Vegan Papaitan

Vegan Papaitan (Vegan Bitter Soup)

While some of you now make and use preserved calamansi, we also know that others stay away from this salt-cured Philippine citrus because of its bitter quality. So I became particularly excited about making vegan papaitan, which can use the bitter taste of the preserved calamansi to its advantage, while drawing the sour element from it as well. 

Preserved calamansi in a bottle

What is papaitan?

I used to wonder about papaitan because years ago I kept seeing numerous taxis parked around a humble carinderia near our place serving it as its speciality. The place was always crowded and I took it as a sign that people enjoyed it. 

Originating from Northern Philippines, papaitan is a rich and deeply savory bitter soup (hence the word “pait” in its name) made of the innards of animals, such as goat or cow, and the bile from the liver, which gives it its trademark bitterness. The dish is also sour and spicy which, along with the bitterness, help cut the gaminess of the dish. 

Having foregone animal meat for more than two decades now and being vegan since 2017, I never had papaitan so I had to rely on my brother-in-law who liked the dish. While he approved of this version, note that this doesn’t have the gamey aftertaste of the original dish. Having said that, if you have family members who miss the dish, this can help satisfy some of their cravings. 

Things to remember

When using the preserved calamansi, remove only the seeds, and chop both peel and flesh to a pulp. 

The quantity of the preserved calamansi you will use depends on how aged it is. This recipe uses five pieces that have been curing for around a month. Adjust the quantity in this recipe as needed–and taste, taste, taste.

Use dried mushrooms, which have a deeper savory flavor compared to fresh ones, or a combination of both dried and fresh. Use at least two kinds of mushrooms to help mimic the variety in the original dish and make it visually appealing.

We used dried shiitake mushrooms and tenga ng daga for this recipe

Slice the fried tofu using a serrated knife so that it does not break apart or crumble. 

If you have your own recipe for vegan beef broth, feel free to use that instead of the mushroom soaking liquid that this recipe calls for. You can also use Vegemite/Marmite mixed with hot water. 

Plant-based foods such as soy and mushrooms can be safely tolerated by those who need to manage their uric acid. Just the same, if you’re serving this dish to someone with gout, make sure that the tofu and mushrooms are not triggers for them. 


  • 6 to 8 pieces of dried shitake mushrooms
  • 20 grams (around half a cup) of dried tengang daga (wood ear mushrooms)
  • 4 cups of hot water
  • 300 grams of firm tofu (around 4 square blocks)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 thumbs of ginger, minced
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 5 preserved calamansi (more if needed)
  • 2 siling pansigang (green finger chili), sliced thinly at a bias (more if needed)
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt (or vegan patis)
  • Ground black pepper


  1. Soak the mushrooms in 4 cups of hot water for at least 15 minutes. Once fully hydrated, squeeze the mushrooms to remove the liquid and cut the mushrooms into small pieces. Measure and set aside the soaking liquid. You will have around 2 cups. 
  2. While the mushrooms are soaking, prepare the tofu. Cut into slabs and fry until golden on both sides. When they are cool to the touch, cut the tofu into small cubes. Set aside. 
  3. Deseed the preserved calamansi and roughly chop to a pulp. 
  4. Heat oil over low in a deep frying pan or pot. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant. 
  5. Add mushrooms and saute until you see brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Deglaze the pan with the mushroom soaking liquid and add the tofu. Mix well.
  7. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. There should be enough broth for this soup, so if needed, top up with one cup of water (mixed with 1 Tbsp of vegan patis if available).
  8. Add the preserved calamansi and green chilis. Let simmer for 7 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the saltiness, heat, and sourness according to preference. Season with black pepper before serving.
Our Vegan Papaitan! Best served with hot rice with the broth on the side.

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3 thoughts on “Vegan Papaitan (Vegan Bitter Soup)

  1. Wow..will try it for sure..only the possibilities of getting Dried Mashrooms….will look for it….iam.a lover of papaitan dish……dj gopz

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