Filipino cuisine is quite diverse and comprises of foods from a hundred distinct ethno-linguistic groups. While it is true that Philippines cuisine is meat-heavy, it is possible to find vegetarian and vegan food if you know where to look. You can also learn certain Tagalog phrases that will help you communicate your dietary preferences to a restaurant or a food vendor. English is also spoken widely in the country as it is the second language in schools. Due to the Philippines’ geography and history, Filipino cooking is influenced by cooking methods from south-east Asia, India, China, the USA, and even Spain. The following is a guide to vegetarian food in the Philippines and a demonstration that, contrary to the popular perception of the Philippines being a tough place for vegetarians, you can actually enjoy local vegetarian food quite easily.
1) Learn to say I’m vegetarian in Filipino
To say “I am a vegetarian” in Filipino, you have to say “vegetarian ako”. Vegans can simply say “vegan ako”
You can then say “Hindi ako kumakain ng anumang karne, manok, karneng baboy, isda o lamang-dagat” which means I do not eat meat, chicken, pork, fish, or seafood. Vegans can add other ingredients to this sentence. A list of ingredients is in the checklist below. It is important to point out all the ingredients that are not vegetarian. Do not simply say no meat, chicken, and fish and then expect the food to be fully vegetarian. Your food might end up having fish sauce or shrimp paste in it. So, you have to be really clear when you order food in the Philippines.
2) Print the following image and show it to your server while ordering
* if you have trouble printing the image below directly, then you can copy-paste the image onto a word document and then print*
The following are some phrases that can be used to explain dietary restrictions, and what you can and cannot eat. They are written in Filipino. You can show this to your server while you order. Many people in the Philippines understand English, but this sheet will be helpful when English isn’t spoken.
Below is a checklist that you can customize as per your dietary preferences. Simply tick whatever is applicable or you can strike out whatever is not necessary.
3) Try these Filipino vegetarian dishes
Sisig – A classic Filipino dish made with pork and chicken. However, there are a few restaurants where you can find a vegetarian (or vegan) version. It might be served as a snack or salad or on a sizzling plate with some rice. If you can find a vegetarian version, then it is definitely worth trying some sisig.
Pinakbet – An indigenous Filipino dish, Pinakbet is made using steamed vegetables and bitter melon (ampalaya). The regular pinakbet has fish or shrimp sauce in it, but you can get a vegan version with a vegan sauce. Pinakbet looks like a stew but with less liquid and more veggies.
Adobo – A very popular Filipino dish is known as Adobo. It is made with meat and veggies that are marinated in a mixture of vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, and peppercorns. A vegan version will have tofu or soy chunks browned in oil and then marinated as explained above. Again, another local dish worth trying in a vegan form.
Laing – This dish is similar to a coconut milk-based curry. It is made using taro leaves, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and seafood/pork. However, you can get a vegan version without pork or seafood (or any kind of meat) by requesting one or finding a restaurant that serves a vegan version. You can ask for tofu as a substitute. Make sure there is no shrimp paste in your Laing.
Munggo – Munggo is a soup made of mung beans. Normally, Filipinos also like to add pork, meat, or seafood to their Munggo. However, you can try to request for a vegan version which will only have mung beans, garlic, tomatoes, onions, and a few other vegetables.
Pancit – Pancit simply refers to noodles. Stir-fried noodles with some veggies can be a quick and satisfying meal anywhere in the world. Most of the Pancit in the Philippines has meat or seafood in it. So, you will have to order a vegetarian/vegan version which has only veggies (maybe with tofu) and no fish sauce, oyster sauce, or shrimp paste.
Champorado – This dish is a porridge made with sticky rice, cocoa powder, milk, and sugar. It is a sweet chocolate flavoured porridge. It is normally served during tea time or as a snack. Champorado is one of the most iconic Filipino dishes. Be careful of tuyo, a salty dried fish that is often served with Champorado. Ask the server to leave out the tuyo when you order your Champorado.
Ginataang Bilo-Bilo – Ginataan means “done with coconut milk”. Hence, the term refers to a wide variety of dishes made with coconut milk. There are plenty of vegetarian Ginataang dishes that you can ask a restaurant to prepare for you. You can also try the Ginataang Bilo-Bilo, which is purple yam, tapioca, balls of glutinous rice, and other ingredients depending on the specific part of the Philippines where you are. This dessert dish can be eaten hot or cold.
