Vegan Food, Glorious Vegan Food
After our month of island living where we truly embraced life in the slow lane we headed back to the mainland to make our way to Georgetown on the island of Penang in Malaysia… Up at the crack of dawn, we headed to the train station to get the early train from Hat Yai to Butterworth in Malaysia. I had bought some apples the day before and a few snacks from a cool health food shop we had found but nothing substantial as there is usually something to buy at the station – unless you are a vegan in Hat Yai at the crack of dawn and not in the market for fried chicken which was the only thing available.
Never fear, trains in this part of the world always have vendors hopping on an off with exciting looking food, we’d be ok with our apples and would pick up something on route across the border. This would have been an excellent plan except for the only person touting anything on this train was a man offering a money changing service, which we didn’t need as no matter how good money can be the bottom line is that you can’t eat it.
Hours later, slightly starved and driven mildly insane by a few fellow passengers who broke my golden rule of talking incessantly and noisily on a train right next to me for about 6 hours non-stop, we arrived in Butterworth to catch the ferry over to Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is every food lovers dream. I had arrived in food heaven and I was hungry.
Georgetown has a wonderful mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay communities all living side by side in an area that can be walked around in a day. The buildings are old, many restored beautifully since the World Heritage status was awarded in 2008 and there are no end of temples, churches and mosques in amongst the shops, houses and restaurants.
Heritage buildings in Georgetown
It’s an area that is bursting with life, people, art and culture and where there is this amount of stuff going on, there surely has to be good food to be found, so off we set to seek out some vegan goodies…first stop: Little India.
I love Southern Indian food which has so many naturally vegan options and includes one of my all time favourite foods, the dosa. My particular favourite is the masala dosa, a rice flour pancake filled with mashed up potato and served with sambar (lentil stew) and coconut chutney.
I think I could probably eat Southern Indian food every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. In our few days in Georgetown I ate my own weight in dosas, idly, vadai, uttapam and upma. We adopted Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Restaurant as our local and loved everything we sampled including these lovely Pani Puri:
As much as I love Indian food, I knew I had to venture out and see more of Georgetown than just Little India (as the name suggests it is actually quite little). We walked the hours away, sweating in the humidity and exploring the streets.
Walking down the beautifully restored Armenian Street, I found a cendol stall and a new food addiction was born. What’s not to love about a sweet snack made from coconut milk, red beans, pandan flavoured gelatinous rice ‘worms’ and palm sugar syrup, all served over shaved ice resulting in a kind of chilled, refreshing soupy bliss? And the best thing? They serve it all over South East Asia, each country and vendor having their own version so it’s sure to become a regular feature on the Vegan Food Quest as I begin a new search for the best cendol ever.
We spent an afternoon wandering around the Clan Jetties; a few small communities that live in wooden houses on jetties that were built when the first Chinese settlers arrived.
We got chatting to another visitor who had actually grown up on one of the jetties, leaving when she was 18 to move to England and were impressed with the strong sense of community that still exists today. She told us the a brief history of the jetties which are each name after the respective clan (family) that settled there, they have kept these names and until today the same families ancestors live on their own jetties.
Our newly adopted tour guide even pointed us in the direction of a lovely buddhist temple hidden at the end of one of the lesser known jetties.
Always on the hunt for a vegan snack, we found a very nice lady selling giant potato seaweed crackers and the sign proclaiming the use of organic brown sugar and no MSG almost defined them as healthy (which they weren’t but they were very tasty).
As we were in Malaysia, we sought out some veggie Malaysia fare and ate the tastiest mock chicken satay probably on the planet (wild claim which should probably not be taken too seriously, but it was very very good). Even though it was made from mock meat which I don’t like to eat too regularly as i’m just not sure how healthy it is, I wish they sold this everywhere!
By the time we left Penang, we were stuffed and exhausted from the cycle of eating and walking and eating again. I loved it there and even though this was the third time I’ve been over the years I’d happily go back again to be eat my way around town and do my best to find every vegan snack on the island.