I’m not going to lie. I’ve been having trouble with the food since I got to Malaysia. While I now find being vegetarian really easy at home, travelling with a dietary requirement is a whole new ball game. Especially if you’re attempting to travel on a budget. For most backpackers the best option is often street food. Street food is cheap, it’s quick and usually it tastes pretty good. Most street hawkers have been cooking the same food for years. So they have their dish pretty much perfected. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many vegetarian food stalls. My diet since I started travelling has been very instant noodle heavy. I know, not very healthy. But it’s budget friendly. So far I’ve found myself spending between 15 and 35 ringgit if I want a decent meal. Which makes it a little annoying to then see my hostel mates scoffing down their satisfying RM3-6 hawker meals. They have it so easy. There are benefits to being vegetarian though. I haven’t been sick at all. The last time I was in South East Asia, when I still ate meat, I came down with bali belly. Not this time though. I’ve been in Asia a month and I haven’t had any problems at all. Most of the time people get food poisoning off bad meat. I don’t have to worry about that.
So after three weeks of sub par food you can bet I was excited about heading to Palau Penang. It has a pretty big reputation to live up to. Georgetown is often praised as the food capital for Malaysia. So, as you can imagine, I had pretty high expectations. I haven’t been disappointed. There are vegetarian restaurants everywhere and even non-vegetarian restaurants usually have something on their menu that I can have. I love this town!
I’ve really come to love Indian food over my time in Malaysia. It’s complex, it’s hearty, it’s (mostly) healthy and it’s very vegetarian friendly. I had never really eaten much of it at home and I can’t understand why. That’s something that will be changing when I finally do make it home. I tried out a few different Indian restaurants in town. I decided on Woodlands Vegetarian in Little India for my first proper meal in Georgetown after reading Vegan Food Quest‘s Penang post. So with that glowing review it seemed like a logical place to begin my Penang food pilgrimage. I ordered at random. It’s so nice to be able to go into a restaurant and be able to have anything off the menu! It wasn’t long before my Bombay Thali and corn soup arrived. I was a little bit nervous about making a fool of myself in front of the other diners. I wasn’t sure how to eat what was in front of me. I decided to just dive in and try a little bit of everything. Before long I had cleaned the platter. I’m not entirely sure what I was eating but, it sure did taste good!
Down the road from Woodlands, on the main street of Little India, you’ll find some hawker stalls. One in particular sells samosas and other assorted fried Indian delights. Quite a few of them are vegan so I decided to try a couple of vegetable samosas and a couple of the banana balls. Added bonus, the veggie options are cheaper than the meat versions, 50 sen per piece. And they’re filling enough that you can make a meal out of them for about a dollar. Somehow being so cheap just makes them taste so much better! My favourite restaurant in Georgetown is The Danish Briyani House on Lebuh Chulia. It’s another Indian restaurant but they make the best naan I’ve ever had. I could seriously just eat a couple of serves of naan and nothing else for a whole meal. I hope I get a chance to go back there someday because I’m craving that naan again already. I ate there 3 times in 5 days because of that bread!
There is a stall on Penang road that is famous for it’s Cendul. Cendul is an interesting dessert made with coconut milk, palm sugar, shaved ice and green rice flour noodles. It’s not the most appetising thing to look at but it actually tastes pretty good and it’s fun to watch the stallholders serving up dish after dish to waiting patrons. I honestly think they could do it in their sleep; they are so well practiced and quick at serving it. This is the other good thing about street food. It’s more fun. I was also keen to try out some of the faux meats that are meant to be so good here. So on my way back from applying for my visa for Thailand I stopped at Ee Beng Vegetarian Buffet. It’s a self-serve deal. Fill up your plate, take it to the cashier and they calculate how much you need to pay. I filled up my plate with a little bit of everything and it still only came to RM8.50! They had quite a variety of fake meat and vegetable dishes to choose from. Nothing was labeled though so I just grabbed what looked good. There were even ‘chicken’ drumsticks, which upon taking a bite you find a popsicle-stick ‘bone’. I really enjoyed the food there and I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to go back a second time.
Another good spot was the Red Food Garden and Night Market. There weren’t a whole lot of veg options in there but there was one very enthusiastic stall holder touting his “Famous Vegetarian Spring Rolls”. They weren’t cheap at RM15 a plate but they sure were tasty! And you get 10 of them so they make a meal on their own. I was advised to try wrapping the lettuce around the spring roll before dipping it in the sauce. It did add another dimension to the meal but they were just as good without it. The sweet chilli sauce they came with was actually really good too and it really complemented the spring rolls. I splurged a lot on food while I was in Penang. How could I resist?
I think I even managed to put back on a couple of the kilos I had lost since I began travelling while I was in Georgetown. I didn’t worry about my budget while I was there. I came here to eat good food and that’s what I did. Buying cup noodles seemed practically blasphemous in the food capital of South East Asia so I ate out for every meal. I also became addicted to fresh fruit juices from the street vendors. They serve them up in little bags on a string and they have a lot of different fruits to choose from. I was having up to three per day!
I’m going to miss the easiness of eating in Penang. It really is one of the best places for vegetarians to travel.