry Walnut Salad
Meatless Meatballs (Black rice, al pomodoro meatless meatballs, cucumber, cabbage, carrots, sprouts, nooch gomashio)
Dreamy Vanilla Mylkshake (Banana, cacao powder, vanilla, soy mylk) and Mylky Matcha Mylkshake (Matcha powder, banana, soy mylk)
Mac ’n’ Cheese (Whole-wheat penne, sunflower cheese + almond mylk, basil, sunflower parmesan)
Olive & Herb (Whole-wheat pasta, cold-pressed olive oil, basil, olives, sliced mushrooms, minced garlic)
My pick – Spiced Quesadilla (Whole-wheat tortilla, sunflower cheese + almond mylk, jalapeños, tomato, onion, sprouts, tomato sauce, sweet mayo dressing)
My new favorite – Spiced Quesadilla
My Mylky Matcha Mylkshake

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.

Breakfast at The Vegan Dinosaur: It’s a Matcha Kind of Day

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).

At my favorite spot in the cafe
Green Matcha served with delicious local dark chocolate
Marvellous Matcha Smoothie Bowl
Matcha everything breakfast

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.

Vanilla Mango Chia Pudding
Tastes as good as it looks
I need a copy of that Low-Fat Vegan Cooking book (first one at the bottom shelf)
Some items for sale

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.

A Quick Visit to Kong Ai Vegetarian Centrum

Unity Arch – one of the 4 archways in Davao Chinatown

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.

Storefront

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.

Steamed buns and vegetarian siopao
Veg protein

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.

Veggie Vegz Davao: An All-Vegetarian Cafe with a Must-Try Kilawin

@ Veggie Vegz Davao

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.

Kilawin and spicy sisig
Spicy tofu and caldereta
Kare-kare served with bagoong

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.

My orders of kilawin and sisig (Php50 each)
Oil-free, air-fried lumpia (3pcs = Php50)
photo credit: Veggie Vegz Davao
Talbos ng kamote (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.

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Location: Door 13, Level 2 Esmar Plaza Building, Magallanes and Ilustre Extension Streets, Davao City

Eating Out on a Plant-Based Diet in Apo Andoy’s Filipino Heritage Cuisine Davao

Mai and Arlady in front of Balai Belen Travellers Lodge where Apo Andoy’s Filipino Heritage Cuisine is located

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

The first thing I saw when I took the stairs to get to the restaurant

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.

Great time with friends

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.

Transitioning to a Plant-Based Lifestyle – A Work in Progress

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I started to cook my own meals again and trying out more plant-based recipes.
  4. I now spend more time in supermarket aisles that I rarely frequent before.
  5. 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.

Dining options

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

Bibimbap

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

Dabawenyo Salad and Cucumber Calamansi juice

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

Quinoa & Tofu BBQ (Turmeric quinoa, grilled tofu with BBQ sauce, spirulina gomashio, sprouts, ranch dressing)
Cacao Crunch Bliss Balls (cashews, dates, cacao powder, cacao nibs)

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.

@ The Vegan Dinosaur

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.