Halo Halo – A dessert which is perhaps the most colourful dish in the Philippines. It is made using crushed ice, evapourated milk, sweetened beans, fruit slices, agar-agar, and some other ingredients. The mixture is topped with ice cream. Halo Halo is an absolute treat and a great way to end a meal.
Taho – A street food sweet dish made with tofu and tapioca. A brown sugar syrup is drizzled on the custard-like tofu dish and served in a glass.
4) Eat at these well-known restaurants
Quan Yin Chay – Located in Manila’s chinatown, Quan Yin Chay offers reasonably priced turo turo meals. Turo turo literally means point point (i.e. point and order). The food is Chinese and Filipino. You go across a glass-made food display counter and order a combo of things that you find interesting. Prices are reasonable too. All meals are vegetarian as the restaurant is owned by Taoists. Taoism teaches that onion and garlic should not be eaten. Hence, the food at Quan Yin Chay is not only vegetarian, but it also does not include onion and garlic. Tofu and mock meat use is common here. Do try the halo halo dessert at the end of your meal.
Hummus Elijah – If you are tired of eating Filipino food and Asian dishes, then change things up a bit and go for authentic middle eastern food. Hummus Elijah is perhaps the best middle eastern food place serving classics like hummus, falafel, and ful. Some dishes like the shakshuka have eggs in them. But, there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options available. You can even get the famous Israeli sabich sandwich here. End the meal with a baklava or some Turkish coffee. You simply cannot go wrong with Hummus Elijah.
The Vegetarian Kitchen – If you are in Quezon City, then consider paying a visit to The Vegetarian Kitchen. This restaurant is one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in the Manila area. The menu has a wide variety of vegan options, starting with appetizers, soups, pastas, burgers, and Filipino mains. Interesting items include the Lengua in mushroom sauce, the Kare-Kare, and the Couscous Paella. You can also try the Classic Caldereta. This dish is a vegan version of the Caldereta, a meat-based stew which is quite popular in Filipino cuisine. There is plenty of food to be happy about as a vegetarian at this joint.
Wabi Sabi Noodle House – If you want to go on a journey around Japan and Vietnam, then Wabi Sabi is the place to head to in Makati. There are far too many dishes to list here, but most of them use vegan ingredients or mock meat. Even the mayo used in the Okonomigyoza is vegan. You can also order ramens, steamed buns, Vietnamese pho, banh mi, dumplings, and veggie unagi. Mock meat is used in some of the dishes.
Lun-Haw Vegan Cafe – One of the best vegetarian joints in Cebu, Lun-Haw has an all-vegan menu. You can get a vegan Sisig here. Other dishes worth checking out are the Tofish (tofu dish) and the Vivimbap (a unique take on the Korean classic Bibimbap). The black burger (with black-coloured buns) is also quite popular.
Planet Vegis – One of the best places in Cebu to get Filipino and Cebuano dishes in a vegan format. The use of mock meat is relatively higher at Planet Vegis. You can get local dishes here which would otherwise be very difficult to find in a vegan format. You can try the vegan Humba here which is a Chinese-influenced Filipino dish that normally involves pork. Planet Vegis replaces the pork with vegan ingredients. Other local dishes worth exploring are the Chicharon, the Sinigan (soup), the Lumpia rolls, the Beef Tapa (with vegetarian mock beef) and the Kikiam. A popular Filipino dessert known as Halo-Halo is also available here. Order from the menu or go for their unlimited buffet.
HealthyU – If you go to the Philippines, you have to experience a carinderia. Carinderias are family-owned food joints with wooden benches serving reasonably priced meals that have some resemblance to home-cooked food. One normally points out what food they want when ordering at a carinderia. Unfortunately, most of the carinderias are meat-heavy. Luckily, you can go to a vegan/vegetarian carinderia in Cebu city. It is called HealthyU. The restaurant is small and serves Filipino favourites that are reinvented in a vegetarian/vegan format. Staples like pinakbet, pancit, adobo, and ampalaya are all available. Combo dishes start from only 59 pesos.
Tres Amigos Mexican Cantina – If you are feeling Mexican food amid your beach holiday, then head over the Tres Amigos. This restaurant has a separate vegan menu with classic dishes like Nachos, Enchiladas, and Chimichangas in a vegan form. Tres Amigos uses coconut cheese instead of regular cheese for its vegan dishes.
Coco Mama – Located in the D’Mall area, not far from Tres Amigos (and the beach) is Coco Mama. This place is perfect for a local dessert – Mango with sticky rice and vegan coconut ice cream. The best part is that the ice cream and the mangoes are served in a coconut shell. You can pick one up and walk around the D’Mall area or stroll to the beach.
