The Vegetarian Kitchen: if you need a great introduction to meatless food

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen menu

My first encounter with vegetable protein was a disaster. I was in high school, my mother was flirting with vegetarianism, she bought bags of TVP (textured vegetable protein) and added the cubes to meat dishes. The TVP label said that when cooked with meat, the TVP would acquire the same taste, color and texture of the meat and you couldn’t tell the difference. What a pack of lies. The TVP tasted like old cardboard. I swore off vegetarian anything.

Then, a couple of months ago, Speedy’s cousin, Claro Cruz, and his talented partner, Tita Soliongco, announced that they were re-opening The Vegetarian Kitchen. Knowing that Claro and Tita and their kids have been vegetarians for years and years, The Vegetarian Kitchen aroused my interest. I envisioned that it wouldn’t be one of those commercial establishments with over-decorated yet still soul-less food without personality. After all, they would be serving what they have been eating at home all these years. And from what I know of Claro, he isn’t one to tolerate bad cooking. So, we waited for the date of the re-opening which took place sometime last month. We planned and re-planned when we could go until, finally, we did. We had lunch at The Vegetarian Kitchen yesterday.

We took a look at the menu on the wall (there is a printed menu for each table for people whose eyesight is not so perfect), I noted the “All dishes are good for sharing” part but we were so hungry we decided to order one dish per person (and also so we could try more dishes). Even at that early point, Speedy’s eyes had already wandered to the list of cakes and pastries but I said we could order those later.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen: Korean spareribs, pickled vegetables and buttered rice

Sam’s order, the Korean spareribs, pickled vegetables and buttered rice was the first to be served. I took one look and wondered if it was indeed vegetarian because the “meat” did look like real meat — shredded meat with the fibers showing through. I took photos then and a forkful (sorry, Sam, but it looked so good and I was dying to try it). Goodness, was that not real meat? My face must have shown an expression of sheer satisfaction that Speedy took a forkful as well (after that, we let Sam enjoy her food). Speedy and I agreed that the “meat” had the texture of slow cooked beef. The salty-sweet seasoning was perfect and we got all excited over the arrival of the rest of the dishes we ordered.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen: meatless pastel, parsleyed potatoes and herbed rice

My meatless pastel, parsleyed potatoes and herbed rice came next. As soon as the photos were taken, Speedy started filching the crust (he loves pie crusts) which, I have to admit, was perfectly done. Crisp, flaky, not too thin and not greasy at all.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen

The filling consisted of vegetables (of course!) and chunks of what looked and smelled like sausages but what were actually made of vegetable protein too. It was sooooo good.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen: crispy tofu with sweet and sour sauce and jasmine rice

Speedy’s order of crispy tofu with sweet and sour sauce and jasmine rice came. I was expecting the usual cubes of tofu but, no! The dish consisted of tofu skins fried to perfection, topped with still crunchy vegetables and smothered with just the right amount of sweet and sour sauce. Heck, sweet and sour pork is a dish after my own heart, always has been, but the crispy tofu with sweet and sour sauce did not make me feel like comparing it with the meaty sweet and sour dishes that I grew up with. It was a class all its own. Outstanding. That’s the dish that I’ll order for myself next time we go to The Vegetarian Kitchen.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen: vege fish fillets with garlic mayo and paella rice

Alex’s vege fish fillets with garlic mayo and paella rice was the next to arrive. Fortunately for her, her dad, sister and myself were already busy with our own food that we didn’t start poking at hers for a taste until she has had a chance to enjoy it. But when I finally sampled the vege fish fillets?

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen

Just look at the cross section — it looked like real fish. Tasted a lot like real fish too. Wonderful.

All throughout the meal, Sam was on a non-stop lowdown on giving up mammals for food. Not for any health or environmental considerations but simply because, being the pet lover that she is, she feels sad when she eats mammals. And she had been advocating her no-mammal-diet for months. Speedy and Alex vehemently object (they love steaks and chops too much); I have reservations because I have an on-and-off chicken and egg allergy, and I am permanently allergic to crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters, crabs and prawns, in particular). But when you’re in the midst of a vegetarian meal so good, it was almost tempting to say, “Sure, let’s give up mammals!” But, of course, we made no promises to Sam.

By the time we were done with our food, the lady boss arrived. Tita’s first words after the usual greetings were something like please tell me the truth if the food is good or bad. I told her we loved the food. And, to assure her that I wasn’t merely saying that so as not to hurt her feelings, I told her that I am malupit (mean? cruel?) in my criticism when I am not happy with the food. So, there. If I didn’t like the food, she would know it.

Time for dessert. We were all curious about the eggless cakes and pastries (is that even possible?). I suggested ordering only one dessert because we were really full. Remember how I noted the “All dishes are good for sharing” bit on the menu? That wasn’t an exaggeration — the servings were large. Since Speedy was the one most excited with dessert, he got to choose — apple pie cheesecake.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen: apple pie cheesecake

Heck, I couldn’t believe it had no eggs. Denser than the cheesecake I make at home but just as creamy and just as perfectly formed.

casaveneracion.com The Vegetarian Kitchen: soya coffee

Tita suggested soya coffee to go with the apple pie cheesecake, and the coffee smelled and tasted pleasantly of toasted nuts. Can you imagine? Unfortunately, soya coffee is caffeine-free and being the caffeine addict that I am, I missed the kick that goes with regular coffee. The upside? Tita said they’re considering serving regular coffee. Oh, great!

