Most Filipinos grow up eating all kinds of vegetables and fruits, but I’ve met several vegetarians who still complain about how expensive and difficult it can be to find decent vegetarian food. Despite kang kong, gabi, eggplant, tomatoes, and tofu being present in a number of local and popular foreign dishes, meat needs to be present in most restaurants in order to appeal to a larger market. Thankfully places like Binondo are home not just to the best Chinese food in Metro Manila, but also to several vegetarian restaurants such as Green Planet Vegetarian.
I got word of this restaurant from my Facebook feed and based on the restaurant page’s photos, it seemed to fit Ghetto Grub standards, but a notch higher. Food was presented “turo-turo” style and the older buildings surrounding its exterior along Soler Street in Binondo gave the place a hole-in-the-wall feel. We were surprised to find that it was cleaner than some fast food branches, and also very well lit by white bulbs. The space was small, but the air conditioning makes the place a welcome break from the stifling old Manila city heat. The counter that held the “turo-turo” presentation was just as sterile as the rest of the restaurant.
Upon sitting down, the menu is already underneath the glass of the table. Food is divided into Specialties (good for two to three persons), Noodle and Soup dishes, Desserts, and the displayed Counter Food. Specialties have the highest price among items, but are still affordable if shared at the dishes’ PHP 250 to PHP 300 price range.
For just PHP 300, an entire family can have the Eight Treasures order of yochi, gabi, bamboo shoots, carrots, water chestnut, straw mushroom, button mushroom, and shiitake mushroom. The restaurant’s menu also includes Chinese food staples such as Misua Soup and Miki Gisado. The counter food section contains the cheapest items on the menu at PHP 55 each and offers the largest selection. The staff was very helpful during our visit and readily answered my questions on what each item was made of. Unlike the usual carinderia, you can take a peek at the counter but you can also still order from your table.
For our visit we ordered four counter items: the Fried Miteng (gluten), Afritada, Lohanchay Tawhu Balls, and Hai Tai or seaweed noodles. The Fried Miteng was easily my favorite part of the meal. The gluten was tender enough to chew, yet not too soft that the pieces got stuck between my teeth. The miteng was seasoned in sweet soy sauce, treating my mouth to pieces that were tender like fat, but without the excess oil and “umay” aftertaste. At PHP 55 (without rice), I imagine this would make for a satisfying quick lunch for those who live, work, or are passing by the area.
To taste how the restaurant cooked vegetarian dishes in a way we would cook meat, we tried the Afritada. According to the waiter, the Afritada’s protein components are prepared with Meat Magic. Meat Magic is “vege meat” or meat alternative for vegetarians, which is made of wheat, corn, carrageenan, and soy protein. The use of a meat alternative in the Afritada was obvious upon first bite: it was a lot sweeter compared to what you’d get with beef or chicken, but this was much healthier and tasted way better than the afritada or menudo from carinderias that contain too much sugar in their meat-based dishes. The vegetarian meat’s texture was also softer than non-slow cooked meat and made the dish easier to finish.
I ordered the Hai Tai or seaweed noodles out of curiosity as it appeared the most “vegetarian” out of all the counter food. The noodles had a very strong, atchara-like taste that I didn’t mind, since I love to soak my adobo and tapa in the sauce of the pickled vegetables. The noodles were also easy to twist and slurp thanks to the seaweed’s slippery surface. I don’t think, however, this dish is for everyone given its acquired taste. Perhaps it would taste more refined when paired with one of the tofu dishes or the more savory meat-like dishes on the menu.
Then there were the Lohanchay Tawhu Balls. The waiter explained this was just like a meatball, but prepared with vegetables like tofu. Unlike the other dishes, however, it was hard to tell which vegetables the ball was made of. It had the texture of tofu and was surrounded by shiitake mushrooms, yet the taste that kicked in after each bite brought me to the time I entered a medical school’s cadaver room. I couldn’t place where the aftertaste came from or what it was supposed to be, and the taste just reminded me of how preserved dead people smell like.
With that one wrong order aside, Green Planet Vegetarian is definitely a must visit for all vegetarians and non-vegetarians out there. The place is impeccably clean, the counter dishes and other menu items extremely affordable, and the staff transparent about how the food is prepared. Vegetarians need not worry about meat being mixed into their food and meat-lovers will be satisfied with the flavorful seasonings of most dishes.
Have you tried Green Planet Vegetarian? Which are your favorite dishes from the restaurant? Where do you find good vegetarian food?
This review was conducted solely by the author, who did not accept any form of cash advertising, invitation, sponsorship or payment. It was paid for by the author or Pepper.ph, and the views represented are purely the writer’s own. It is based on one anonymous visit to the restaurant.
Green Planet Vegetarian
Address: 1145 Soler St, Binondo, 1006 Manila