Vegan in the Philippines

Ligeia feasting on the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines

We knew we were going to have a tough time eating vegan in the Philippines, when our request for help to find vegan food was misinterpreted as an interest in the cuisine from the Filipino town of Vigan. Immediately, we were thankful that we always pack high-protein snacks like nuts, seeds and granola bars.

Map of the Philippines, showing the town of ViganVegan in Manila

Despite Lonely Planet’s ill advised recommendation to visit one of the many Korean restaurants in Manila’s Malate district to find vegan fare, we gave up looking at menus after stepping into about half a dozen places.

On our 3-week vacation in the Philippines, we spent about 5 days in Manila. If we were to return to the country’s capital now, we’d have a better idea of what to expect and where to eat. Now we understand a menu item’s picture does not guarantee the ingredients of the ordered dish, as we discovered with a plain-sauced spaghetti that arrived with minced meat and sausage bites.

The next time we faced a menu with spaghetti pomodoro, we tried our best to get the server’s guarantee that our meal would not contain the gamut of foods we choose to avoid. When our food arrived, we hungrily began eating but quickly stopped when we didn’t recognize the taste and texture of a mystery ingredient. Upon asking our server about it, she explained that she added tuna fish because we had insisted we didn’t want to eat any animals.

In both vegan pasta failures, we were issued a full refund, which satisfied our wallets, but left our bellies empty and our hearts a little sadder.

Of course, after almost a week in Manila, we realize that there are plenty of great vegan options. We found a couple of Middle Eastern restaurants to satisfy our hummus and falafel cravings, and although it was a bit out of our budget, we were impressed with the menu of an Indian place close to the Robinsons Mall.

Vegan in Bohol

Explaining what “vegan” means to others can be difficult even when chatting with native English speakers. Throw in a language barrier, and we sometimes have to add in a bit of charades, sound effects and maybe a round or two of Pictionary. In Bohol, Philippines, however, our guesthouse owner understood without all the games. We were introduced to the traditional Filipino dish of sari sari, which is a combination of root vegetables in a mild, rather flavorless, sauce. But at least it was something we could eat. Accompanied by an order of garlic rice, we went to bed full and happy to have eaten a warm meal.

Ligeia trying to eat the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines

Of course, we understand that our dietary restrictions are cumbersome. We also recognize that we need to develop a sense of humor to handle the countless miscommunications that are bound to occur. When we journeyed to Bohol’s famous Chocolate Hills, Ligeia wondered if the hills were vegan. We admit, our mouths watered a little as we contemplated the prospect of these mounds being made of dark chocolate. Alas, the possibility milk chocolate stopped us from taking that first bite!

Our good mood continued along the ride back to our guesthouse as we passed a sign that advertised “Vegetarian Food”. Of course, we had to stop. It turned out to be a restaurant at the Butterfly Park and this is where we got our first straight-from-the-menu meal WITH protein since we had entered the Philippines.

Vegan Chickpea Curry with Pineapple in Bohol, PhilippinesVegan in Siquijor

On the quiet island of Siquijor, we were doubtful that we’d be able to find vegan food as we passed numerous front yards with pigs, cows and chickens tied to trees or posts. We rented a beachfront condo equipped with a full kitchen, and after a trip to a local market, we had enough to cook spaghetti with a very basic tomato sauce.

We also discovered Sylvia’s Restaurant, along the southern shore that offered moringa soup, made from the leaves of the ever-present moringa plant, which we were told is packed with protein. Regardless, the food was tasty and the generator-backed Wi-Fi signal stayed strong even when the island lost power, which happens quite frequently.

Vegan moringa soup in Siquijor, PhilippinesVegan in the Bicol Region

When we visited Donsol in the hopes of snorkeling with whale sharks, we were delighted to discover the traditional Bicol meal of Laing, a flavorful dish made of taro leaves stewed in coconut milk. Luckily, the restaurant where we stayed offered this dish without the standard ingredient of pork, so we were able to enjoy it daily. Other than that, however, our diet consisted mainly of vegetable stir-fry, supplemented with handfuls of peanuts.

Laing, the traditional Bicol dish of the PhilippinesWe left the Philippines with the conclusion that our difficulties in finding vegan food is, so far, second only to finding suitable fare in Tibet. Our sense of humor helped us survive the lack of variety, and it also assisted us with teaching others the definition of veganism. We still smile when we think of the shocked face and loud “Whoa!” we received from the hotel clerk in Cebu City, when we explained “it’s like vegetarian, but one step further.” Unsurprisingly, this same hotel served up the blandest breakfast Mindy’s ever had, which included white bread, white rice and a not quite ripe banana.

