99% of this vegetarian restaurant's customers aren't vegetarian
Even carnivores are hooked on Wabi Sabi.
POS Building, Scout Mandriñan Street corner Tomas Morato Avenue, South Triangle, Quezon City
Open from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Tuesday to Thursday, Sunday), 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Friday to Saturday)
(SPOT.ph) There are three reasons why Wabi Sabi has been a favorite since it opened at The Collective in 2010: first, because the food is good; second, because everything is reasonably priced; and third, you forget that none of the dishes contain any meat. You could say that the food is so good, you forget you’re dining in a vegetarian restaurant.
Wabi Sabi opened a second branch in Scout Madriñan off Tomas Morato a year ago, and they’ve expanded their menu to include more dishes. Owner Ibarra Padolina explains that the additions to the menu were inspired by his trips to Japan and Vietnam. “Marami akong natutunan,” he says. “Mostly ang natutunan ko is ano 'yong ibig sabihin ng 'wabi sabi.'”
Wabi Sabi, QC
There's a bit more room compared to the Makati one.
Wabi Sabi will make you love vegetables.
"Wabi sabi" is a Japanese worldview centered on the acceptance and the finding of beauty in imperfection and impermanence. “Makikita mo it’s really ingrained in their culture kung bakit—kahit sila, mahirap i-describe kung ano 'yong meaning ng wabi sabi, but you see it there. You see it in their pottery, you see it in their food—kahit sa streets, it’s imperfect, it’s dirty—pero may order, may ganda. Iba 'yong ganda,” he adds. “It’s a philosophy, it’s a design aesthetic, it’s a way of life, a way of approaching things.”
Ibarra relies on his gut when it comes to figuring out what goes on the menu. “Mostly kung ano gusto kong kainin, nandoon sa menu,” he says. For example, he wanted rice, which led to Chahan (P75)—Japanese fried rice—appearing on the menu. The rice is umami-rich, the firm grains punctuated with crunchy edamame, meaty tofu skin, and salty nori. It pairs really well with the Veggie Unagi (P85), dried bean curd covered in nori and served with unagi sauce.
Those looking for something light in terms of flavor can go for the Summer Rolls (P85)—rice paper, basil, fresh vegetables. “Something fresh para 'di naman lahat fried,” Ibarra says.
The Okonomigyoza (P80), a three-way between gyoza, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki, is a delicious appetizer. Imagine your regular Japanese dumpling topped with mayonnaise, okonomi sauce, bonito flakes, and nori. It’s one of those dishes that is so delicious yet deceptively simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it before.
Mission Street Dumplings
The Mission Street Dumplings (P80) is Ibarra’s homage to Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco. “Kasi very experimental 'yong restaurant na 'yon, 'di ba? Chinese restaurant pero may burrito, may tacos, tapos yung itsura ng place, parang normal na Chinese restaurant pero what they serve, ibang level,” he says. Ibarra’s dish involves steamed dumplings swimming in a sweet, vinegary sauce topped with cucumber, cilantro, roasted peanuts, and sesame seeds. The sauce is a refreshingly tart foil to the dumpling’s savoriness. It’s a casual, yet sophisticated dish.
Sweet Corn and Cream Cheese Tempura
The Sweet Corn and Cream Cheese Tempura (P90) sounds odd at first, but is quite addictive. Ibarra discovered this dish in Osaka. “I think now they eat differently sa Japan. They don’t use tempura sauce. It’s salt and lemon. Ganoon 'yong sweet corn and cream cheese tempura doon,” he says. The tempura goes well with Vietnamese Coffee (P75/hot or iced). “'Yon din 'yong bago, may Vietnamese coffee ako. Traditional style lang. I try to make it as authentic as possible, pero vegetarian. 'Yon 'yong gusto, wala masyadong experimentation pero as classic, as authentic as possible.”
The Tantanmen (P190)—sesame paste noodles—is a bestseller. Ibarra makes the sauce from scratch, using sesame seeds instead of traditional peanuts. It is quite the umami bomb, sweetish-rich, and filling. If sour is your thing, go for the Tom Yum Noodles (P180), which lie on the opposite end of the flavor spectrum.
There are still the old standbys of course. The Shoyu Ramen (P130) and the Viet Pho (P130) have their fans, as does the Banh Mi (P170/whole, P70/half). The Kuapao (P65) is also a hearty sandwich, its tofu filling more straightforward than the its Vietnamese counterpart, but also sweeter, softer.
Ibarra relies on local suppliers as much as he can. And by local, he doesn’t just mean within the country, he means within the city. “'Yong bahn mi ko, 'yong bread ko, 'yong gumagawa, taga Palawan. Hindi siya Vietnamese pero trained siya ng Vietnamese. Quezon City-based. I try to be as local as possible. Gusto ko sana na magkaiba 'yong bread ko dito tsaka sa Makati. May local (baker) din ako doon,” he says.
Not all of the ingredients can be local, of course. “You need Japanese seasonings and flavors, lalo na 'yong soy sauce, ibang mga soy sauce nila, talagang artisanal. Masarap, eh. 'Di ka makaka-local with that pero syempre, 'yong vegetables are local.”
Ibarra plans to keep slowly expanding Wabi Sabi’s menu. “More noodles, salad. Kasi 'yong gusto ko sa Wabi Sabi, para siyang izakaya…small portions na affordable, pero you can eat a lot.”
There's more to Wabi Sabi than food. It’s kind of a punk sensibility that mirrors the excellent music that plays in the restaurant. “'Yong approach ko sa pagiging vegetarian, you have to enjoy the food kasi it’s not just about health, it’s about how you present the food, how you prepare it. 'Yong taste, 'yong ganda, 'yong amoy, pati 'yong bowl na hawak mo, lahat yun, kasama. And 'yong desire ko na gusto maging as authentic as possible, using right ingredients,” Ibarra says. “In a way, mahirap i-describe. Weird kasi authentic, pero vegetarian, tapos street food pero vegetarian, parang paradox. Pero 'yon din 'yong essence ng wabi sabi.”
Photos by Sandra Dans