Photos by Aia Arkoncel, MINT MMA, 4th year

“What do you mean this isn’t meat?!”

A MINT student had just tried fried “chick-un” (pun intended) balls served from VegetaBowl, one of the attractions during the recently concluded MINT Multimedia Arts (MMA) Week last January 22-24. Aia Arkoncel, MINT MMA senior, is the founder of this vegan food business that had sold out on all three days.

Vegan food hasn’t always sounded appetizing, but Aia, a practicing a vegan for almost two years now, seems to have unlocked a secret to make people reconsider.

“It hasn’t been the easiest, and I still have days wherein I give in to cravings, but every day is a new day and I always go back to my vegan comfort dishes whenever I feel that I’m slipping,” she said. “Those dishes are now what we sell as VegetaBowls.”

The name VegetaBowl  “initially came up as a pun on selling vegetables in bowls. But after some time, [VegetaBowl] stuck, and it made the most sense to us. It captured our essence of being a comfort food-kind [of stall], so we roll with it,” she explained.

VegetaBowl’s menu was designed to complement the people’s taste for carbs, which is rice and noodles, as she was pushing for the idea of a ‘comfort food’. Their bowls reminded their customers of something familiar, but with a surprising vegan twist.

The MINT MMA Week was her first official run as a food business owner. She said she was surprised at the warm response of the MINT crowd to her dishes each day. “Usually people never take a second look at food when it’s labelled vegan or vegetarian, but I was glad that people loved our food just for what it is,” she said.

For three days, she brought in 30 bowls of three dishes she chose to sell during the MMA Week. A crowd favorite was the “Fried Chick-un Balls” made of jackfruit. “This was the dish I wasn’t sure was going to sell because people usually never eat jackfruit on a regular basis, so it was a surprise that this ended up being the best-seller,” she said.  It was paired with well-seasoned mushroom fried rice, and a miso mushroom sauce completed the dish.

Her other dishes consisted mainly of  tofu, stir-fried vegetables, and mushrooms. Another stand out dish is her vegan quesadilla.  

She shared that the recipe was her family’s own. The filling was still jackfruit. It’s simple, it’s good, and it hits the spot just right if they crave for a quick and filling snack. “It’s filled with the same sauce from our Tomato Pesto Pasta, just with extra mushrooms, jackfruit, and vegan cheese,” she added.

For her, venturing into this kind of business was an easy feat. Not just by her efforts alone, but also with the support from her father, Ronald, and her carer, Melody. Her father helps her with the finances, while Melody helps her improve their menu. Aia handles the overall system and branding of her business. She shared that she “grew up in a home where cooking for people is a language of love.” She built this food booth on the idea of giving people the option of choosing good, healthier, and affordable meals.

“We want to eat good hearty meals, just without the meat. But those meals aren’t as readily available and accessible, so hopefully, by making VegetaBowls as an option to the growing market of people trying to eat healthier, we can bridge that gap even just a little bit,” she said. W