MANILA, Philippines – The idea of vegan food can be a bit intimidating, especially for someone like me who once alternated greasy fast food cheeseburger and sinful sisig for a couple of weeks in college.
I got interested in the idea of vegan, though, when I learned about Pipino, this quaint vegan place in Teacher’s Village that everybody — meat lovers, “flexitarians” and vegetarians — has been raving about.
I invited my two foodie friends to go with me on this food journey. It took us more than an hour to go from Taft to Quezon City, but Pipino was very well worth the time we spent on the road.
The reviews didn’t lie. Pipino did not disappoint.
The food was so good I forgot my apprehensions about eating vegan. The place was as cozy as cozy can get. The interiors were painted with pastels.
Aside from the charming ambiance, there’s also the creative menu typography done by the co-owner of Pipino herself, Alessandra Lanot, vegetarian and graphic design extraordinaire.
Alessandra, who has been a vegetarian for years now, studied graphic design in New York right after college. All the delicious vegetarian and vegan options in New York inspired her dream of opening a vegetarian place of her own in Manila.
Pipino started out as a simple menu offered at Pino Restobar, which is co-owned by Alessandra’s boyfriend then (and now her husband), PJ Lanot.
From Pino’s menu, Pipino is now a restaurant on its own. What makes it unique is its vegan menu. This means that Pipino does not use animal or dairy products. This, however, does not make the food they offer any less delicious. And it’s not hard on the budget, too. The servings are huge and definitely meant for sharing.
My friends and I started the meal with their soup of the day, the cream of pumpkin soup. At only P40, it had just the right level of creaminess, and that homey pumpkin taste. It served well in preparing our taste buds for the rest of the dishes.
Next was the mango tango salad with mixed organic greens, vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, cucumbers and sliced mangoes. This salad was pretty special because of the sweet mangoes. It blended well with the mixed vegetables. The vinaigrette was also very tasty but did not overpower the rest of the salad. It had the right mix of sweet and tangy, and the mixed greens were cleansing to the palate.
We also ordered the cold soba buckwheat noodles with mango salsa, crispy tofu and soy mirin. It looked too pretty to eat, but we dove in anyway. The mango salsa was both a mix of colors and flavors, and it complemented the noodles really well. The consistency of the tofu was good, too. It wasn’t too mushy. By the time we had finished the salad and this dish, we became pretty big fans of Pipino’s sweet — but not overly so — mangoes.
The scene-stealer will still have to be the next dish we tried, the watermelon steak with taro miso mash, string beans and pickled mushrooms. Boy, it was so good! First, the plating was done very well, and the colors green and red looked inviting. But what was so amazing was the watermelon steak itself. You have to try it to understand. It definitely looked like watermelon, but I am telling you, it tasted completely like a juicy slab of steak. You don’t even get a hint of the watermelon taste. It is steak with none of the guilt, and only the juicy texture of watermelon. We were all in awe of how the chefs of Pipino concocted such a recipe, and Alessandra was beaming proudly as we were munching on the watermelon, the string beans and the mash.
We also tried the stuffed portobello cheeseburger with barbecue sauce on whole-wheat bun, which was way better than any greasy cheeseburger I had tried. The generous servings of Portobello mushroom, barbecue sauce and vegan cheese were a delicious combination, and they matched the crunchy whole-wheat bun very well. The wedge fries that came with it had none of the bland taste of oil that normally goes with fast food fries.
Alessandra also made sure we got to taste their all-time bestseller, the vegan lasagna. It was made of eggplant, malunggay, tofu and zucchini, which gave the cheese-less lasagna some zing. The texture of the tofu gave the dish a creaminess that is not at all sinful. The vegetables were all mixed up together really well so we couldn’t tell which was which, but my friends and I were too busy eating anyway.
As if we weren’t impressed with Pipino enough, Alessandra made us try their cupcakes and vegan ice cream for dessert. The cupcake flavors were quite new to us, but they were so good too. Alessandra told us that they use nut milk as substitute, and they even make the milk at Pipino. My favorite flavor was the vanilla cinnamon, but the coconut muffin was a close second. It had a genuine coconut flavor. The lemongrass-ginger cucumber combination was interesting, and had a fresh taste with just a slight hint of sweetness.
What completely sold us were the ice cream and the sherbet. They also use nut milk for these recipes, and all the ice cream and sherbet are also made at Pipino. The ice cream servings were thick but not too creamy, and the flavors really stood out. The fresh lemon ice cream was an interesting twist, and it was so good with the graham biscuit, which they also make at Pipino. The dark chocolate ice cream was pure chocolate goodness, and the banana sherbet had a very tropical flavor. The desserts were the perfect healthy ending to an equally healthy meal.
If going vegan means getting to eat at Pipino everyday, then I’ll gladly sign up.
But deciding to go vegan requires much discipline and commitment. For people who are not vegetarian nor vegan, but like eating vegetables, or at least those like me who want to try vegan dishes, Pipino is hands-down the best place to visit.
What I love about Pipino is that it’s also a place for people who care about the environment, and want to decrease their carbon footprint one delicious vegan meal at a time.
I left Pipino with my friends knowing that I’ll definitely come back, but I was glad that maybe the next time I visit, I’ll contribute less carbon footprint because I won’t have to travel all the way to Quezon City. Alessandra told us a branch in Makati is in the works. Now that’s good news. – Rappler.com
(Pipino is at #39 Malingap St., Teacher’s Village, Quezon City. It is open Mondays to Saturdays, 11 AM -12 MN, and Sundays 11 AM -10 PM.
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