Eating Plant Based in Malaysia Part One – Detailed Images and Journal


Looking out at the Straits of Malacca, the waterway between Malaysia and Indonesia.

There is a restaurant in Penang’s Little India called Sri Ananda Bahwan.  If I had to pick one restaurant that I had to eat at every day of my life, it would be this one.  The flavors are so deep and so rich that you can’t even have conversation while you’re eating because you’re so engrossed and beautifully distracted by what’s happening in your mouth.

My lunch plate below is filled with rice, lentil dhal, tomato chutney, cauliflower manchurian (this is actually a Chinese dish that you can find at a lot of Southern Indian restaurants), eggplant and cabbage fry.  And, of course, a coconut because they quench you from the heat!

Little stalls like this, selling food on the street are super common in this part of the world.  This one had a dessert that was INSANELY good and unlike anything I’ve ever had.  See below.

This is a dessert called Putu Bambu (Malay word for bamboo).  It’s hard to explain the magic of it but it’s basically a tube shaped rice flour pancake that has been steamed inside of bamboo and served with shredded coconut and coconut sugar.  It’s so much fun to eat and it hit all the right spots.

This row of food stalls was a few blocks from our B&B.  We would wake up early every morning, before it got scorching fucking hot, Luanne and I would go to the fruit stall and get loads of fresh fruit and Luanne would go to another stall and order a noodle dish called Won Ton Mee.

We would sit at this table and eat our respective breakfasts while soaking up the smells, sounds, colors and sights of early morning Penang.

Me at the fruit stall.  I would buy bright red dragon fruit, sweet papaya, juicy pineapple and dripping mango.

Luanne’s Won Ton Mee and my dragon fruit.  Plant based eater and omnivore, happily having breakfast together. #happilycoexisting

One of my favorite things to do is to sit someplace I have never sat and be totally present in the moment, and simply observe.

No thinking, no analyzing, no trying to figure shit out.  Just witness.

The contrast of Penang.

Penang is known for their street art.  This is one of my favorites.

Okay, I need to talk about banana leaf for a hot second.

Banana leaf is not only a style of Southern Indian cuisine (one of my favorites), it’s also a style of eating. Instead of plates, food is served on actual banana leaves and traditionally, you eat it as they do in India, with your hands.

The servers (always men) come up to your table and start piling food on your leaf until you tell them to stop.  They will literally keep dishing you food until you say “stop, stop, stop” and make the “no more” motion with your hand.  You have to be assertive because the more they give you the more they will charge.  I told them only vegetarian food and they had me covered.  Southern Indian food doesn’t typically have cream like Northern Indian food so if you say vegetarian, it’s 99% going to be vegan.

The tofu in the middle of my leaf was unlike any tofu I have ever experienced.  I’m still dreaming of it.

When you’re done with your meal, you fold up your banana leaf and that’s how the servers know you’re done.  For me, a dining experience doesn’t get better than this.

Meet Sago Gula Melaka.  This little gem of a dessert is made from pandan leaf flavored tapioca (sago) and served with a side of fresh coconut milk and melted palm sugar (Gula Melaka).  The only sweetness is from the palm sugar so it’s not overly sweet.  It’s also like eating art.

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  1. Cynthia Flagg on June 16, 2018 at 9:28 am

    Fantastic post! What a wonderful trip. Your pictures and stories are incredible. I was expecially moved by your tribute to Anthony Bourdain. Loved him too!

  2. Kate on June 16, 2018 at 10:13 am

    I rarely stick with “travel pieces” usually because they’re unable to keep my attention but your blog post here is outstanding. It kept me focused the entire time, gobbling up the details, photos, and all those sensory feels (I could even feel the heat & humidity) 🙂 I love that you and Luanne are sharing your trip with us this way as I’ve never been to that part of the world and I’m not sure I ever will but now I feel like I can appreciate it so much more. I am SO looking forward to part 2!

  3. Bridget on June 16, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    What an experience that was… I thought for one moment that I was actually there… beautiful country and part of the world. It was really great of you to share such a lovely experience…its people like you that should be in tourism… great post and great picks…. thanks… thanks… thanks

  4. Suzanne Murphy on June 16, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Fantastic .. love the photos and the comments .. it has never been a place I have wanted to go to but you have almost made me want to travel there 🙂 just for the food alone!!

  5. Pamela on June 16, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    Great photos, really enjoyed reading all about your eating out & about, so pleased Luanne & you have had a great holiday, look forward to more of your adventures next week! Pamela ??

