As a foodie, I eat all kinds of food — and that includes a lot of meat. But a diet full of meat may not be healthy or good for the environment.
I live in Singapore and usually eat hawker food every day, so my diet consists of meals with a lot of carbs like noodles and rice, vegetables, and different kinds of meat, from chicken to mutton.
While I try to maintain a balanced, non-vegetarian diet, there are many reasons to go vegan. According to an article by Harvard Medical School, a veggie-based diet can lower health risks like heart disease and cancer.
It’s also better for the environment — plant-based foods typically produce lower carbon emissions and require fewer resources to cultivate compared to animal products, per the United Nations Environment Programme.
Many vegans also refrain from eating meat because of ethical reasons: Animals don’t have to be slaughtered for food or suffer in the process.
After doing my research on the benefits of going vegan, I decided to try eating only plant-based meals for a day. I found an app called HappyCow, which helps vegan travelers find eateries all around the world.
HappyCow is the top paid app in the AppStore’s travel category in Singapore. It has a 4.8-star rating over almost 350 reviews and costs 5.98 Singapore dollars, or $3.99 to purchase. HappyCow was initially founded in 1999 as an online platform, and then eventually developed into a mobile app, Eric Brent, the founder of HappyCow, told me.
Brent said the app lists vegan and vegetarian eateries through curating restaurants submitted by users and businesses from around the world. The listings on the app are then moderated and researched by a team of in-house vegan editors, who decide if these eateries will be featured on the app.
“I became vegan back in the early ’90s and while being vegetarian wasn’t difficult back then, being vegan was very complicated. The options were often very limited, and it was a constant struggle to eat out,” Brent said. He added that the app is “the most updated, human moderated, directory of vegan/vegetarian restaurants available.”
I wanted to eat solely at vegan eateries, so it was helpful that the app differentiated between vegan and vegetarian options.
HappyCow was fairly easy to use. The best part was that I could filter and sort eateries based on how far they were from my location, what kind of cuisine they served, how expensive the meals were, and so on.
Looking at the map, I realized how much fewer the vegan options were compared to vegetarian ones. I’m not too picky when it comes to food, so I enjoy the convenience of walking into any restaurant or hawker center nearby.
But as I was on a mission to eat only vegan food, I found that I had to plan well ahead of time.
While many local hawker centers, or open-air food stalls, in Singapore usually have one or two vegetarian stalls, they are often not vegan as they sell dishes that include animal byproducts like eggs (which can still be eaten by lacto-ovo-vegetarians, but not vegans).
I also spotted a handful of other vegan food directory apps on the local AppStore. There’s Abillion, a Singapore-based app that lists vegan restaurants as well as curates vegan recipes. And there’s Plantastic, which is described as “Tinder for plant-based foods” that helps users find vegan meals nearby.
It was pretty easy to sift through the dining options from looking at the map. I spotted a brunch spot in central Singapore which served cafe food, and I figured that was where I’d be having my first vegan meal of the day.
Each restaurant on the app had useful information like its location, address, website, reviews from HappyCow users, and if reservations are required.
I headed to Loving Nature Fortunate Coffee Cafe for brunch. The cafe was small but had a cozy and inviting vibe.
Loving Nature Fortunate Coffee is a vegan cafe with outlets in countries across Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The store operates on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and has a five-star rating across nine reviews on HappyCow.
I met Delia Ng, a staff member at the cafe, who told me the Singapore outlet opened in September last year. Ng, who is a vegan herself, also said that her son inspired her to become vegan after being vegetarian for 20 years.
“We want to encourage people to love nature through food,” she said. “We don’t want to harm the animals.”
On the walls were writings that alluded to the vegan lifestyle, including a framed drawing that read: “Respecting the dignity of all life forms.”
The dumplings, which were made up of seven ingredients including shiitake and enoki mushrooms, were absolutely delicious.
The dumplings had an incredible meaty flavor thanks to the mushrooms. They went perfectly with the soy sauce and homemade sambal.
The strawberry milkshake was one of the best I’ve had. I especially enjoyed the light flavor of oat milk, which made the shake stand out from all the others that I’ve had.
Needless to say, the vegan brunch exceeded my expectations. It was filling, flavorful, and a great start to my vegan journey for the day.
