In 1990, KRS-One became the first of many Healthy Rapper voices in my head with his takedown of the US meat industry with Boogie Down Productions "Beef." Cee-Lo's verses from Goodie Mob's "Soul Food" had me reevaluating my life whenever I had a grease-induced kanak attack. Then, when dead prez said "Lentil soup is mental fruit and ginger root is good for da yout(h)" on "Be Healthy," it was a wrap. Rap made me vegan.
For nearly two years, I grew out my hair, learned how to play the guitar, got deep into spoken word and battle rap, and, to make the cipher complete, became vegan. No more chicken adobo. No lechon. No bistek. No fish? No problem, since I'm allergic to fish anyway. The Halal homies hipped me to gelatin being in candy, so no Altoids or Skittles, either.
The first round of vegan restaurant and homemade offerings I had were terrifying eating experiences. Blandness to the max. Kale before kale became a thing and people learned how to make it taste good. Shit like cold balsamic garbanzo bean salad. Or, the worst: underseasoned tofu. I imagined that if gentrification had a taste, this was probably it.
Thankfully, a handful of local vegan spots that didn't sacrifice flavor for a healthier option. Some of these dishes probably weren't all that healthy, but at least I no longer had KRS-One's voice lecturing me in my head. Just when I was ready to abandon the meatless life, Araya's came into my life. Moonlight Cafe was the first place I had fake meat that didn't taste like shit (who remembers the karaoke & cigarette smoke tho). Hillside Quickie (RIP) was the spot for jerk-marinated tofu sandwiches, mac & yease, and the homie Ayinde Howell, who also did the rap and poetry thing, hosted open mics there--one of the first places in Seattle I ever performed at.
So I started making vegan versions of the shit I missed. Tofu Adobo. Sinigang with nothing but vegetables. They weren't great but each dish cooked was like 3 experience points and it took at least 500 points for reach level-up. Through the Filipino spoken word circuit, I met Jay-Ar Pugao, the triple-OG of Vegan Filipino Food, in the Bay Area. He and his fam now run No Worries Catering and his Soy Chicken Afritada was a staple at the many community events I hit up over the years the Bay Area. More levels up.
But, I missed meaty Filipino food. And could no longer stand the look I got from aunties and uncles when I rejected their meaty offerings ("ako po ang Vegan, not Vigan, auntie"). Rejecting a Filipino auntie's food is just a bad look, period. Filipino vegans who can stand up to that look without letting your soul get crushed, I salute your courage.
So I uncermoniously broke the streak one night at an Anakbayan meeting where everyone else in the room was nomming on Chicken Adobo. I'm a failed vegan, but the experience was fruitful. Maximizing savoriness without relying on meat flavor got me familiar with many techniques I use in many dishes, vegan or not. Every year, I make a monthlong return to Veganland to cleanse my body from 11 months worth of being an animal-consuming Filipino. I begin listening to more Jazz and lighting Nag Champas again. And I feel great.
That's the backstory behind this month's SARIWA pop-up. Many people have asked us if we were going to have more vegetarian/vegan options, and the answer is YES, starting with this all-vegan, gluten-free, Filipino menu. Vegans of Seattle, here's your one-night chance to go to a restaurant for Filipino food you can actually eat. And non-Vegans, here's your chance to witness another dimension of Filipino flavors. Or impress your Vegan friends.
Charred Carrots & Cauliflower w/ Calamansi Cilantro Vege Mayo
Tofu & Oyster Mushroom Sisig
Eggplant and Gnocchi Adobo
Garlic Fried Soy Fish w/ Sinigang-marinated Leek & Cherry Tomato
Vegan Ube Cheesecake
SARIWA is a prix-fixe pop-up 5-course tasting menu dinner. Reservations and advance payment required. There will be two dinner services, from 500-700pm and 800-1000pm. All ages welcome, with bar & alcoholic drinks available for 21+. Seating limited to 45 per dinner. Please make reservations at the link below: