Taking on a plant-based diet in a country that prides itself on its meat dishes (we’re looking at you, lechon and sisig) seems like a disheartening undertaking, but if you ask the vegans residing in Metro Manila, the situation is far from bleak. Lakapati Basa of The Real Happy Cow has seen such an immense growth in businesses catering to the vegan community that it pushed her to launch an online vegan cheese and food store.
“There is an increasing awareness of global crises starting with unsustainable food production, which kills many animals, destroys the environment, upsets the ecosystem and promotes fatal human diseases,” says Lakapati, who turned vegan after being diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
“Five years ago, eating vegan was challenging. Most of my food had to come from my kitchen, and I did not have to worry about my waistline.” These days, aside from delicious plant-based versions of Pinoy favorites like sisig, lechon and longganisa, there are dairy-free ice cream, cakes and other desserts available in Metro Manila, too, particularly in Makati and Quezon City. In fact, Makati was recently named one of the top 10 vegan-friendly cities in Asia by PETA.
Vegan cheesemaker Joel of In a Nutshell is not surprised. The British expat and financial district resident says, “Within a five- to 10-minute walk or jeepney ride from where I live, there are about 14 restaurants that are vegetarian or vegan.” His favorites include Green Bar and Wabi-Sabi.
And it’s not just sit-down restaurants and cafés. While she loves meals at The Corner Tree Café in Makati, Mabi David, a vegan training to be a professional plant-based cook can stock her pantry and fridge with a list of small vegan producers that do dairy-free dark chocolate wine ice cream (The Superfood Grocer), chèvre (In a Nutshell) and vegan crispy pata (The Real Happy Cow). “These vegan businesses meet my need for those indulgent foods once in a while. Their presence has also helped shift the mindset of omnivores who believed the vegan diet to be limited, so that we have more and more people choosing to eat vegan when they can help it.”
It’s heartening to see that non-vegans make up a crucial portion of the booming business, and both The Real Happy Cow and In a Nutshell owe at least half of their customer base to such folks. “Most are trying to eat more mindfully and healthfully, some are transitioning vegans,” says Lakapati.
Still, there is a lot of room to grow. While dining out for vegans may not be as challenging compared to a decade ago, for Edsel Ochoa, the options are still limited when you venture out of Makati and Quezon City. The capoeira and acroyoga practitioner, who became vegan last year, says, “The difficult part is preparing my food every day. I plan my weeks ahead so that when I’m outside, I will not be in a situation where I won’t have anything to eat. My last resort are supermarkets, most of which have salad bars.”
For Joel, there’s no such thing as enough vegan businesses. “We’ve yet to see a vegan fro-yo joint open up, and there can always be more vegan fast food places, if you ask me —hotdogs, pizzas, et cetera.”
Healthy hotdogs and pizzas? There’s another business idea to keep vegans and non-vegans happy.
Where to shop for vegan ingredients in Metro Manila
Website: kitchenrevolution.ph (for schedule of vegan cooking classes)
Mobile: +63 917 894 5086
The Real Happy Cow
Mobile: +63 998 850 5707
Must-tries: Pimiento and four-herb cashew cream cheeses, egg-free mayo, vegan crispy pata roll, vegchon and tempeh
In a Nutshell
Mobile: +63 926 021 9111
Must-tries: Garlic and herb Boursin-style; pepper jack; and cranberry, walnut and rosemary chèvres
Where: 252 Sen Gil Puyat Ave, Makati
Phone: +63 2 885 7537
Must-tries: Vegan roast beef sandwich, dairy-free grilled cheese sandwich
Wabi-Sabi Noodle House
Where: The Collective, Malugay St, Makati
Mobile: +63 918 962 2935
Must-tries: Vegetarian ramen, banh mi sandwich
The Corner Tree Café
Where: 150 Jupiter St, Makati
Phone: +63 2 897 0295
Must-tries: Bibimbap, veg nut roast
The Superfood Grocer
Must-tries: Dairy-free ice cream