There is no doubt that heavy and unmoderated consumption of meat increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The pandemic has put an emphasis on our health—with many bolstering their immune system and eating more fruits and vegetables.
A non-profit called Veganuary, which encourages people to try a vegan diet for January (and hopefully beyond), reported 500,000 people taking part in 2021 (majority of which were not vegan). And it makes total sense.
According to a 2020 study, researchers found that participants who ate at least two servings of plant-based meat for eight weeks lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease compared to participants who ate the same amount of animal—mostly red—meat for the same amount of time.
A Mexican exploration
Today, in response to the sustained interest, more vegan and plant-based options have been popping up on local menus in both familiar and creative forms. Bruce Ricketts, owner and chef of Mexican restaurant La Chinesca says, “It was my wife and business partner, Jae [de Veyra Pickrell], who had the idea of doing a vegan/vegetarian menu when she was trying to be healthier and more mindful of her meat consumption.”
La Chinesca’s foray into plant-based territory builds upon their bestselling tacos such as the Carnitas, Campechano, and Quesabirria and trades the presence of meat in favor of something that taps into the health-driven demographic’s desires.
“It was tricky though because Jae was very particular about our Sin Carne menu tasting just as good as our regular items, which I believe was key so that it didn’t seem like La Chinesca made a vegetarian menu just for the sake of having that option.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about subscribing to a vegan or vegetarian diet is that you’re limited to salads for the rest of your life. Not to discount whole foods and salads, but some restaurants are expanding the idea of what it truly means to eat better—even with sisig, kare-kare with bagnet, and isaw—sans the meat.
Plant-based can be universal
Dhanvan Saulo is one of the owners of Poblacion vegan restaurant Cosmic. He also comes from a family that pioneered vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines in the ’80s and ’90s. “I’ve been a vegetarian since I was born, for 33 years of my life. We came up with the concept of Cosmic and basically it’s the food we eat when we have family gatherings.”
Their imitation bagnet has layers akin to the sheets of fat and meat in deep-fried pork belly. You also get a similar texture when you bite into it, not a homogenous mush. Its taste is also impressive and will make you think you’re eating actual meat.
“We make everything in-house. This is the reason why we are able to keep our costs very low compared to other restaurants,” says Saulo, noting that many of Cosmic’s dishes are below P200. “The way we can communicate to people the benefits of eating vegan food is by making it accessible, similar tasting to meat, and making it affordable. Eighty percent of our customers are not vegan.”
An inclusive kitchen
Chef Kriza Palmero of Pilya’s Kitchen for her part has recently put a vegan spin on their Dan Dan Noodles to be more inclusive. “People are putting a premium on their health now more than ever. Although not many are willing to commit to a vegan lifestyle, there’s an influx of people who have adapted a flexitarian diet and these are the people who we try to include.”
The noodle dish originated from the Sichuan region of China and consists of a sesame-based spicy sauce with chili oil, peanuts, and preserved vegetables. Usually made with minced meat, Pilya’s Kitchen’s vegan version instead uses soy protein crumbles.
“It’s seasoned the same way and is still very good. Vegan food doesn’t have to be raw or unseasoned. It can be prepared much the same way as many dishes you normally serve with meat,” she explains. Since launching, it has become one of the restaurant’s bestselling items.
Delivering an ecstatic plant-based rush
For all its benefits to overall health, some people are concerned that cutting out meat out of their diet may deprive them from necessary protein. But this calls to mind the fact that most plant-based concepts are guided by one idea: to always find better solutions.
One clear example is Beyond Meat. One plant-based patty from the Los Angeles-based producer contains 20 grams of protein or 40 percent of the recommended daily value. Local burger joint Sweet Ecstasy was the first in the Philippines to offer a vegan burger using Beyond Meat. “We didn’t put it on the menu to fill some demand or niche; we wanted it on the menu because Beyond patties are delicious,” says owner and founder Al Galang.
Since launching the Beyond X Vegan Burger in 2019, it has since grown its own following and became a “primary choice for people and not an alternative.” Galang believes non-vegans are deprived of really good plant-based experiences. “It’s important for them to discover that it’s not just about conscious eating or healthy eating. On a culinary level, vegan food is simply delicious.”
The Santos sisters of Green Bar in Makati offer exciting Southern Californian food. “Our food is both accessible and determined to change the mind of any diehard carnivore,” says Jaderani Santos. Their menu contains indulgent items such as the Wild Thing Bacun Cheeseburger (onion rings, burger patty, the seitan bacun slices, and buns made in house), Barbacoa Street Tacos, Gyro Fries loaded with toppings, and doughnuts.
Being vegetarian her whole life, Santos says that most of the flavors of meat dishes come from spices and herbs. The meat she creates in Green Bar is flavorful and does a great job of mimicking animal meat. “I struggle more with textures rather than flavor profiles. I research tons and generally have a pretty good instinct for flavor combinations. I also have taste tests with meat eaters just to make sure I’m on the right track.”
The demand for plant-based meat is on the rise and is evident as respected chefs around the world are taking it seriously. “When you start seeing world-renowned chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, and Heston Blumenthal embracing more meatless meats and plant-based menus, you know the plant-based foodie scene has arrived,” says Santos.
“Not to mention many famous restaurants including three-Michelin Star Eleven Madison Park going vegan in New York. There are a lot of plant-based trends and innovations happening right now, and it’s all very exciting,” says Santos.
“The American Dietetic Association has stated that a plant-based diet is suitable for all stages of life, including pregnancy,” adds Santos. “So, if we don’t need animal products to survive, then why not make a more compassionate choice, especially if there are so many satisfying alternatives available?”
As more and more companies make plant-based meat more accessible and affordable, it also becomes feasible to wean society off its heavy reliance on animal meat and leave a positive impact on the environment. Case in point: Going vegan for a month could save not only 30 animals but also 33,000 gallons of water, 900 square feet of forest, and 600 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Meatless Mondays. Veganuary. Adopting a flexitarian diet. These are all great starts. Although La Chinesca isn’t a consciously green brand, Ricketts says, “I truly believe plant-based alternatives give the same satisfaction as regular animal-derived meat when executed well. Once we created plant-based dishes that we found were just as delicious as everything on our menu, offering them to our customers was a no-brainer, and the benefits to our health and environment were a happy bonus.”