My next stop was Ichigo Ichie, a co-working cafe owned by sushi chain Sakae Sushi. I was surprised to find that the establishment wasn’t exactly vegan, as was listed on the app, but just had plant-based options.
The cafe served Japanese cuisine and had a small menu of vegan food. It has a 4.5-star rating across six reviews on HappyCow.
The cafe was listed as fully vegan on the app, which wasn’t entirely accurate as patrons could order meat if they wanted to.
When I arrived at the cafe for lunch, there was barely anyone there. The cafe was connected directly to the sushi restaurant, and staff served diners at the cafe and those looking to eat sushi from the conveyor belt.
Patrons also had to pay a fee to dine at the cafe, which I thought was odd. It cost around SG$8 for an hour, and SG$6 for every extra hour, which meant dining there had an expensive surcharge.
Because there were meat-based options, I was tempted to order those over vegan food. I ended up ordering the vegetarian bento, which comprised of shimeji mushrooms, pumpkin croquettes, Japanese rice, and vegetarian salmon sashimi, for SG$14.50.
At first, ordering the vegan bento didn’t seem as bad as I thought it would be. It looked appetizing, with the food looking fresh and colorful.
I really enjoyed the sweet and savory flavors of the pumpkin croquette, but my favorite was the mushrooms in teriyaki sauce. The mushrooms had a delicious umami taste and paired well with the croquettes.
The vegetarian salmon sashimi was a let down — it had an uncannily similar texture to raw salmon meat, but it had no flavor.
I felt disappointed when I tried the vegan sashimi as it tasted nothing like salmon. It was closer to plain jelly, and honestly quite repulsive.
According to an ingredient list of vegan sashimi salmon sold online in Singapore, its main ingredients are water, resistant starch, trehalose, sorbitol, and konjac flour — which explains the jelly taste and texture.
Compared to real salmon, vegan salmon lacks omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, so it’s not as nutritious — or tasty — as the real thing, per an article by coffee brand Bulletproof, citing Emily Gonzalez, a naturopathic doctor.
Overall, lunch was fine but I was starting to miss the hearty, meaty meals that I typically had at a hawker center.
My last stop of the day was VeganBurg, a vegan restaurant that claims to be “the world’s first 100% plant-based burger joint.” It has chains in Singapore and San Francisco.
According to the chain’s website, VeganBurg was founded in 2010. It’s the top-rated restaurant in central Singapore on HappyCow, with a 4.5-star rating over 102 reviews.
The chain’s restaurant resembled most other fast casual eateries like Brotzeit, a burger joint that serves Bavarian food. It was located at the corner of a street in eastern Singapore and had a mid-range restaurant feel, with a small menu of food and drinks.
VeganBurg offers burgers, sides, and desserts that are all completely vegan.
I opted for the chili krab burger with seaweed fries and lemonade for SG$17.80. The burger is inspired by a popular dish in Singapore that comprises stir-fried crab smothered in a spicy tomato-based sauce.
The chain’s website doesn’t specify what exactly the plant-based patty is made of, but it tasted like a crossover between frozen fish fillet and surimi crab stick. The sauce fell short of my expectations as it was a little too sour for my liking, and it wasn’t as savory as the real thing.
The fries and lemonade were nothing special either; both tasted just like the ones I usually have at fast food chains.
While I looked forward to eating at VeganBurg the most, it ended up being my least favorite of the day and got me thinking of heading straight to a real burger joint.
After eating only vegan food for a day, I realized how hard it was to dine out and go meat-free. The options can be truly hit or miss, and I needed to be meticulous when planning where to eat — but at least I had HappyCow to help me in the process.
Eating vegan is truly a commitment. I found myself scouring the map on HappyCow for an hour, looking for restaurants that weren’t too far away from each other. While it made the process easier, at times the food wasn’t as good as I expected and my opinions ended up differing from the reviews on the app. It could have a lot to do with the fact that I’m not vegan, so I constantly compare the food to what I typically have at restaurants or hawker centers.
I learned that vegan food can be delicious — but oftentimes plant-based meats like the salmon sashimi and burger patty are nowhere near as tasty as actual vegetables.
Overall, eating vegan was much more challenging than I anticipated, and it takes more than just curiosity to really make the switch.