Bland vegan breakfast in Cebu City, Philippines

What food challenges have you faced while traveling?

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32 thoughts on “Vegan in the Philippines

  1. Trina

    This is undoubtedly your most hillarious post about the Philippines. Did you say you had sarisari for a meal? I would be interested to know if the dish lived up to its name as the literal meaning of this word is “different stuff put together.” ;D Xoxo

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Gabriela,
      It was nice to meet you too. Thank you very much for making me vegan Mexican food – it was delicious! 🙂 The next time I’m in Lares, Puerto Rico I’ll be sure to stop by.

  2. Elena

    I just found out about your blog through the Vegan Travel Tips post from Angloitalianfollowus. It’s great that you’ve written about the Philippines! I’m going there soon and I’m a little bit worried about finding vegan food, so I will take your experiencies into account. Those incidents with the meat and fish in the spaghetti are quite common in Spain as well, maybe there is still some Spanish influence in the Philippines 🙂

    I’ll follow your updates for vegan travel ideas!

    1. Mindy Postoff

      Hi Elena,
      How wonderful that you are going to the Philippines! It is such a wonderful country in so many ways! We were struck by how varied the country is. Since we left we discovered that there are some vegan restaurants in Manila. Can’t wait to go back to try some of those. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! 🙂

  3. Pete Olanda

    We just have a vacation in the Philippines last month (July 2014) and it really hard to find vegan foods when you are traveling. Not even a single fast food restaurant have a vegan foods. We end up just buying bread and that what we eat when traveling around. Since we are vegan, all the vegetable food that you can see in the fast food restaurant was either mix with shrimp , meat or fish which we don’t eat as a vegan. So if you are a vegan traveling in the Philippines be sure to have some bread with you or else you got hungry. The only good thing once you reach your destination you can ask a restaurant to cook a vegan food for you ( of course with a good tip to the cook).

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hello Pete,
      We survived off of bags of nuts mostly. Hopefully more vegan options will appear in the Philippines. We’ve heard that there are some vegan restaurants in Manila that we plan to try on our next trip to the Philippines. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. 🙂

      1. Pete Olanda

        Yes, there are some vegan restaurant in Manila but not on fast food on the malls. Before you book a hotel look on the website if there is any vegan restaurant very near to the hotel. Traffic is a problem in going around Metro Manila and to go to the vegan restaurant if it far from where you are staying is also a challenge. However, most restaurant will cook a vegan food base on their menu minus the meat, fish or shrimp if you will ask them (of course a nice tip to the cook/chef is appreciated). We enjoy our last trip in the Philippines except the typhoon that we experience in Makati.

        1. Bounding Over Our Steps

          Hi Pete,
          Thanks for the advice regarding traffic and booking a hotel in Manila. I’m so glad you enjoyed the trip despite the typhoon. Hopefully there will be more vegan options in the next country that you visit.

  4. josefina

    hi im from the philippines and i gotta admit, its gonna be hard for vegan tourists to have a stress free trip here (food-wise).
    but living here would be a different story. once you get familiar with the places and the markets, its quite easy to be a vegan. the vegetables and fruits from where i live (bacolod city) are lovely. and so far, it really easy for me and my sisters to commit to the vegan lifestyle.
    also, im glad you got to visit bohol. its my hometown. i dont think the place is quite familiar with veganism but again, the market there sells really fresh fruit and veggies.
    hopefully, the pjilippines would be more aware of veganism in the future. a lot of people here think its crazy.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Josefina,
      Thank you so much for your comments. It is always great to get the insider perspective on what it’s like to be a vegan in a particular place. I guess the trick is knowing where those wonderful fresh fruit and veggie markets are. The next time we go to the Philippines, we will most definitely seek those out – thanks for the tip.
      And how lucky that you are from Bohol – what a beautiful place! I hope you are able to go back and visit often. 🙂

  5. Elaine

    Hi! Me and my family are a few of those vegans here in the Philippines. In fact we’ve been a vegan for 24 years and we really enjoy it with our health.

  6. Cristine

    Hello. I’m from Bicol and I’m so glad you visited our place. Yeah, for vegan tourist it’s difficult to find vegan restaurant or cafe here. Most of Bicolanos are fun in eating in fast food chain. So sad. I’m a vegan too in almost a year and starting promoting Vegan and Vegetarian diet here. I have some friends here that are vegetarians too. But when your here you will used to know the foods for vegan here. See you when you come back.

  7. Lemy

    While I was looking for sites that will help me how to become like vegans , I got in here. Actually, in Ilocano places (some part of northern Luzon like Isabela province) we are known for our veggies recipes our ‘pinakbet’ dish. We just add some bagoong or shrimp paste. We also had the steamed vegetables where you can make a variety of sauce. I hope next time you can come in the Philippines again, you can ask the people in the place about their main delicacies. They are hospitable to help you. ?

