My two week long trip to Malaysia concluded recently. And the amount of suffering I have had to endure being a vegetarian in the hands of the fantastic country that Malaysia is, I thought I'd write a blog post about it. Just so the post doesn't get too long, I shall break this up into three (3) posts and I hope you find this helpful.
After about a month's planning, the Plus-One and I finally settled on a two week long trip to Malaysia. We decided to cover Penang, Langkawi, Genting Highlands and Kuala Lumpur. If you wish to get a brief idea of our costs for the whole trip of two weeks to the aforementioned places:
- Flight cost - approximately INR 10,000/- per head for the following legs:(a) Bangalore - Kochi - Kuala Lumpur - Kochi - Bangalore(b) Penang - Langkawi(c) Langkawi - Kuala Lumpur
- Stay - approximately INR 5,000/- per head
- We allocated approximately INR 25,000/- totally for food and drinks [I love food. I love food.]
- We allocated approximately INR 10,000/- for miscellaneous costs, say, renting vehicle(s), purchasing gift(s), liquor, etc.
What I didn't account for above is how not-so-friendly Malaysian food is for vegetarians. Might I add, picky vegetarians who do not even like the taste of egg. Here's some insight.
We took a train from KL Sentral, Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth (4 hour train ride), then a ferry (15-30 min) to Penang and walked down (15 min) to Kim Haus Loft. Quite a journey, I tell you. Took us about 5 hours to get to our accommodation from Kuala Lumpur and I really enjoyed every bit of it. Also, our accommodation for the next 4 days, Kim Haus Loft was excellent; I certainly intend to revisit Penang and stay at Kim Haus itself! Kim Haus Loft used to be a goldsmith shop before it was converted into a loft. The rooms are tiny, perfect and the space management that has gone into converting this place into a living space is just mind boggling.
As for the food, Penang is a coastal area, obviously known for its sea food. Apparently known to everyone else but yours truly. Naive that I was, the Plus-One and I walked into a local food market, sew all the fried food items on display and got excited. Point to note here, the Plus-One is open to experiment with anything; I on the other hand, get to be jealous of him, on good days. We eagerly walk toward one of the stalls where the staff promptly ask us if we are from India and upon knowing our whereabouts in India, we happily start conversing in Tamil [well, the Plus-One did a fantastic job of saying "Tamil illa, Tamil illa"]. That's when I thought I'd take a chance and asked him if even one item was vegetarian only to get a hearty laugh from him. So much for hunger pangs. FML, really. The Plus-One enjoyed seafood for a bit, turns out it ain't suitable to his taste buds. Lesson learnt: I saw the different kind of sea animals that exist on Earth! Well, used to. Because there in the market they were all dead. I'll try not to get morbid again in the post.
Let's talk coffee first.
- By far, the best black coffee in Malaysia is the "Kopi-O" coffee. In essence, it is a bag of coffee and sugar (a la tea bag, minus the sugar), dropped into hot water and served as black coffee. The. Absolute. Best. I had this on our train from KL Sentral, Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth. The first and last time I had it until I discovered point (2) below.
- By far, the best regular coffee (white coffee) in Malaysia is the "regular white coffee" at Old Town White Coffee. They're a cafe chain and serve something called 'Regular White Coffee'. Yes, they do have several variations, but I am a simple creature like that and stick to basics. The coffee is just the right blend with just the right flavour and smoothness. And the best part for me? The coffee is made strong with some yummy, creamy milk and sweetener.
Best places for vegetarian food in Penang, Malaysia, list of items I ate and how it was:
- The day we arrived at Georgetown, Penang, we headed to Chulia Court (so much for street food and cheap travel, eh?) for some late lunch. We opted for Spagghetio Aglio Olio with French Fries and beer (Skol and Royal Stout). While the spaghetti had quite of bit on inedible raw vegetables in it, the french fries were rather a saving grace. Skol beer is to Malaysia what Foster's is to India. Let's not even get to Royal Stout because I despise dark brews. Did I mention that the Royal stout was a warm beer?
- The next day (we passed out the whole evening and night), we headed to Wheeler's Coffee, Georgetown, Penang for some filling breakfast. My excitement couldn't be contained because they were playing my kind of music (oh, hey, mama, hey, mama!) and had exactly one (1) vegetarian option on their menu. The vegetable panini. This was an extremely yummy sandwich I tell you. The butter dripping all over the place along with the fat from the cheese adding that extra bit of creaminess, need I mention the exotic vegetables? Huff! Shall certainly return here, I know that for sure!
- For some dessert, we opted to head to the rather cute and small Rainforest Bakery. Since I got the option of picking dessert, without hesitation I opted for the chocolate eclair and felt a pang as I taok my first bite. Because it was not the fantastic explosion of cream and chocolate I had expected. It was more stale, cold and unwelcoming, really. The Plus-One is a gem, I tell you. He is not a person who likes to waste food and would happily eat just about anything without complaints. So, the Plus-One ended up wiping the plate clean on this disappointing eclair. At that point, I would have settled for Cadbury Eclair.
