Vanjo Merano has helped save a lot of marriages. He is not a marriage counselor dispensing relationship advice, but an avid home cook who advocates Filipino cuisine. Apparently—as confirmed by the commenters in his more than 2,000 videos on YouTube and Facebook—serving good food in your own home is really an act of love.
“I didn’t realize the valuable effects of my videos until I started receiving thank you notes from strangers—‘Thank you so much because you saved my marriage. My husband and I almost separated because I didn’t know how to cook. Now I can, and our relationship has never been better.’ These were isolated cases, but after a few weeks, I would get a similar message from another person. Then the following month, I would receive another one,” he remembers.
Of course, married people are not the only ones benefiting from Vanjo’s cooking videos, but also students and professionals living on their own, especially Filipinos working abroad. Seventy percent of his over two million subscribers are Filipinos from different parts of the world. “That’s the reason why I stick to the basics, because I want to help those who can’t cook,” Vanjo explains. “I leave the more complicated gourmet dishes to the chefs—there’s a lot of them on YouTube.”
More on Pinoy cooking:
Journey to YouTube stardom
Born and raised in Las Piñas City, Vanjo knew he had a place in the kitchen at the early age of 12, when his mom would request him to buy ingredients for their family’s meals. “If my mom tells me, buy ingredients for sinigang or menudo, automatically I know what to buy. Then I would watch her cook. Uy, madali lang pala! That’s how I started cooking,” shares Vanjo in a recent Knorr event launching the brand’s Nutrition Campaign.
He would also lend a hand in his mother’s catering business, where most of his training in cooking would come from. He would experiment on flavors and cooking techniques. “It would take so many tries—and epic fails—before I come up with a final recipe. That’s why I’m really proud of all my recipes.” These tried-and-tested formulas are the ones that people see on his website, YouTube channel, and Facebook account.
Panlasang Pinoy was born ten years ago, but it was only last February when Vanjo started vlogging full-time. He used to be an Information Technology professional, which was the reason why he and his family—he has four kids—decided to migrate to the U.S. in 2006. Vanjo is a huge fan of the Filipino way of cooking, and that’s the reason why he decided to put up Panlasang Pinoy. The lack of Filipino restaurants serving good food in Chicago motivated him even more to start a vlog that teaches Filipinos how to cook basic Pinoy fare.
“Besides my deep passion for cooking and my craving for the distinctive Filipino taste, I was motivated to shoot videos and create a food blog because I noticed Filipino cuisine is so underrated,” he wrote in his website. “I want Filipino food to be noticed, known, tasted, and enjoyed by the rest of the world.”
In recent years, however, the family man’s advocacy has expanded to include the importance of good nutrition. It is also for this reason that he was tapped by Knorr for its Nutrition Month campaign where Vanjo is to help spread the word out on the Future 50, a list of vegetables, grains, cereals, seeds, legumes and nuts from across the globe which can have a positive impact on both people and the environment. Some of these sustainably sourced ingredients are easily found in the Philippines such as moringa, okra, purple yam or ube, mungbean and bean sprouts.
At the Knorr press launch, Vanjo prepared Chicken and Pork Lumpia with Malunggay, and Tofu, Green Beans, and Pechay Stir Fry (Watch out for the recipes on his website and YouTube channel this August). Dressed in a crisp dark green shirt and beige slacks, he looks more like a boardroom hotshot who plays golf in the weekends than one who cooks for a living. His tone is gentle yet engaging, and he is generous when it comes to providing additional tips and answers.
Maintaining a vlog/blog is no joke. For Vanjo, it’s clearly not a hobby or a job, it’s a passion. “I create videos for my YouTube channel every day—literally every day. I create two to three videos because I also have a Facebook page that I need to maintain. All those videos have an accompanying recipe,” he says. He single-handedly maintains all his online platforms and does everything from formulating recipes to writing, shooting, and editing the videos. That was also the reason why he decided to do it full-time. “I don’t get tired of what I’m doing. I just wanted to do more,” he says with a smile.
You are Mr. Panlasang Pinoy. At home, though, do you cook other cuisines?
Yes. We cook a lot of Spanish and American dishes at home.
Any plans of doing another channel that will feature other cuisines?
My son Dave, 18, is following in my footsteps; he’s starting to vlog now. He does international dishes on his Facebook page. He’s a part-time cook in a Chinese restaurant; he does that while studying. He’s taking up Nursing. He used to be a cook at Panda Express, so he knows a lot of Chinese dishes.
What are your go-to Pinoy dishes at home?
My wife loves tinola. Sometimes I put a twist to it. I make it chicken mami—it’s also good! I add noodles, roasted garlic, and egg. Sometimes I make ginataang tinola—it’s not soupy, but rather cooked the way you cook gata dishes.
My two little kids Danica (7) and Danielle (4) like lumpiang shanghai—they’re very picky. They eat lumpia and menudo; with menudo, they like the potatoes. They also like fried chicken. But to make it healthier, we air-fry the chicken. I can’t do the same for lumpia though, the texture won’t be nice. So what we do is we add ground chicken and malunggay, chopped finely. We really try our best to hide the greens.
Judging from your early videos, you lost quite a lot of weight. You were—
Mataba! I used to weigh 230 pounds; it went down to 160.
How did you do it?
I tried the ketogenic diet for a few months just to keep the metabolism going, then I decided to stop and just eat healthy. I’m now into low carb diet. I get my carb from vegetables. I don’t eat rice that much, or I eat bread. I’m into different fruit shakes. I also started counting calories. I eat less at night, and I make sure that I take proper nutrition during the day.
Do you dabble into any kinds of sports?
Swimming and training at the gym. Sometimes, I play basketball. On a regular basis, I run 3 miles a day and swim for at least 30 minutes a day.
Aside from cooking, what are your other interests?
We just had our own garden—so I enjoy gardening with my wife. It helps relieve my stress. We make our backyard beautiful; we do some landscaping. We have flowering plants, perennials, annuals, a lot of greens because we’re in Chicago. We have pine trees, to give us some sort of privacy.
What was the last book you read?
I’m into audibles. I like business books and self-empowerment books. “The Compound Effect” is what I like most. That’s where I got the principle ‘If you want to change things, do it one step at a time.’ That’s how I do it. After a few years, the compound effect will happen.
What do you love doing during your down time—if you get any?
I go out to see nature. I go to parks with my family. We like quiet, serene places. Sometimes, we just grab a shake and talk. While walking, I get to plan my day and I also get to exercise. It takes the stress out.
What do wish to do more of?
We'd like to travel more this year. So far, we've been around the U.S., Canada, and the Philippines.