No Worries, Vegans Eat Filipino Food Too
“Initially, the Filipino community did not fully support No Worries’ style of cooking,” he later told me. “We often had Filipino people try to tell us it wasn’t Filipino, nor was it authentic. However, that has changed…People are more receptive to it and a little more open minded to what we are doing. I believe that the healthy trend is finally starting to trickle in to our culture and folks deserve to be a part of it.”
Let me take a step back here. Before we continue, I must admit that before I went I assumed vegan Filipino food would be somewhat similar to vegan Indonesian fare. I wrongfully assumed that I had Filipino food before, but apparently, it was all in my head. This is mainly based on the lumpia factor — both regions produce a crispy fried appetizer roll called lumpia. But that’s really where the similarities end.
Pugao’s menu — which came out in seven spectacular courses during the Dishcrawl event — is full of fragrant lemon, ginger, sweet basil, and soy; with tomato-based sauces and hearty mock meats. Faux meat so tender and moist, it converted me. It was both delicious and texturally pleasing, which is a difficult feat. The texture of these kinds of proteins is what has always deterred me in the past.
No Worries uses soy proteins and incorporates them effortlessly into dishes, mixed well with spices and heavy on sauce which directs the focus of the dish elsewhere.
Helpfully, many of the attendees had been part of other Filipino Dishcrawl events and they discussed the similarities and differences between the authentic spots that use real meat and the veg versions at No Worries. Apparently, according to my tablemates, No Worries gets the sauces right, and that’s the biggest factor in this style of cooking.
Our favorite dish of night was the bistek — soy beef strips sautéed in onions with string beans and broccoli, all in a lemony soy sauce sauce. After taking copious notes on his method, the live-in boyfriend felt confident that we could recreate the dish. The next week he brought home a rounded loaf of vegetable protein from Layonna Vege in Oakland for the dish.
We began by cutting the faux meat into quarter-inch slices and then into strips. We also cut an onion into strips, broccoli into small florets. While the protein, onions, and broccoli sautéed, we made two sauces: cornstarch thoroughly mixed with water; half a cup of soy sauce with two whole lemons squeezed. Both were poured over the pan.
Once the meat and accompanying vegetables were cooked and dressed with the lemony sauce, we served up fresh and quickly devoured large platefuls. The tender protein soaked up the sauce well, and there was a pleasing, peppery aftertaste.
I’d like to try and make other items we sampled during Dishcrawl: the gingery lugaw rice porridge, the soy meat and eggplant in peanut sauce (“kare-kare”) and tomato-based saucy vegetables, afritada. Though I don’t think I could possibly mimic the magic of the dessert — deep fried plantain bananas and jack fruit wrapped in rice paper with brown sugar with a scoop of coconut ice cream. I’m drooling reminiscing about it.
I believe No Worries has tapped into an untapped market in this cuisine: the ever-curious vegan. And I hope we start seeing more meatless options for Filipino food. Explained Pugao, “I really only pursued it because my mom introduced me to soy proteins in Filipino food and I immediately fell in love. It was something people had to experience because I knew how delicious it was.”