A vegan longganisa meal from Pipino restaurant

PSA: Bringing in more plant-based meals to your diet doesn't mean having to eat salads all the time.

There are tons of delicious options that contain fruits, vegetables, 
grains, nuts, and soy products! Think langka barbecue ribs, root vegetable chips and garlic yogurt dip, and ramen with veggie ham and mushrooms!

This holiday season, we bring you five Quezon City restaurant options where you can make merry AND make a kinder choice for the planet!

First up, PIPINO, located at 39 Malingap St., Teachers Village.

Alessa Lanot, co-owner of Pipino

You might think having a boyfriend who owns a restaurant comes with perks. But this was not the case for vegetarian Alessa Lanot, who couldn't find anything to eat at Pino, owned by her now husband PJ Lanot. So, she convinced him to include vegetable dishes on the menu.

"That was Earth Day of 2010. Six months later, we decided to open the second floor restaurant (Pipino). 10-10-10 'yun eh, October 10, 2010," she told us in an interview.

Pipino serves Filipino plant-based food, including vegan versions of Pino's best-selling kare-kare and lemongrass skewers.

"We decided to focus on Filipino vegan food, because the reason why Filipinos can't go vegan is because there are not a lot of options. It's easier to go vegetarian," Alessa said.

Starters include veggie-fied staples like buffalo cauliflower wings and mushroom salpicao.

Of course, there are salads too, but not the boring kind you eat just so you can say you had your vegetables today. Pili ranch is made of greens with toasted pili nuts, breaded olives, vegan ranch dressing, and walnut parmesan; while quinoa salad contains dried berries, greens, grapes, and tofu ricotta.

Have some cilantro soup with it or veggie sinigang, or a pasta dish like kalabasa arrabbiata or truffle mac and cheese.

There are burgers too, featuring black bean patties, chickpea and veggie protein patties, and portobello mushrooms. As for the main dish, you can actually get a plant-based longsilog, cauli-bangus, or tofu bistek. And who can forget the Pinoy staple? Choose among cauliflower rice, cranberry brown rice, and vegan bagoong brown rice.

Want something sweet to top it off? How about vegan leche flan or mango soy ice cream?

Buffalo cauliflower wings from Pipino

"When we started, our target market was really the strict vegetarians, 
the strict vegans, those who had health issues. Because you basically go vegetarian for three reasons: for your health, for animals, and for less carbon footprint. For me, it was the less carbon footprint that really mattered. When I read the stats of how raising a pound of beef takes 11 or 20 times more water than raising a vegetable, that's what drew me to it mostly," Alessa shared.

While they were targeting these customers at the beginning, their customers today have gotten much younger.

"A lot more people are going veg not because they're vegetarian but because they just want to have a good meal. A good, light, healthy meal," she said.

Alessa herself got hooked on plant-based meals at an early age. Her grandmother would always serve them a meat, fish, and vegetable dish during family meals. "The meat would always be close to my dad, and as you go down the table, the veggies were closer to me. So it was always my preference growing up."

In high school, she toyed with the idea of being a vegetarian for about six months. But because plant-based meals weren't always available in the school cafeteria and she couldn't always bring her own food, she went pesco-vegetarian instead. Later on she studied some courses in the Natural Gourmet Institute in the United States, where she learned how to make being vegetarian work.

"Unang-una, (dapat) balanced, hindi pwedeng isang kulay lang ng ulam ang kakainin mo. Each color represents a different type of nutrition, a nutrient. As much as possible, (have) different colors for the meal, different colors on your plate. If you don't know how to count macronutrients, I think that's the best way of doing it," Alessa advised.

With the kind of diverse dishes they serve at Pipino, it only shows that eating plant-based and eating healthy – even when going out with friends –  has not only become easier, but much more interesting as well.

Stay tuned to this page for the rest of the series! And if you have other plant-based suggestions, type them in the comments section below!