  6. Faye Langton on June 16, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    Malaysia is so good for vegan food. You look like you had a great time. When you kept saying you were in Asia I wondered what you meant. Asia is an area of the world, not a country. I am going to Vietnam next week for a whole month and was kind of hoping that was where you had been. I have Saigon covered though. They have a marvellous vegan network. I am so glad you had a lovely time.F

    • Luanne on June 16, 2018 at 10:10 pm

      We keep it generic in the email title because most people don’t know where it is nor are they able to point to it on a map so giving a general area is easier. I’ve had to explain where Malaysia so often that even when I say it’s between Singapore and Thailand, lots of people think there’s nothing there 🙂

    • Elyse on June 21, 2018 at 3:53 pm

      I just spent 12 days in Vietnam and was able to eat vegan beautifully. Hope you enjoy yourself!

  7. Tracy on June 16, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    Wonderful and inspiring travelog. I love food and I love color, and this captures both. Thank you for putting this together to share your trip with us.

  8. Liz on June 16, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing! Definitely want to add Malaysia to my list! I love your creativity when eating out, it inspires me to try it out more (my habit is to always pre-eat when I travel which means I miss out on trying a lot of local food). So sad about Anthony Bourdain, loved his energy and curiosity about food, life, culture, people. Such a shock. Looking forward to your next post!

  9. Vicky on June 16, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Awesome eats. That BED!!! Please post where you stayed. I’m going this winter ⛴⛴⛴ !!!!!!!!

    • Luanne Teoh on June 17, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      Hi Vicky, we stayed at Muntri Mews. It’s a heritage hotel where they have preserved the legacy of the British and local cultures from pre world war 2. Muntri Mews were horse stables and you can see it in the architecture. Our room was probably 2 horse stables combined 🙂

  10. Dani Enright on June 17, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing all that amazing food! Going to miss Anthony Bourdain, I always thought I was a weird vegan loving his shows, but I never felt offended – he was all hones and passionate about sharing food and cultures I couldn’t look away. Good to know I wasn’t his only plant based fan haha

  11. Michele on June 17, 2018 at 6:07 am

    I am hoping you wrote down some recipes. Love, love, love the flavors you describe.

  12. Liz on June 17, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Fantastic trip and photos!!!! Love your commentary too. Brings you right into the place and holds you throughout.
    Can’t wait for part 2!
    Sure hope some of these dishes make it to the meal plan!!!!!

  13. Lyndsey Hafer Williams on June 18, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    This was so deliciously tantalizing that I want to hop onto the next plane out! Wow!

  14. Christina on June 19, 2018 at 9:04 am

    Now that, was one wonderful journey (for me and you two)! I Googled “Malaysia” so I could follow you along – thank you so much for sharing the adventure!

  15. Susan Serpico on June 20, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventures (such a welcome break from the current horrific news cycle) – a reminder that there are simple pleasures and incredible food across the globe. You guys are great!

  16. Jo Lynn on June 20, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Hey Molly and Luanne, the answer is yes. You definitely did Penang justice! ?Thanks for shinning positive light to this amazing island I once called home. If one is creative amd adventurous, the world can be as plant-based as you want. ?
    P. S. Luanne can back me up with this. The real banana leaf place will usually charge only a flat rate per pax. You can ask for refill of however much rice and the standard veg dishes you want. Yeah, all you can eat, Indian style! ? Of course, it’s a respectful courtesy to take only what one can finish. I don’t recall any banana leaf places with penalty rule for the “food hoarders”. Street Food Rule #1 pace yourself. ? That definitely doesn’t apply to Malaysians!

    Hearts from Hanoi while enjoying veg Bahn Mi, steamed rice rolls, coconut coffee, rice paper spring rolls…

    • Luanne Teoh on June 24, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      Yeah it’s usually one flat rate, that’s true, except when you order extra dishes on the side….(which I do often) and mine usually cost much more than Molly’s 🙂

      Enjoy Hanoi. Let’s meet again somewhere on the globe soon!!

  17. Carla on June 25, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Where do you find good tempeh like the one pictured in Luann’s Sandwich? Since our return from Indonesia, nothing I can find is as good as that, but yours looks pretty tasty!

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on June 25, 2018 at 7:32 pm

      Hi Carla, Molly buys whatever organic tempeh is on sale. She’s found that it’s not so much the brand but how you cook it. She always steams her tempeh first and marinates it overnight. Hope that helps. ~Karen

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