How much did our meal cost? I forgot to ask Speedy who paid while I was chatting with Peewee, another cousin of his, and Tita’s BFF. But since the main dishes are all less than PHP200.00 (the most expensive is PHP185.00), adding the apple pie cheesecake, our total bill would have been in the vicinity of PHP1000.00 (about US$23.00).

The Vegetarian Kitchen is located at Mother Ignacia Street in Quezon City, right across St. Mary’s College. It is a family business, the cooking is done by Tita and her daughter, Camille. Camille’s brother, Kiko, is the host and receptionist and waiter and, as far as I could tell, there was only one hired staff. It’s a simple, smallish and very cozy place with that peculiar homey atmosphere. There is small garden in front with a few tables for those who prefer to have their meals outdoors (no outdoor photos, sorry, it was so darn hot). I suppose it is the smoking area as well.

So, how did the vegetarian experience affect me? Us? We’ll try vegetarian dishes at home. I asked Tita for tips (I think I heard that she’ll be giving cooking classes in the not too far future?) and, maybe — just maybe — we can give Sam partial satisfaction on that no-mammal diet that she’s been evangelizing about.

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Comments

  1. Belle says

    Hi miss connie. Very interesting post. You know, i trust your restaurant/food reviews more than most i read over the internet precisely because you are so unforgiving and blunt with your criticism. I am a self-proclaimed meatatarian and I have sworn off veggie-meat when i was in high school. My classmate convinced me to try her vegetarian menudo and i am not exaggerating when i say it made me throw up. However, having read your raving reviews, i could almost taste that veggie-protein in my mouth. I can’t wait to try it the next time i go home. Now i can confidently take my vegetarian best friend somewhere without worrying she won’t have anything to eat, or that i’d have to eat something disgusting just so we can dine out! Thank you for sharing about this place.

    • says

      Belle, you know how carnivorous I am too (I don’t think I can give up lechon kawali, bagnet and lachon Cebu hehehe). It takes a lot to make me appreciate vegetable-only dishes. But I enjoyed lunch yesterday very much. I suppose there are cooks who can make wonders with vege meat and my mother just wasn’t one of them. :)

  2. Sharon O says

    Wow. Yummy vegetarian food. You’re so lucky, there are no good places where I live where you can have a vegetarian meal and not miss meat. Your friend is an excellent chef to be able to do that; it’s good that she opened her own place. Well Mrs V, if ever you don’t trust the meat supply at least you know where you can go for decent meat-free meals now :-)

  3. says

    Yep, it’s all in the cooking. And I was telling Speedy that if we want meals like that at home, it’s really gonna be about learning a whole new cooking technique.

    • A says

      …and a good supply store with those ingredients. :p

      The mock-meat and mock-fish look like they’re sourced from Taiwan. Buddhist monks from China and Taiwan produce them, and are often served in temples, even here in Manila. They also have mock duck and mock abalone/scallops. The mock products can be bought easily in Ongpin.

      My favorite is the mock chicken chunks; if they serve those, you should give them a try next time. They really do have the texture of chicken thighs!

      • Nikita says

        Finally got to visit The Vegetarian Kitchen tonight, and yes, couldn’t help but think the Korean spareribs was real meat; same for the lengua!

        Camille did mention they got their “meat” supplied by the Buddhist monks.

          • Antonette says

            Hi, Ms. Connie ! Would you mind if I asked for the name of the store where these vegetarian ingredients are sold? I’ve become really curious about vegetarian cooking. I mean I think it’s wonderful to have variety in what we eat. And I remember this food court shop (Bodhi, I think) that we used to patronize when we would visit Manila in my childhood. The food was really good and the food was vegetarian. :) Thank you in advance. :)

          • Herlina says

            Hi Connie
            Please let us know where to buy substitute meat, such as mock duck, fish.Thanks, Herlina

  4. says

    So pleasantly surprised to find out that this new restaurant you’re talking about is probably just few meters away from where I work! Our building is across St. Mary’s Academy (Sct Reyes St. side). We sure will check this one out!

  5. Mateo's Mom says

    Good to see that more vegetarian places are opening up in Manila. Have you tried Wabi Sabi Noodle House in Makati?

    • says

      Nope. Sorry, I had to delete the URL you posted along with your comment. Any restaurant recommended by that blogger you linked to, I make sure NOT to patronize for ethical reasons. :)

      • Mateo's Mom says

        Oh my. I hope my selection of which link to use does not count against Wabi Sabi. I simply Googled and found that entry. Full disclosure, Wabi Sabi is owned by an old friend and I’ve heard a lot of positive things about it. I’ve not tried it myself, but intend to do so the next time I’m in town.

        But now I’m curious as to what these ethical reasons are ;)

  6. randie says

    Hi Ms. Connie:

    I’ve been a lurker of your blog for a several years now. Do they have a phone number? What are their operating hours? I plan to go there this weekend probably for dinner. Thanks

    Randie

  7. belle says

    hi miss connie! i’m home! after waiting for almost a year, i’ve finally tried this place. the food was SOOOO good. i couldn’t believe it wasn’t real meat. the taste and the texture were amazing. i had the curried shrimp tempura and the tofu and also the spinach and cream cheese dumpling. ang sarap talaga. can’t wait to go back. thanks again for sharing. basta talaga recommended mo, tried and tested na ok. last week, i took my mom to vieux chalet for her birthday. another winner!

    on a different note, i’ve cooked curry and tuna primavera for my family, using your recipe. my mom is so proud of me. five years ago when i left for the US, i didn’t even know how to cook rice. ngayon, i can serve a full meal =D

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