‘Nasi Lemak’ is Malaysia’s national dish and it’s eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Translated ‘nasi lemak’ means ‘fatty rice’, not an appetising name, but it comes from the rice in this dish which is soaked in coconut milk before being steamed (and anyone who’s tried it will tell you it’s delicious!). The vegan version consists of rice, fried peanuts, cucumber, spicy tomato and chilli ‘sambal’ (tomatoes and chillies cooked and pounded together to make a spicy condiment) and vegetable side dishes or curries. Vegan variations can mainly be found in specialist restaurants but we also found a hawker stall in Malaka that did a vegan version and street vendors who were happy to just sell us the vegan parts of the dish without the animal products.
Vegan Food Quest favourite places for Nasi Lemak? Simple Life in Kuala Lumpur and Yummy Garden, our favourite food court in Malaysia (Jalan Ujong Pasir, Melaka).
Another dish found everywhere in Malaysia is ‘Nasi Campur’ (pronounced ‘nasi champur’), which translated means ‘mixed rice’, nasi campur restaurants are everywhere and the food on offer is displayed ‘buffet style’ where you can see and select what you want. You just have a look at what’s on offer, request steamed rice and either help yourself to dishes or someone will do it for you. You pay for what you eat and the vegan options are often the cheapest which makes it a great budget option.
Vegan Food Quest favourite place for Nasi Campur? Restoran Syed Ali (a 24 hour restaurant in Mersing, the jump off town for Tioman island).
No cuisine guide about Malaysia would be complete without mentioning laksa, a spicy noodle soup with ‘tofu puffs’ floating around. We had to find a vegetarian restaurant in order to get a vegan version of this in Malaysia and when we tasted it we were hooked. It’s one of those dishes with many regional varieties and secret recipes that have been handed down through generations so it often tastes different depending on where you eat it. The best we tried was tangy, sour, creamy, rich and spicy hot with chillies all at the same time, with hearty noodles and little tofu sponges soaking up the delicious soup, sometimes there’s even a few sprigs of fresh mint in there. Vegan Laksa really is vegan food from the gods.
‘Tahu Sumbat’ means ‘stuffed tofu’ and is a tasty little street food that you’ll find if you wander around markets and food courts; it’s made from fried tofu cubes which are then sliced open and stuffed with sliced cucumber and bean sprouts then drizzled with spicy chilli sauce.
Vegan Food Quest favourite place for ‘Tahu Sumbat’? our favourite food court in Malaysia called Yummy Garden Food Court, Jalan Ujong Pasir, Melaka.
It’s fair to say that when in Malaysia, we’ve eaten some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had, thanks to the well established Indian communities that can be found in places like Georgetown in Penang, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur. They all have ‘Little India’ areas of town where you can go and seek out a great vegan meal.
Banana Leaf Curries
Anywhere serving good ‘Banana Leaf Curries’ where you can get a banana leaf piled high with steamed rice, dhal and vegetable curries as well as poppadum and cucumber salad is to be cherished in our book.
Vegan Food Quest go to place for a banana leaf curry? Selvam Restoran in Melaka.
Dosas are light, crispy pancakes made from fermented rice flour, filled with a spiced semi-mashed potato filling, served with sambar (lentil stew) and coconut chutney. Eat them morning, noon and night and don’t be shy with that delicious coconut chutney, spiced with curry leaves and mustard seeds. We could happily eat a masala dosa every day for the rest of our lives and never get bored of them.
Parippu vadai are deep fried lentil cakes spiced with curry leaves, chilli and other spices. A popular Indian snack food often sold on the street, it’s common to find these vegan treats in Malaysia too (and common to find us stuffing our faces full of them if we see them).
Vegan Food Quest favourite place to score some parippu vadai? Just wander around Little India in Georgetown, Penang or Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur or go to Selvam Restoran in Melaka.
Popiah are spring rolls (either fried) or fresh, wrapped in a wheat flour pancake; it’s amazing to watch people making the fresh popiah ‘skins’. They are one of our favourite snacks and easily made vegan because you can see what’s being put in them and ask for any of the non-vegan ingredients to be left out (usualy egg, shrimp or meat or even lard, but also check any sauces that are added). The tastiest we had were filled with chilli sauce, hoisin sauce, lettuce, tofu, minced garlic, bean sprouts and stewed jicama (a delicious sweet turnip, but do check it hasn’t been cooked in any animal fat).
Vegan Food Quest favourite popiah? You’ll have to get off the beaten track and go to the local night market in Ujong Pasir, Melaka to find Baba Charlie Nyonya Kuih.
Most places where there is a Chinese-Malay Buddhist population have an all vegan restaurant serving up mock meat versions of local dishes. You can find meat-free versions of Malaysian cuisine made with mock meat and tofu in abundance, as well as lots of spiced vegetable dishes, rice and noodles. No need to worry about any meat here and they’re usually really cheap too.
Vegan Food Quest favourite mock meat restaurant? Fu Guang Vegetarian Restaurant in the Cameron Highlands.
‘Ondeh-Ondeh’ are little glutinous rice flour dumplings filled with ‘gula Melaka’, a dark palm sugar that turns into a delicious, runny treacle when the dumplings are cooked. After the dumplings are boiled in water, they are rolled in fresh coconut, all ready for you to pop into your mouth and wait for the explosion of warm treacly sweetness. Slightly chewy on the outside with an explosion of runny, treacly like paln sugar in the middle; we can’t resist eating ondeh-ondeh when we find them.
Vegan Food Quest favourite place for ondeh-ondeh? Baba Charlie Nyona Kuih at the night market in Ujong Pasir are the best but wander around Jonker Street market and you’ll find them too (although more expensive and not quite as good as Baba Charlie’s).
Fried food is never too far away from us here at the Vegan Food Quest and ‘Goreng Pisang’, or deep fried banana fritters often find their way to our mouths when we’re in Malaysia. Made with a batter of flour and water, these little fritters are really crunchy on the outside with sweet, soft banana on the inside. It’s great to watch them being cooked in huge vats and then eating them straight away when they are hot!
Another national obsession (just who does serve the best cendol in Malaysia?) ‘Cendol’ (pronounced ‘chen-dol’) is made from stewed, sweetened kidney beans, pandan flavoured glutinous rice noodles, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup which is all served over shaved ice, it has to be eaten to be believed and is seriously delicious.
Vegan Food Quest favourite place to get cendol? oooh I’ts a tough one! There’s a little cafe at 2 Lebuh Armenian opposite the famous ‘kids on bicycle street art’, we loved the cendol here and it was a great place to watch the world go by.