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Is a vegetarian boodle fight possible?  

By BEA TRINIDAD, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 05, 2023 5:00 am

As the festive “’ ber months” roll around, it's undeniable that parties often revolve around meat dishes, with the golden-roasted lechon often taking center stage. For as long as I can recall, meat has dominated Filipino feasts, with vegetables merely playing a supporting role.

However, many of us are hit with a familiar guilt every January after indulging in these meat-heavy meals. We scramble to set health resolutions, vowing to make better dietary choices. According to a report by The Guardian, last year saw a staggering 600,000 individuals pledging for a #Veganuary worldwide. The growing demand for plant-based products is also undeniable on supermarket shelves.

But what if, this year, we stay moderate during the “’ ber months”? What if we introduce a vegetarian boodle to our festive table instead of the usual?

Over the last year, 32% of Australians have reduced their meat consumption. Lutong Lupa wants to do its part by promoting plant-based Filipino dining. 
Making vegetables the boodle’s main attraction

I met Joff Hernandez during his studies at CCA Manila. A fervent admirer of vegetarian dishes, he eventually moved to Melbourne post-graduation to work at Smith and Deli, helmed by the renowned Shannon Martinez, the poster chef for plant-based dining in Melbourne.

Chef Hernandez has joined the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, a popular foodie festival, and received a lot of publicity for his passion for Filipino plant-based dining. 

While in Melbourne, Joff ventured into pop-up, plant-based Filipino dining under the name Lutong Lupa. The pandemic-induced lockdowns became one big culinary experiment. He recalls, "It posed the challenge: how can I get through the day with just vegetables?"

His culinary experiments led him to reimagine classic dishes like the beloved sisig, using ingredients like mushrooms and tofu to replicate the texture and richness of pork.

But how did the concept of a vegetarian boodle fight become part of his side hustle? "It was a lucky accident," Joff shares. "A client asked me to prepare a boodle fight. Coincidentally, I chanced upon some banana leaves at an Asian market. It seemed like the perfect canvas for food at $12 to $14 a kilo." 

The concept of boodle fights traces back to the Philippine military. This communal dining experience, where a medley of dishes sits on banana leaves, is a symbol of camaraderie. Joff believes, "Boodle fights are more than just a gimmick. It's something we should take pride in as part of our culture. Some people would find it exotic. Just think of a person who eats fries, chips, pizza, or burgers with their hands."

His culinary experiments led him to reimagine classic dishes like the beloved sisig, using ingredients like mushrooms and tofu to replicate the texture and richness of pork.

Here are Joff's elements of the perfect, plant-based boodle: 

Appetizer: Fried food works well, such as dynamite, veg lumpia, and okoy

Sawsawan or pickles: Offer a variety like vinegar, mayo, and ketchup for dipping. Fermented and pickled fruits and vegetables counterbalance the savory flavors. Boost appetite with atcharas, pickled red onion, and hot sauces.

Vegetables: Drizzle steamed broccoli with inasal brown butter and garlic confit oil. Stir-fry Asian greens like gai lan and choy sum in coconut sauce or garlic salpicao.

Protein: Tofu is versatile—grill, roast, or fry it. Spice it up with adobo sauce or a kare-kare peanut blend.

Diced tofu and canned mushrooms are excellent for a vegetarian sisig.

Grilled mushroom skewers glazed with BBQ banana ketchup are trending. If you spot mock meat locally, give it a go. Seitan is also a fantastic meat substitute, perfect for marinating and grilling.

Carbohydrates: Joff's top picks include java fried rice or pansit bursting with fresh veggies.

Dessert: Don't forget kakanin, leche flan, market-fresh fruits, sorbetes, and fruit salads.


Sisig lettuce wraps

(Serves 3-4 pax)

Joff's signature dish is a unique twist on the classic sisig that replaces the pork with tofu and mushrooms. Here's how you can make it at home. 


  • 280g or 1 can mushrooms (straw/button)
  • 100g or 1/2 brown onion, diced
  • 25g or 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 100ml vinegar
  • 100ml soy sauce
  • 350g firm tofu, diced
  • 2 cups of oil for tofu-frying
  • 100ml oil for pan-frying
  • 1 head of lettuce
  • Optional toppings: Store-bought crispy shallots, pickled onions, spring onion


Dice tofu and pat dry. Heat oil in a pan to 160°C. Fry tofu until crispy and set aside.

Drain the mushrooms, pat dry, and dice. Pan-fry until the moisture evaporates and they become slightly toasted. Set aside.

Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sweat the onions and garlic in a pan. Add the crispy tofu and cooked mushrooms, increasing the heat to high. Use the soy sauce to deglaze and then reduce. Pour in the vinegar and further reduce. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and lime to taste.

Serve on top of a lettuce wrap. It also pairs wonderfully with rice or on a sizzling plate. Garnish with optional toppings as desired.


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