The Ultimate Philippines Vegetarian/Vegan Guide: Best Restaurants, What To Order etc

29 January 2019

Eating as a vegetarian in the Philippines was quite the adventure. Upon asking whether they offered vegetarian options before entering a restaurant I'd often be told "yes, of course!" only to find none in the menu, which then elicited responses such as "you eat chicken - no pork or beef!" or "it's fish, it's vegetarian" or, my personal favourite, a fit of laughter!

Filipino cuisine focuses very heavily on meat and fish, and having spent six weeks there and sometimes ending up with no choice but to eat plain rice for dinner, I'm here to help you navigate the vegetarian/vegan waters and eat the tastiest food possible. Let's dive in!

using these phrases

Vegetarian = walang karne
Vegan = vegan
Thank you = salamat

from these Filipino vegetarian/vegan dishes

Kangkong: water spinach, which is like tenderstem broccoli and spinach in one (aka flipping delicious). It's in most Filipino menus under 'vegetables' or 'sides', and is often cooked in a thin oyster sauce with lots of garlic and red onion

Adobong kangkong: you'll see 'adobo' in menus non-stop in the Philippines as it's their unofficial national dish. Instead of chicken, pork, beef or fish marinated in the famous soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and peppercorn sauce, you can ask for 'abobong kangkong' which is the vegan water spinach version

Adobong talong: again, this is the traditional adobo dish but made with eggplant/aubergine

Tortang talong: one of my absolute favourites, this is the only traditional Filipino vegetarian classic I came across - at a roadside barbecue, no less! They take a grilled eggplant or aubergine then peel and mash it, soak in beaten egg, season with salt and pepper then fry until golden brown. It is divine, and something you absolutely cannot miss if you eat eggs!

Pinkabet: traditionally pinakbet is a vegetable dish made with pork and shrimp paste, however I was offered vegetarian/vegan versions throughout our trip. It's not the most exciting dish in the world (sort of like pan-cooked vegetables with a bit of a garlicky sauce) but there are always condiments on tables in Filipino restaurants so you can jazz it up with chilli and soy sauce etc

Lumpia: spring rolls, wahey! Served deep fried or fresh, these are the exactly how you're probably picturing them to be - just double check that they're actually veggie!

Pancit: noodles, wahey again! You'll hear 'pancit bihon' and 'pancit canton' - they're both the same fried noodle dish but bihon has thin glass noodles, and canton has thicker egg noodles

Bam-i: fun to say, fun to eat and fun for your wallet as it's usually extremely cheap, bam-i is like a mixture of pancit bihon and pancit canton. It's made with the two different types of noodles mixed together along with soy sauce and vegetables, and you might also hear or see it referred to as 'pancit bisaya'

Banana blossom burger: basically the Filipino version of the veggie burger, banana blossom patties are popular and taste like a regular one except sweeter - think sweet potato mixed with black bean! You might also hear banana blossom referred to as 'banana heart' or 'puso ng saging'. They usually come in your usual setup with fries on the side, lettuce, tomato etc

Okra: you probably already know this one, but if you don't, okra is a green vegetable in the mallow family (the taste is similar to green beans, the texture is more like soft cucumber and it has these funny white spherical seeds) and I just wanted to mention it here as it was in pretty much every vegetarian or vegan meal I had in the Philippines! 

Kalabasa: squash, basically - one of the pretty green/orange ones

Calamansi: a citrus fruit native to the Philippines that looks and pretty much tastes like a very tiny lime... they're extremely cute and you'll get at least one on anything you order, whether that's chopsuey or a rum and coke!

Ampalaya: also known as 'bitter gourd' or 'bitter melon', this stuff's pretty gross and basically tastes like dodgy sea cucumber. As the alternative names would suggest it's extremely bitter, to the point where you pull a face whilst eating it, and if I was going to advise you to avoid one thing in the Philippines it'd be ampalaya! Unfortunately it's in a lot of vegetarian/vegan dishes so I'd suggest asking beforehand or picking it out. Hint: it looks like dark celery, and was created by the devil

out for these things

If you're staying in a more remote area there may be a couple of occasions where there isn't anything you can eat on the menu, especially if you're vegan. Whenever it happened (usually in tiny villages with barely any tourists), I simply ordered garlic rice: everywhere does this and it's way more exciting than plain boiled!

Chop suey is often on Filipino menus, it's slightly different to American/European versions in that it normally comes as a stir-fried noodle and vegetables dish, just make sure you use a vegan translation app like Veganagogo to ensure that's definitely no meat in there.

Shrimp paste is used in many recipes, as is fish sauce, and many people I met along the way thought that vegetarians could still eat fish and chicken, and some soups and curries may be cooked using carcasses or meat juices. On many occasions I asked for a vegetarian option and would be pointed towards something like 'pork in soy sauce with vegetables', so it's handy to know how to say "I don't eat meat or fish" (Hindi ako kumakain ng karne o isda - use Veganagogo or keep this on your Notes on your phone).

my following top picks

Happiness Beach Bar: A lively, colourful veggie joint with swings at the bar, head to Happiness for great Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine: think hearty wooden bowls filled with hummus and dips, falafel pittas and shakshuka. They do a generous tabbouleh salad, and these amazing 'fries' that are like a Ready Salted crisp had a baby with a chip!

Big Bad Thai Bistro: Ask for a seat upstairs - you eat overlooking the beach that way! - and order the som tum (spicy green papaya salad), the vegetable and tofu green curry or the classic Pad Thai. The sweetcorn salad is one to give a miss, as the corn was quite dry and bitter rather than succulent and sweet. Their cocktail menu is something special, so spoil yourself with their silver tequila, mango purée and chilli concoction dubbed 'The Thairita'.