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Lemy,
      Thank you for your comment and your recommendation for finding vegan food the next time we are in the Philippines. Do you think they would be able to make the pinakbet dish without the shrimp paste as this is not vegan? We too found the Filipinos that we met to be hospitable and look forward to visiting again soon. 🙂

  8. Charmaine

    I’m a raw vegan Manila girl and I’ve been raw for 10 years. Things I larned as a traveling vegan:

    1. Always carry with you a Happy Cow printout.
    2. Carry a laminate that describes what a vegan is. The Philippines is an English-speaking country so your card can be in English. I had to look up Korean and Chinese phrases when I went to Seoul and HK. My Chinese laminate was also helpful in Kota Kinabalu as there are many Chinese locals there. (Who knoew, I might even find the card useful when I go to China Town in Binondo, Manila.)
    3. Get in touch with a vegan local. You will not know that there are vegan delivery services in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other cities; that there are vegan burgers and 3-cheese pizzas at Healthy Options; that it is manageable after all to be vegan in Manila and other regions in the Philippines if you don’t reach out to local vegans.You can also ask locals to translate sentences in the vernacular to make it eaiser for you to explain what your diet/lifestyle is.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Charmaine,
      Thank you so much for the wonderful advice. We too love HappyCow.com and use them almost exclusively. And great idea about the laminate – we have had friends write down phrases for us in the past in the local language and it has been very helpful, especially in China and Tibet. Our trouble in the Philippines was that the terminology that we were using (in English) did not seem to translate well as an idea. When we said “no meat” and “no animals” for example, this somehow got interpreted as “fish is ok”. A nice Filipino woman at a restaurant explained to us after serving us tunafish in a tomato sauce that “but you said no animals so I gave you the fish instead”. So we learned from that and the next time were sure to specifically say “no fish and no seafood”. Things like “fish sauce” and “pork flavoring” still were an issue. I think raw would really be the way to go.
      And by the way Charmaine, we are coming to the Philippines again in October 2016 so this is us reaching out to a local. I’ve already checked Happy Cow and it seems that there are now some vegan restaurants in Manila so I am so excited! I would also love to meet with you and learn of places that you recommend. I am very hopeful that I will have to write an updated version of this post. 🙂

      1. Charmaine

        Lovely that you guys are coming back! I’d be happy to meet you 🙂 Yes we’ll make sure that nobody serves you fish or any animal extract again when you return here. Please stay until November so that you can also go to our first vegan festival. Kind regards, Charmaine

  9. Ma-an

    Hi! Vegan girl from Manila here. I switched just a year ago, and I finally mastered it in our very non-vegan country. I’d be glad to meet/help you when you visit again. Thanks for sharing your stories 🙂

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Ma-an! We are so glad to meet another vegan in Manila! And thank you so much for your very kind offer to help us. We will definitely let you know the next time we come to Manila. We always love meeting other vegans. More stories to come! 🙂

  10. Michelle

    Hi, 🙂 I’m from the Philippines. It is true that you can hardly find a vegan restaurant. However, My husband’s family is a vegetarian and I know being vegetarian is different from being vegan. Recently, 2017 people are health wise and I’m one of them. Therefore, I tried to find some restaurant online.Maybe this could help. https://www.happycow.net/asia/philippines/. You can find Adventist Hospitals they have cafeteria/canteen that offer vegan meals.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Michelle, we (and every vegan) are very familiar with happycow.net. It’s such a wonderful resource and our go-to website when researching vegan options anywhere in the world. Great idea about the Adventists hospitals – we would have never thought of that. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  11. Oddie

    I’m an expat in the Philippines, also had a hard time going vegan, but I did. Mostly because I eat tons of fruits, making salads with fresh raw ingredients as dressing. Right now I’m on a juice fast. Wish I could learn how to cook delicious vegan meals here, should be possible, but I’m not even good at cooking anything haha. If someone could point me to a course or something, that’d be great

  12. Gina McLean

    You have to know what to look for. Plenty of restaurants serve chop suey and kangkong, (ask to serve without shrimp paste), including Chow King which is one of the chain restaurants. There were plenty of options in Moalboal, Cebu and Coron Palawan. The best meal I had was at Levine’s which also happened to overlook the water. Their lumpia and roasted egg plant salad and egg plant and tofu was masarap or delicious. Moalboal was not too busy either. One of the best places was a smoothie place at the end of the road that served a quinoa salad and a hummus sandwich. If I asked for dairy free smoothies, all the places always complied. The Philippines can be an awesome vacation for vegans if you know what to order.

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