Mention Bicol food and laing, Bicol express and gata inevitably comes to mind. Perhaps it’s about time to include fresh vegetables in the list? With the success of Green Earth Café and the dedication of owners Peping and Nancy Obias, it may not be long before Bicolanos begin embracing a healthy vegetarian lifestyle.
It may still come as a surprise that a small café serving purely vegetarian meals have found its niche in the outskirts of Naga City. Green Earth Café serves the real McCoy too. No gluten or vegemeats, just fresh, simple, yet delicious vegetarian dishes.
Both with past careers in NGO work, Peping and Nancy decided to become vegetarians when Peping’s uric acid started bordering on dangerous levels. On the advice of their doctor friend, he removed meat, processed foods and sugar from his diet for a week. True enough, his uric levels returned to normal.
Through the years the family proved that food indeed has healing properties. On the other hand, they also realized that one’s body acquired diseases through food. “We may not have control over other factors that make us sick like air pollution or chemicals, but one thing we have control over is the food we put into our bodies,” explains Nancy.
Word of mouth
To come up with dishes that their own kids would like, Peping researched and experimented on vegetarian dishes. Eventually, family members and friends who tasted their meals at home started ordering their food. That’s when the idea of a opening a café came up. “People were really encouraging us to go for it. Nakakahiya naman daw at lagi na lang sila humihingi,” she laughs.
They constructed the café beside their home with the couple designing the place like a welcoming dining room surrounded by a garden. Wide windows let in fresh breezes and give a great view of the flowering plants which Nancy herself tends to.
The Obiases opened Green Earth Café on February 2006, coinciding with Peping’s 50th birthday. Peping mans the kitchen while Nancy is in charge of overall operations. They started out by first taking orders and opening the café by appointment only. “We’d get customers though who would come wanting to eat. And then they would bring friends, so by word of mouth, we were able to expand it into a fully-operational business.”
The menu is an eclectic mix of different cuisines. For starters, make sure you try their Nachos which is deep fried homemade tortilla with a choice of dips. There are also several choices of fresh salads with various dressings that include the Pako Salad and Camote Tops Salad.
The Burrito Special is a filling main meal in itself. While pasta dishes include Pasta ala Puttanesca, Pasta Pesto and Pad Thai.
Green Earth Café has likewise adapted local dishes and turned them into veggie meals. Nancy shares that their version of steamed vegetables is paired with a yummy bean based dip that substitutes for bagoong. They also have banana heart sisig, pancit with tokwa and the very interesting dinuguan that uses red beans and mushroom instead of meat.
While they already have a steady clientele, the Obiases still feel that they have a responsibility to share their knowledge of vegetarian cooking with others. Nancy laments that there is a wrong connotation that vegetarian and organic foods are only for the rich. “But it’s just gulay. You can simply gather pako ferns, okra and camote tops to come up with something nutritious,” she insists.
The Obiases see their business as a good strategy to reach more people. After drawing clients to their restaurant, they then organize follow-ups like health seminars and cooking classes. Aside from teaching how to prepare the dishes, they also explain the benefits of taking control of your health through the food that you eat.
Their passion for the lifestyle they’ve embraced extends to their restaurant business. “We want the place to be able to sustain itself financially so it can be a starting point for our advocacy activities. So you see, we don’t just exist for profit. It’s really an advocacy,” Nancy ends.
Green Earth Café is located at 3rd St. cor. Soriano Ave., Villa Sorabella, Naga City (475-5018)