- After about half a day with no proper food for me (I believe I subsisted on fruits only) and in dire need of food, I dropped the facade for wanting local food and headed to Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant at Little India in Penang. Oh, boy, did I welcome the badly made Mysore masala dosa and filter coffee. Yes, it was an expensive affair, but I had gone practically one and a half days without proper food and I was really annoyed by that point.If I may digress a bit, even the local vegetarian food that we found there had this pungent flavour (perhaps from fish oil or fish sauce; please do correct me if I am mistaken) that I just could not stomach. Even the Plus-One had had enough of that flavour by the time we returned to India. This made it all the more difficult for me to find food because you mainly find Noodles or Rice there and every dish has this pungent flavour. There is no escape. None. Hence, the fruits!
- The next day, we lucked out. We decided to head for brunch instead of lunch and made it somewhere near Chinatown in Penang. Lo and behold, we witnessed a food festival in progress. Meats and vegetables of all shapes, sizes and flavours being mixed together with noodles and rice. When we reached the end of one of the stalls, we found something on the menu that baffled us. It was called "Indian noodles". Just to confirm, we found a serving staff and asked whether the "Indian noodles" was vegetarian. They confirmed it was. We ordered that and one other dish which turned out to be pho, with flat noodles, again, vegetarian.This "Indian noodles" was nothing but vermicelli-noodles, again with the pungent flavour, but in much less quantity. The pho, fortunately, did not have that flavour at all. While the Plus-One enjoyed a bit of both, I relished the pho. Did I mention the huge serving size? Ouch.We were also happily informed by the staff (once they came to know we were Indians) that this food festival had only vegetarian food. All the meat we saw earlier? Mock meat. And the day we went there was the last day of such festival. Though we didn't get to enquire into the festival or the happenings, I did find this link on the 'Nine Emperor Gods festival' that might be helpful for you.
- One fine late noon, the Plus-One and I decided to give a visit to L'amitie Cafe, right next to Wheeler's Coffee in Georgetown, Penang since even they were playing our kind of music. We decided to order a vegetarian pizza (yes, the only one vegetarian option on the menu, literally) and were disappointed that they didn't serve beer. What was served to us was beyond shocking. Out came a pie looking pizza with a one inch think layer of mozzarella cheese (do note that mozzarella turns cold quickly and also turns rubbery when cold), with a base layer of chilli sauce and vegetables. Though the intent of the staff there and the pizza was nice (-ish?), I was practically choking on the pizza and gave up after one and a half slices. The staff was disinterested in work. By staff I mean 4 teenage boys busy flirting with another teenage girl; my mistake, shouldn't have expected attention, really. Also, the service was terribly slow.
- For dessert after the above disastrous lunch, the Plus-One and I decided to try some Green Tea pastry at the Moustache Houze, right opposite Kim Haus Loft. The place is kept clean and tidy and seems to be regular of several people there. Although I found the pastry a bit stale, too creamy and having a bit, inexplicable sweet taste, the Plus-One seemed to enjoy it. Oh, well, to each his own. I do admire the concept of Green Tea pastry thought; I had never, ever heard of it until then. I think the people running Moustache Houze are rather inventive and I like that.
- I bit the dust and finally succumbed to the sweet, sweet beckoning of fresh bread, vegetables and sauces at Subway, Gurney Plaza, Penang. I really do not have much to add here since we're all aware of how Subway is. I ordered the Veggie Delight which cost me MYR 7.50, the bread was tasty, the cheese was okay, the vegetables were fresh and the sauces were lip smacking. Finding a Subway at Malaysia has to be every choosy vegetarian's dream come true, really.
- The Plus-One tried some coconut milkshake, called the Coconut Rio at The Milkshake Factory. I only had a sip of this because at that point of time, I was down with a bad bout of cold, but boy, oh, boy, that has to be one of the best milkshakes I've ever had. It was as thick as firmly formed curd, so full of flavour and the staff were an absolute delight to interact with! The milkshake was basically three scoops of ice cream, one full serving of coconut water with added white chocolate. I am eagerly awaiting their arrival in India. And my next trip to Penang will certainly include multiple trips to this store all hale and hearty to try out the motley of flavours they have to offer.
- While the Plus-One was enjoying his coconut milkshake, I had my first ever sip of the supposedly famous 'white coffee of Penang' at Old Town White Coffee. To start off, their serving size is huge for a 'small' order. Second, they add cream, milk and sweetened cream to the coffee that makes it so delicious that you will actual consider purchasing their mix only to realise that they sell only the coffee powder and not the entire mix. It is a shame I can't mimic their coffee. But my next trip to Penang certainly includes revisiting Old Town White Coffee for my piping hot morning cuppa. You should certainly try it too.
- On our way to Langkawi, we stopped by the Gemini Cafe at Penang Airport. We had two Pakistanis as our serving staff who were rejoicing at speaking Hindi with us. I ordered the Sardine on Toast, which was the only vegetarian option on the menu that I would have. But, I also made it very, very clear to the staff that I only and only wanted butter and veggies in my toast and nothing else. They fortunately agreed to stick to my exact instructions and thus ended our 4 days at Penang. While the sandwich was no great shakes, it certainly was filling.
Please do drop me an email at email@example.com if you have any additional questions, I will be more than happy to answer them all. Alternatively, you may drop a comment below and I shall respond to it. I profusely apologise for the long absence.
Thank you for reading!