Subo Boracay – If you like the authentic experience with the ambience of a traditional Filipino home, waiters dressed in local clothing, and restaurant staff that will perform local song and dance for you, then Subo Boracay is your place. The cultural experience is matched by local vegetarian food. One can eat local dishes like adobo (as a tofu-dish) and Filipino spring rolls in a vegetarian form here. In fact, Subo Boracay has an entire vegetarian section on their menu. Traditional Filipino salads and Filipino dessert dishes are also recommended.
Nonie’s – Another excellent restaurant for trying local dishes in a vegetarian/vegan format. There are two dishes, in particular, worth trying at Nonie’s. The first is the Vegan Sisig, which is a vegan version of the Kampampangan Sisig served with lavosh. The second is the Vegan Champorado, which is a vegan version of a chocolate rice porridge dish served either with afternoon tea or as a snack.
5) Indian restaurants are a safe bet
You can always opt for Indian food. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan items available at Indian restaurants. The food is flavourful and diverse as well. It is a perfect option when you cannot find anything vegetarian or are simply tired of eating local food.
Royal Indian Curry House, Manila – Also known as R.I.C.H, this restaurant has some rich Indian food. You can get north Indian as well as south Indian food at this restaurant in Makati. The Biryani is served in a pot that is sealed with flour in the traditional way that is so common in India. Prices are a little bit on the higher side here.
New Bombay, Makati – If you are craving for some Indo-Chinese food (paneer chilly and manuchurian dishes) along with the usual north and south Indian classics, then head over to New Bombay. This restaurant has a diverse menu covering many Indian dishes. The prices are also slightly more reasonable than other Indian restaurants in Manila. The location is quite central as well.
Little India, Quezon City and Cebu City – Little India is another top Indian restaurant with one outlet in Manila (Quezon City) and one outlet in Cebu. North and South Indian food is on the menu. This restaurant is completely vegetarian. There are no non-vegetarian Indian dishes served here. You can even get food options without onion and garlic.
Cherry’s The Spice, Cebu – If you want to eat different types of rice like Tamarind Rice, Lemon Rice, and Curd Rice, then Cherry’s The Spice if your pick. They have north Indian food, Indo-Chinese, and plenty of rice dishes. The place isn’t squeaky clean but you can get by with the food here.
True Food, Boracay – Boracay may be a small island but it has a decent restaurant serving Indian food. The taste may not be completely authentic, but it is the best thing that you can get on this beautiful island. Vegetarian appetizers include samosas, cutlets, momos, and spring rolls. You can order the usual vegetables, rice dishes, and rotis/naans. There is even an option for a vegetarian thali.
Indian Darbar Cuisine, Davao City – If you happen to be in Davao and are looking for some vegetarian Indian food, then head over to Indian Darbar Cuisine. You can order dosas, parathas, vegetable curries, and even Indo-Chinese food. One of the top-rated Indian restaurants in Davao.
6) Plan for a few options beforehand
While you cannot always expect to know exactly where and when you will eat, try to keep a list of a few vegetarian restaurants in the area that you are going to visit. To create a list, use the following websites:
- One of the best resources online – HappyCow’s Philippines page has a list of restaurants by city.
- Zomato, a popular restaurant discovery website, has a Philippines section as well.
- PetaAsia’s list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants throughout the Philippines.
7) Other options
Coffee Shops/Cafes – A sandwich, a cake, or muffins can often be found in cafes of small shops in the Philippines. You might even be tempted to try out local tea and coffee flavours.
Italian Restaurants/Pizza Places – A simple pasta, a spaghetti, or a cheese/veggie pizza is a safe bet anywhere in the world, and the Philippines is no different. Just make sure the pasta sauce has no meat and the white sauce has no eggs (if you do not eat eggs). Also, watch out for any non-vegetarian toppings on your pizza.
Other international cuisines – You can always find restaurants and food joints in big hotels (or in major tourist cities and towns) which serve international cuisine. Whether it is middle eastern food, Chinese, burgers, Mexican, or anything else, you will probably find one or two vegetarian options in such restaurants.
Supermarkets – Do a shopping run at outlets of Robinsons/Rustans/Puregold/Waltermart/SM Supermarket/other neighbourhood supermarkets, as they would stock local produce and western/imported/packaged foods. Look for items that can be identified easily as vegetarian (e.g. fruits, veggies, bread, pasta, snacks, etc).
8) More resources
Travel Triagle – https://traveltriangle.com/blog/indian-restaurants-in-philippines/