In keeping with our church’s prayer ministry for the lenten season, I have decided to forgo meat for 40 days, ending on Easter Sunday next month. It shouldn’t be hard since I’ve adopted a lacto-vegetarian (and occasionally vegan) lifestyle before.
In fact, back then, I was never shocked that I never ate meat, poultry, nor seafood. What surprised me was the number of vegetarian restaurants in Metro Manila, and every time it seems I have tried almost all, a new one pops up in an obscure street somewhere. What’s even more amazing is that a lot of these establishments go out of their way to create dishes that would fool even the most astute observers with their remarkable resemblance to the real thing. It was the pleasure of exploring these restaurants that partly kept me motivated to go meatless for two years.
Each time I dine in Quan Yin Chay, I am still amazed by the variety of dishes that this unassuming restaurant in Binondo can cook up out of their mock meat products. The glass counter is filled with metal trays of meatless versions of laing, afritada, caldereta and other dishes you would usually find in turo-turo stalls. You point to the dish you want, pay for it, and it will be heated and served on your table.
Of course, if you’re the kind of consumer who spends a great deal of time checking out the nutrition labels and lists of ingredients on grocery items, you’d scoff at the liberal use of mock meat and the fact that the items may not necessarily be cooked using the healthiest methods (like, did they at least use canola oil in deep-frying the spring rolls?).
Still, it’s hard to fault Quan Yin Chay when it’s one of the cheapest places to go for a vegetarian meal. A set of two ulam (say, a serving each of Sisig and Bicol Express) and a small bowl of rice costs PHP 70.
Let’s get one thing out of the way here, though. Vegetarian dishes made to look like their meat counterparts will never taste like the latter, no matter how close the resemblance is. It doesn’t mean they’re not good in their own terms. I mean, while no one will mistake Quan Yin Chay‘s sisig for pork sisig, it’s still a tasty creation that somehow keeps you wanting more.
I can’t say the same for the Spaghetti. It’s obviously made to resemble the Pinoy version, which is to say, drowning in sauce, and loaded with sugar and meat. Unfortunately, this is one of Quan Yin Chai‘s lowlights. The taste of soy overpowers the sauce and the lack of distinctive taste from the mock meat make it seem like you’re eating noodles dipped in soy milk. On the bright side, it’s cheap at PHP 60, considering that an order is twice as much as what they serve in Jollibee.
As with many other vegetarian restaurants (like My Happy Veggie a few meters away), Quan Yin Chai sells vegetarian frozen products so you can easily go on with the meatless crusade even at home or at work. They can burn the wallet, though. A 500-gram pack usually costs around PHP 200.
Updated (July 2014): The restaurant has transferred to a new location as its previous building will be converted into a residential building. Thanks alipinnitomas for the information.
Quan Yin Chay
Ongpin cor Salazar St.
(in front of President’s Restaurant)