I have never tried Nick’s Kitchen yet, but I have heard that the restaurant serves vegan Filipino dishes. You can expect to eat vegan versions of lumpia, pancit, sisig, and leche flan. The restaurant originally opened in Daly City and it used to be a Filipino restaurant owned by a Filipino family that served a meat-heavy menu. Founders Reina Montenegro and Kenny Annis transformed it into a vegan Filipino restaurant. After experiencing success, they opened another Nick’s in South San Francisco in 2018. Finally, they opened their most recent restaurant in the center of SoMa Pilipinas, San Francisco’s Filipino cultural heritage district.
Reina Montenegro said,
“I hope Nick’s on Mission opens up the community to try more plant-based foods in their daily lives. Who knows, we might be able to turn your mom or lola into a vegan.”
Filipinos Love To Eat
Growing up as a Filipino American, I remembered going to Filipino parties and there would be a lot of food. Rice, pancit, adobo, leche flan, sisig, and sinigang are common Filipino dishes they serve at these parties. A lot of these parties celebrate someone’s birthday, baby showers, baptisms, graduations, etc. There would be a line of food and that we would get a plate and utensils and get a bite to eat. After getting food, we would all sit down and eat while we socialize with the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and family friends. Whenever to go into a Filipino household during a party, everyone would gesture you to the food and say, “Eat!” That has been the dynamic I have grown up with as a Filipino American.
The Discrimination I Have Faced As A Vegan Filipino American
When I became vegan, I faced a lot of discrimination from relatives and family friends in the Filipino community. Even when I was not vegan, I ate a lot of carbohydrates such as pancit and rice. I received remarks saying, “Why aren’t you eating meat with your pancit?” or “Why are you only eating pancit?” or “Why aren’t you eating the meat in your pancit?” Even as a non-vegan, just mentioning vegetarian got a negative response from relatives and family friends. I remembered joking that I was going to be a vegetarian and my uncle said, “No, you need meat! You need to eat more meat to grow big and strong.” Now when I officially became vegan, the discrimination just grew stronger. The remarks I received were, “That’s all you’re going to eat? Just rice?” or “You need to add meat to your rice!” or “What is wrong with meat?” I also remembered gradually not being invited to Filipino family parties anymore or special occasions at buffets and restaurants. As of right now, virtually none of my relatives or family friends invited me to any parties or special occasions. A lot of them are also no longer on speaking terms with me. Despite the negative remarks I’ve faced and not getting invited to any parties, I know deep down that my health, the environment, and the animals are more important.
A Serious Problem In The Filipino Community
Of course I became vegan for my health. But to be specific, I became vegan because a lot of relatives and family friends in the Filipino community have passed away from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and other chronic diseases. This one family friend passed away of a heart attack. He was close to my father’s age. I have had a lolo (grandfather in Tagalog) pass away from liver cancer. My maternal grandfather passed away from pancreatic cancer and my maternal grandmother passed away from breast cancer. Overall, a lot of relatives and family friends have passed away from chronic diseases. Now even though I respect my Filipino culture and the food we eat, the elephant in the room has been our food. Meat is served at almost all the Filipino parties I have been so and meat contains a lot of saturated fat. Also, a lot of the sweets and the leche flan have dairy in them and dairy also has a lot of saturated fat. Plus, the sweets have a lot of refined sugar in them. We cannot deny that the food we eat is linked to these chronic diseases that people I love and know passed from. Because the food is heavily rooted in our culture, not serving it at parties will be difficult. Sadly, old traditions die hard. This could be why as a vegan, I have faced an uphill battle in regards to relatives and family friends who want to stick with tradition. Yet, by being vegan, I hope to set an example and not be another statistic in the Filipino community.
The Opening of Nick’s Kitchen Is Promising
Because this Nick’s Kitchen opened in San Francisco’s Filipino cultural heritage district, I hope that a lot of Filipinos might become more plant-based and eventually become vegan. There is already a Nick’s in Daly City and South San Francisco. These areas seem to have sizable Filipino populations, especially Daly City and SoMa Pilipinas. Nick’s Kitchen shows that you can be vegan and still connect to your Filipino culture and roots. But even before Nick’s Kitchen, both my father and I have set examples, especially when my father cooks vegan versions of pancit and pork adobo. Therefore, Filipinos can become vegan without sacrificing their cultural identity.