The thing I was most worried about before traveling here was how the heck I was going to eat vegan while in the Philippines. In case you didn’t know, meat is basically a second religion here (behind Catholicism). Every meal, including breakfast, has some sort of meat aspect, mostly chicken and pork. If it appears to be meat free, it was cooked in bone broth or contains shrimp paste. Now, I know this may sound silly because I was going 8,000 miles away to a country and culture I had never visited before and the thing I was most worried about was.. the food? But, I’m sure anyone with a dietary restriction of some sort has felt this little anxiety before, so if you can relate, this post is for you.
I have been vegan for just over one and a half years, so I had a very good idea going into my trip of what I do and do not eat. Luckily for me, I knew that my apartment had a microwave, hot plate, and rice cooker (of course), so I could always cook my own food to ensure it was vegan. But, with a country that loves food at all times of the day, I didn’t want to miss out on that part of the culture. Luckily, I didn’t have to. The city I work in is called Makati City which is part of Metro Manila and actually provides so many vegan options, I was shocked. Even at restaurants that don’t appear to have any on the menu, you can always just order vegetables without meat and a side of rice (this has become a staple), that way you don’t sacrifice good conversations and memories with friends. Around the corner from where I work is this all vegan restaurant called Cosmic, a little hidden gem above a Mini Stop in Poblacion, Makati. The restaurant has no sign indicating what it is from the outside and in order to get inside you have to go up (what appears to be) a sketchy staircase. If I hadn’t gone with friends the first time, I would have been so lost! But trust me, this place is so good. They offer authentic Filipino dishes made completely vegan. From Kare Kare, to Sisig, to Adobo, they have it all, and it is all so delicious. The best part is it is very affordable. My average meal there is around 200 pesos ($4 USD). My meat-eater friends choose to eat here on their own as well, so not only is it good vegan food, it’s good food in general. One thing that is surprisingly prevalent around me is falalfel. Falafel is originally a Middle-Eastern dish made of deep-fried chickpeas and spices and for whatever reason, there are a ton of restaurants that serve it near me. I have Hummus Elijiah, Yalla Yalla, and Beni’s Falafel all within a 5 minute walk, so I probably have a falafel sandwich 3 times a week (at least), but I’m not complaining. If falafel isn’t your thing, these places all also serve hummus and baba ganoush (also known as moutabal, it’s basically an eggplant puree with similar consistency to hummus), and other eggplant dishes. All of these wraps are also less than 200 pesos. Other good restaurants are Corner Tree Cafe, Kismet Cafe and Green Bar. Corner Tree Cafe is a little bit more expensive, and Kismet Cafe is more breakfast-type food and coffee, but they also have sandwiches. Their vegan chocolate chip pancakes are so yummy! Green Bar’s menu is entirely plant-based so I was basically in heaven when I ate there.
The provinces are what make the Philippines so beautiful, but they’re also where being vegan is harder. For starters, many coffee shops don’t offer an alternative milk to dairy milk, so be prepared for that. Luckily, I like tea so I don’t have to worry about that problem too much. Like I mentioned earlier, when you are out of the city, you may end up eating a lot of vegetables and rice. Some popular vegetable dishes are pinakbut and chop suey. Just be sure to clarify with your waiter that there is no meat in the vegetable dish, including fish! When I was in Batangas, I ordered a chop suey dish and the waiter confirmed there was no meat, but when I got it, it had pieces of crab within. This is because seafood is often not seen as meat here. One dish I have seen while in the provinces is lugaw with tokwat, or porridge with tofu. It is very often also accompanied with baboy, or pork, so if you want to try this make sure to clarify no baboy. I have not personally tried it myself, but it looks good! You can also prepare ahead by packing snacks from the supermarket, like canned goods. When I was in a village in Buscalan, I brought canned vegan chili, refried beans, and corn to ensure I would have something to eat. The provinces also often have the best fruit, so you can always fill up on that! I will forever recommend mangoes and anything mango flavored, but their bananas are also really sweet and tasty.
Speaking of sweets, this is where being vegan is actually so easy! A ton of Filipino desserts are made of some sort of sticky rice, coconut, and sugar, so they’re naturally vegan. A few of my favorites are palitaw, biko, and babingka. A few desserts not made with rice are turon (fried bananas wrapped in a lumpia wrapper) and bananacue (barbecued banana coated in sugar). Another one that I’ve talked about in a previous post is Taho. This is made up of silken tofu, pearl beads, and a caramel sauce of sorts. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will not be disappointed while here!
There has been a few times when someone has welcomed me into their home and graciously cooked for me. Despite me telling them that I was vegan, their meal included egg in it. In these cases, I did eat it because I was just grateful they were trying to accommodate me. I know everyone has different reasons for being vegan, but I encourage you to just try to be as open as possible and know you might have to go against your beliefs every once in a while. In my case, I saw the chickens whose eggs I ate happily roaming around, so from a compassion and environmental standpoint, I didn’t feel guilty. However, if you are going to be cooking for yourself or ordering from a restaurant, you should have no problem staying vegan the whole trip! I highly encourage you to try and eat local, or buy local if you are cooking for yourself, to make sure you are helping the local farmers and small businesses in addition to reducing the environmental impact. There are a ton of various wet and dry markets, but every Sunday in Makati there is one that has a ton of vendors that serve vegan food as well as fresh produce, so look around for those (the market I am referring to here is the Legazpi Sunday Market, by the way).
My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is going to be vegan in the Philippines is that everything will be okay! There will be times where you are frustrated, but trust me, you will find something to eat. I hope this post helped at least one person, but if not, thanks for reading and enjoy the food photos anyways. 🙂