Taste El Nido: With a small vegan menu, Taste (or The Vegan Café) is well worth a visit. Choose from eggplant lasagna (made with cashew cream béchamel, so delicious!), Mexican chipotle bowl or mac 'n' cheese for your main, enjoy a variety of smoothie bowls and vegan coffees for breakfast, and try their sweet vegan snacks - we'd recommend the chocolate chip cookies.

V and V Bagel: Lunch doesn't get much quicker or easier than a filled bagel, and this spot does a vegetarian one (eggplant, bell peppers, pesto, lettuce and Parmesan - forgo the cheese to make it vegan) for £3.50. Their wifi is top notch and whilst their regular coffee is good, upgrade to the Illy blend for a real treat. They also do a veggie burger as well as pizza, pasta and desserts.

Coco GroveVegetarians often get ignored at barbecues but not at Coco Grove, where they have a barbecue and entertainment evening every Tuesday at their beachfront Sunset restaurant. They do these vegetable kebabs that are smothered in an amazing spicy satay sauce before they're grilled and served up with rice, salad and salsa.

Baha Ba'r: Aside from ordering a strong af and patriotic cocktail (quite literally, every time you buy a Baha Ba'r special you get to add a tally to your country on their chart) you should also order the Pandasal Express which is a banana blossom burger with sweet potato fries. Double check your order as some items on the menu are marked as vegetarian, but include shrimp or fish.

The Bee Farm: The organic garden salad here is adorned with pretty edible flowers and comes with the most divine mustard dressing that really takes lettuce from drab to fab! Ask for a different one if you're vegan rather than vegetarian as it's heavy on the honey, and try the vegetable stir-fry with garlic rice for main.

Bamboo Garden Bar: I have a full review of our stay at Bamboo here, and would highly recommend checking out the food there even if you're not a resident. The vegetarian pizza, panini and sandwich are all great (ask for no cheese to make them vegan) and I was a huge fan of their hearty and filling vegetable curry.

Miguel's Taqueria Y Cerveceria: This place is #3 in General Luna on Trip Advisor and never anything else than heaving. With a tiny menu of either a classic foil-wrapped burrito or two soft filled tacos, you'll order within seconds and get your food within minutes. Both have a 'vegetable' option which will only set you back about £2 and can be made vegan if you ask for no cheese or creamy sauce, and there are two vegan sauce options on every table: salsa verde and pico de gallo.

Kermit: The restaurant within this surf resort does a delicious vegetarian panini that's vegan without the cheese for 160 pisos (about £2.50, and comes with chips or wedges too!) as well as a wide range of Italian options. They have a huge wood-fired oven making fresh pizzas, calzones and focaccia, and if you're a pasta lover you'll be spoilt for choice: the spaghetti options are vegan (pomodoro, aglio e olio, pesto) and there's a creamy gorgonzola gnocchi and a porcini mushroom risotto if you eat dairy.

Altrove: Sticking with the Italian theme, head here and choose from three different pastas (spaghetti, penne or fettuccini) then order the Pomodori Secchi - crushed tomatoes with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. I added chilli to my order, and asked for no Parmesan cheese to make it vegan. 

Bravo: Our favourite 'date night' spot thanks to the beachfront location, beautiful lighting and live music. Their menu has a brilliant tapas section, most of which is vegetarian, and the staff are incredibly friendly and informed about making dishes vegan - so get your patatas bravas and baba ganoush on! Their mongo bean, eggplant and mushroom veggie burger is divine (if you like onion bhajis then you'll love this) and every Sunday they have a paella night, one of which is 100% vegan!

Deep Moon: A* veggie dining! In the relaxed, open-air restaurant you'll find no end of options from vegan pancakes, sandwiches, paninis, pizzas, local dishes and more. Even if a dish is marked as 'vegetarian' it's likely to be vegan, as the kitchen uses fresh soy milk instead of cow's milk or egg. One of those places where you open the menu and feel spoilt for choice!

Mabuti: Not only does this cute little spot have the speediest wifi (quite rare in Port Barton!), they only sell vegetarian and vegan food as seen in their full menu here. At only £2.40 for a breakfast dish AND a coffee, you can't go wrong. The soups, salads and pastas all received rave reviews and, like everything else, the veggie burger is made from locally sourced ingredients. Mabuti make their own bamboo straws and donate the profits to rehabilitating reefs, and on the whole have a large focus on protecting the environment.

Gorgonzola: A trendy spot that wouldn't look out of place in Seven Dials in Covent Garden, you're gonna struggle to choose just one dish from this menu. It's pricier than spots serving local food rather than Western, but their pizzas (550 pisos for a margherita base, then you can add toppings like vegetarian bolognese or vegan cheese) are a whopping 60cm and can feed 2-4 people. The salads are proper (aka generous and actually tasty), and here's a handy tip: order their hummus without the focaccia then dip your crusts in it instead. You are welcome!

Ausan: This beachfront resort has a restaurant where you get a truly good bang for your buck, as they offer a three-course set menu for around £3.50 each! The veggie options for main include a chop suey style stir-fry, mushroom pasta and a banana blossom burger with fries to name a few, and I had a fruit platter for dessert. The first time we went the starter was a delicious sweetcorn soup and the second time it was chicken and corn so I couldn't have it, but they deducted this from the bill. Try and get the romantic candlelit 'treehouse' table if you can, and order the onion rings - they're immense!

I hope this helps you navigate your way as a vegetarian or vegan around the Philippines - there's so much delicious food on offer when you know what to look and ask for! 

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