Tuesday, June 26, 2018

My First Experience Dining Out as a Vegan

One of the struggles I experienced when turning vegan was dining out at restaurants. I was staying in Manila back then where the only vegetables you can find are limited only to a side dish. Eating meat is deeply ingrained in the Filipino diet and culture so don't be too upset when restaurants do not cater to vegans. Sometimes it's easier to mention "vegetarian" or "allergies" when ordering. But you still have to ask whether the food is cooked in animal fat, oyster sauce, fish sauce or dairy. Being vegan doesn't have to take the joy away out of eating. Accidental slip-ups may happen at first but you have to embrace the difficulties in order to move forward. I don't speak for everyone but nobody is running to be the perfect vegan. We are on the same path of not causing harm to animals, reducing impact on the environment and becoming healthy.

I still remember my first day eating out as a vegan. It was after gym session, really famished. I had no energy left to prepare a decent meal. Not to mention the travel time back home would take an hour. It's a mistake not to research which restaurants offer vegan meals. I went straight to Cyma, my favorite place since college. I knew Mediterranean cuisine has salad options. Yes, I resorted to a garden salad. This will inevitably happen when you become vegan. Take your pick between salad or french fries. Lucky if there are vegetable spring rolls on the menu. I still gave instructions to skip the cheese and just dress the salad with olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Most restaurants have premixed dressing and even pasta sauces with cheese in it. The problem in the Philippines is even if the dish is listed under vegetables, there are pork bits in it. Another downside is you still have to pay for the same amount without the grilled chicken. Also, vegetarian and vegan do not mean the same thing. They still consume dairy and eggs but some vegetarian dishes can easily be made vegan by asking the chef nicely. No, we can't just pick meat out of the food and call it vegan. I ordered another side dish, hummus with flat bread. The server politely said, "Enjoy your appetizer!" and I did. Oooh wait. Did she say appetizer? This was my full meal!

Not everyone understands what veganism means in the Philippines. If they don't know, try to help them out. I figured to start spreading awareness in my own little ways. One time I was at SM Megamall craving for pasta. I randomly found myself sitting at a familiar cafe, Paul. The lady who works there was really accommodating. Too bad their pesto pasta has cheese in it. I was flipping through the menu not knowing what to order. No pastries for me since they use eggs and butter. She suggested other dishes with meat so I felt the need to unleash the vegan in me. I explained how I made a commitment to stop consuming anything with meat, eggs, honey and dairy because I'm a vegan. I mentioned more details about the advocacy. Her reply? "Ma'am, ang hirap naman po. Madami kayo bawal kainin. Kawawa naman kayo." That was a LOL-worthy moment but I let it go and ordered a lemongrass drink instead. That conversation reaffirmed the reasons why veganism matters to me. It's always an issue to change one's mind about living a more compassionate lifestyle. Sometimes I find myself staying quiet for fear of being judged as preachy. It's not something we do to be able to act holier-than-thou. With research and confidence, I know I would be armed with facts ready to face a protein deficiency debate or anyone who tries to justify eating meat to survive. On a side note, I'm happy the vegan community in Manila is growing! I used to order my vegan goodies from The Vegan Grocer in San Juan. They will deliver everything on the same day through Grab. There are also Healthy Options branches at several malls but items may come at a heftier price.

Time can be the main culprit for not eating right when you're almost too busy to cook. While dining out saves time, it will cost you more. I still prefer preparing my meals at home. Some recipes only require a few ingredients and minimal preparation. Unlike meat, stir-fry veggies can be made in just a few minutes. You have no excuse for being lousy in the kitchen. I used to call myself that but look at me now. Eat all the fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains! If you still find yourself outside, order side dishes as main course. You'll end up with a balanced meal. Remember: Just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's healthy. I wish some restaurants would be more creative because there are bland vegan foods out there. Planning ahead goes a long way, which is also very important when you travel. I found out Manila has vegan restaurants scattered in different areas. I MEAN LOOK AT ALL THESE VEGAN FEASTS! PARTY IN MY TUMMY! THESE ARE PLANTS! As Jonathan from Queer Eye would say, "CAN YOU BELIEVE?!" YUMMM!

Wabi-Sabi Noodle House - Scout MadriƱan, Tomas Morato, Quezon City

Pipino - 39 Malingap Street, Teachers Village, Quezon City

Falafel Yo! - Greenbelt 3, Makati

Juicesabel - The Collective, Malugay Street, Makati

Green Bar - Legaspi Village, Makati

Bodhi - SM Manila

TastiHealth Vegetarian Buffet - Silang, Cavite

And if I want my friends to taste vegan food, I'd bring them here first...

The Vegetarian Kitchen - Mother Igancia Avenue, Quezon City


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