Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for — the pure enjoyment of food,” once claimed Anthony Bourdain, who recently joked that he sincerely considered divorcing his wife Ottavia when she decided to try veganism for one week. “We’ve never been so close to divorce.” She explains in her blog published in Fightland (http://fightland.vice.com/blog/ottavia-bourdain-goes-vegan), “I hope he’s kidding, but looking at him, I’m not so sure. After we get home he elaborates… “That was one of the worst meals in history. It tasted of hippie. It tasted of my last weed dealer’s apartment. I hate the world now. Please kill me.”
I have to admit, while a little extreme, not too long ago I shared the same sentiments. Young, fresh, in my early 20s with all the hardheaded energy and invincibility of youth on my side, I once claimed that if the doctor said I’d have to go vegan or else I would die, I would choose death because a life without even cheese or butter is not a life worth living. With my 29th birthday right around the corner, a couple of years of hard work, stress, heavy eating and boozing adds up to having regular visits to the chiropractor, dizzy spells when I eat greasy food, joint aches and Nexium being my best friend. I’m finding myself retracting that previous statement. I’ve come to realize that no, I am not Superman. And no, I am not Tim Yap, either. He’s my yes-you-can-do-it-all inspiration. (How do you do it, Timmy?) While I have always been good about balancing, when the jeans get too tight or I’ve had one too many Jagerbombs, I would go into major health mode afterwards. In the end it was always harmony by extremes. Not necessarily all that great, either. The past two years have been about trying to incorporate overall wellness into my daily life. Making indulgences exactly what they should be — an indulgence.
Some may say it’s contradictory to being a foodie. The disciples of Bourdain will gladly wage wars for it. But with a little maturity and a sincere, profound love for vegetables, fully embracing the plant kingdom on your plate as much as a crispy broiled pork belly is the mark of a true foodie. What we Homo sapiens are meant to be by years of evolution are omnivores. I’ve always believed that, at least here in the Philippines, vegetables have a stigma. It’s not fiesta food. It’s kawawa food. It means you have no ulam. Or it’s the sad afterthought or the side dish or what doctors tell you, you absolutely must eat. In my years as a caterer the salad bowl is often never refilled and the grilled vegetables pitifully ignored. The French, on the other hand, see fruits and vegetables on the same level as meats and fish. A large, spectacular green head of artichoke or fresh white asparagus in season is revered just as much as foie gras and caviar. I’ve often wondered why is it that many find vegetables so boring?
Apart from our perception, I think for the most part we don’t know quite what to do with them — plain old pakbet, tortang talong, ginisa, grilled or buttered. Vegetables deserve the same creativity as a lovely piece of beef or lamb. With all the wonderful benefits they bring, why is it so difficult to elevate their status? Last week at The Peninsula Manila’s Spices restaurant, as part of their 360° Wellness, Naturally Peninsula Menu, in partnership with The Farm at San Benito, treated us to an exquisite vegan lunch that would change the minds of all skeptics. Yes, Bourdain. You included.
For the past 17 years, The Farm at San Benito has been at the forefront of holistic healing and wellness. Apart from spa treatments, spiritual, fitness and detox programs, The Farm has been active in pushing the boundaries of organic, vegan and live cuisine. Their restaurant Alive! serves 85 percent of their food in a raw, live state because it contains more of the enzymes, vitamins and minerals necessary for health. More recently, the focus has not just been about wellness, but also about pleasure. Their cuisine is designed to be not just good for you but also good. Period.
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A beautiful buffet of appetizers welcomed us. Pea mint mole dip, smoked eggplant and Szechuan, cauliflower samosas and cold zucchini bisque, followed by a rich and spicy smoked pepper soup — velvety, hot and comforting. While all were enjoyable, the main courses were true standouts. Assorted jicama makis, made with coconut and tamari, were surprisingly tasty. The pickled jicama, with its nice tang and crunch, were, in fact, better than most kani-tuna-overly-mayo-ed-with-oily-tempura-flakes bastardized makis that many cheap sushi joints serve. The eggplant ratatouille Involtini with bell pepper fregola, wild rocket and tomato fondue served over some orzo, was a dish straight from the Mediterranean — flavorful, sunny and satisfying. The squash and tofu Penang curry with organic rice was just wonderful — heady spices in a thick gravy, enveloping the smooth squash and firm tofu in exotic dreams. Most definitely a dish I could easily have every day. But my absolute favorite, for the pasta lover at heart, was the coconut ravioli — tiny square pillows of mushroom-nut ragout encased in a chewy translucent film of young coconut with the right texture — ever so close to al dente — in a cumin carrot sauce. Dining vegan never felt so indulgent. Perhaps if they had these dishes, the Bourdains’ domestic affairs would not have turned sour and Anthony himself might have ended up adding a new food group to chew on — his foot.
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The 360° Wellness, Naturally Peninsula menu is available every day at the Lobby, Old Manila, Spices, Escolta and from room service. The Peninsula Manila also invites guests to embrace wellness and relish the restorative powers of nature with their three-day room package in collaboration with The Farm at San Benito inclusive of a one-night stay at the hotel, a wellness welcome package, a one-hour session with a trainer at the Fitness Center followed by a healthy breakfast buffet the next morning before heading out to The Farm at San Benito for a relaxing wellness retreat, detox program and yoga interlude, or a combination of everything.
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For more information on The Peninsula Manila’s 360° Wellness, Naturally Peninsula offers, contact 887-2888, 810-3456 or visit www.peninsula.com.