CEBU CITY, Philippines — The best seasoning for any kind of dish is a happy cook.
This is the mantra of 24-year-old Dexter Sularte, who cooks vegetarian dishes in one of the few all-vegetarian restaurants in Cebu City, the Green Canteen located along V. Ranudo Street in the uptown area of the city.
Sularte is a passionate cook who started around four to five years ago working in the kitchen of another vegetarian restaurant owned by his sister.
In 2018, he joined a friend, Rey Xristan Buning, to open up a budget vegetarian canteen, which, to this day, is known for its budget meals of traditional Filipino dishes with a green twist.
The vegetarian cook turned the usual meaty Filipino classics such as lechon kawali, humba, linat-an, and bam-i into all plant-based dishes that taste just as good, if not better, than its meaty counterparts.
Sularte is an expert of formulating meat substitutes, perfecting the texture of tofu, mushrooms, veggie meat, beans, glutinous rice, and others to mimic that of pork, beef, chicken, and even beef.
His signature dishes include tofu lechon kawali, veggie meat humba, vegetable lumpia, ‘vurgers’ (burgers), kevav (kebab), tofu sisig, ang many more.
“Mao na man ni akong naandan and ganahan gyod ko magluto sad og gulay. Lahi ra gyod siya kaysa sa magluto ko’g karne,” said Sularte.
Buning, who is a foodie, conceptualizes the menu to incorporate the food he has tasted in his food trips while Sularte turns this concept into reality.
Sularte’s kitchen only uses natural seasoning such rock salt, pepper, and muscovado sugar. His secret ingredient? Happiness.
“Ang best seasoning gyod sa pagluto og vegetarian kay ang mood. Dapat happy ka kung magluto ka. Kung malipayon ka nga magluto, malipayon sad ang imong pagkaon,” he said.
For the vegetarian cook, the flavor of vegetables and crops are naturally there and can be extracted through proper cooking. It is not always easy as attention to detail is needed to ensure that the vegetables are not undercooked or overcooked.
He understands why some cooks and even chefs would hesitate to venture into vegetarian dishes because it takes a bit of effort to shop regularly for fresh ingredients and prepare meat substitutes.
The Green Canteen shops regularly at the Carbon Market twice a week to ensure the freshness of their ingredients.
Still, Sularte said the effort is worth it as the dishes can be cheaper yet healthier.
“Dili sila mawagtangan og paglaom. Kung ganahan sila mokat-on og pagluto, i-try lang nila,” he said.