The Cafe That Encourages You to Save the World Through Eating
Jaderani and Sarada Santos have been vegetarians their entire lives, growing up in Palm Springs with hippie parents who were practicing Buddhists. Their mom owned a health food store before health food was even a thing. Since not eating meat is virtually innate to the sisters, they don't come across as preachy or militant when they are inevitably asked to explain their diet. And having known them since high school, I can attest to their being, well, different, and all the more interesting for it.
"We were like aliens in school," relates Sarada about the years spent in California before moving to the Philippines. "Everyone ate cafeteria food, and we had to brown bag it." Jade adds, "Kids were mean. They made fun of our veggie burgers."
Sarada and Jade Santos
Their ever-popular donuts, while cruelty-free, are just like regular donuts—deliciously evil.
They turned full vegan a few years ago, as veganism is the obvious next step in compassionate living. The argument goes, if you really care about the welfare of animals, then you wouldn't be consuming eggs or dairy products either. Around this time, the sisters opened Green Bar, their first vegan café, in Alabang, but found the market in the south to be somewhat lacking, with the core suburban housewife demographic preferring to eat at home (and eat their meat). They closed it down and experimented with a delivery service, which proved to be successful enough that they created a new storefront in the West of Ayala building in Makati. It's a tiny place in an odd location, but one that has been receiving a constant flow of vegetarian and vegan visitors who deliberately seek out the spot, as well as a smattering of v-curious patrons who just want to put a little more plant onto their plate.
Green Bar's meat-free offerings come in the guise of the friendly and the familiar—sandwiches, tacos, and burritos, the stuff Jade and Sarada grew up on in the U.S., replacing meat with soy, nut or grain-based alternatives. Seitan, a protein-dense meat substitute that is similar to, but less starchy than gluten, is often used to fill in for animal protein.
Vegan Longganisa Taco
"We try not to be too granola. We're trying to make comfort food," says Jade. You will find the quinoa bowls and chia puddings that are staples of the healthy-eating movement, but if that ain't your thing, you may be more attracted to the Cuban Burrito (red rice, black beans, fried plantains, spicy seitan sausage), the Fire and Smoke (a spicy grilled “cheese” and chipotle sandwich), or the longganisa soft taco, with sweet vegan longganisa (get it?).
"It's made out of tempeh, tofu and seitan, and has a sweet and garlicky flavor…” Jade laughs. “I don't know what longganisa tastes like! We rely a lot on our meat-eating boyfriends and friends. Is it meaty? Is it good? They're pretty honest."
“A bigger group of people eating less meat does better overall for the environment than the one militant vegan."
Part of the fun of being vegan, the sisters say, is finding all those really meaty menu items and going, “how can I make that vegan?” The Philly cheesesteak sandwich, for instance, is as classic a meat-and-cheese combo as one can get, and is veganized by slathering seitan strips with “cheez whiz” made from coconut milk. Don’t fall under the impression, however, that all vegan food is somehow miraculously diet food. Their ever-popular donuts, while cruelty-free, are just like regular donuts—deliciously evil.
The sisters opt for soft diplomacy when it comes to championing the plant-based lifestyle, enticing customers with food that doesn’t sound extreme or look off-putting. “People are like, ‘Oh I want to be vegetarian, but bacon!’ Well, don’t give up bacon if you really love it, but you don’t have to eat animal products with every meal. Do what you can,” Jade advises.
“We are advocates for gradual, moderate steps and changes.” Sarada agrees: “A bigger group of people eating less meat does better overall for the environment than the one militant vegan. There’s a quote from Voltaire that we love: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Green Bar is at Mezzanine Floor, West of Ayala, 252 Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City.