Last week I gave you part one of our recent trip to Malaysia, where we explored Penang in all of its colorful, flavorful, rich glory. This week I’m taking you on the second part of our trip, where we spend the remainder of our time in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
Now, before I move on, I need to set some expectations.
I’ll start by telling you that when I met Luanne and she told me she was from Malaysia, I drew a blank. I had no idea where that was. I knew where Thailand was and I was pretty sure that Singapore was south of Thailand but until I looked on a map, I didn’t know that Malaysia was sandwiched between the two.
Here’s the other thing. Before traveling to Malaysia with Luanne for the first time in 2009, I did zero research on the place. I figured that she had spent most of her life there so she was going to show me the ropes and I would be in good hands without having to do any research. This was fine and she did show me the ropes.
HOWEVER, the image of Malaysia that I had in my head did not match the reality I was greeted with when we arrived. The best way to describe this is with pictures.
So now that your expectations are set, let’s head to Kuala Lumpur.
Below is a pear that I ate at the train station in Penang at 4am, the morning of our departure. I stocked up on fruit the day before we left since I knew we had an early train to catch. I can’t stress enough the importance of being prepared when it comes to plant based eating on the go. And it doesn’t have to be fancy or time consuming. If all you can find is fruit, then pack fruit and enjoy!
Yup, we’re the dorks who pack our own plant milk and then enthusiastically take pictures of it. #owningit
Soy milk, check. Cereal, check. Empty cup, check. Fruit, check.
BAM breakfast on the train is served.
Sunrise from the train.
Big family-style dinners are a huge thing here. You sit at a big round table with your group (usually about 10 people) and 7 – 10 different dishes are brought out and arranged on a Lazy Susan (big plate that sets on a table and spins so you can get food without having to stand up and reach for it). One person typically calls ahead and orders all the dishes a day in advance so the restaurant can time it to have your dinner ready by the time everyone is seated.
Everyone shares all the dishes and has a great time visiting and eating (unless you’re introverted and plant based like me, in which case you eat a couple of the dishes that were ordered special for you and you put on your big girl panties and try your very best to make conversation with a group of people without coming off as an awkward weirdo. Sometimes I nail it, sometimes I don’t).
Here is a dish at one such dinner. These are steamed greens in a light broth / sauce with garlic and chili on the side.
This dish is called Yam Basket and it’s one of my faves. It’s steamed yam in a circular crust and then filled with veggies and ginko nuts. It usually comes with chicken in the filling but I always request a version without the chicken.
One day we stumbled upon a health food store that had a little plant based cafe attached to it. The cafe served yummy food and they had carrot juice the day we were there.
Let’s talk about the dessert below because we NEED to talk about it. First of all, it’s the only thing that I eat in Malaysia that I know for a fact isn’t vegan.
Here’s the deal. Sometimes you ask the waiter if something is vegetarian without dairy or egg (because the word “vegan” or “plant based” isn’t common yet) and they say yes, but they don’t look totally confidant in their “yes”. Their “yes” is more of a question than an answer. But you’re hungry, you’re with a bunch of people and you don’t want to be an ass so you take their “yes?” and, in your brain, you turn it into a “YES!”. Then you order your food and you don’t think about it again. That’s sometimes been my experience anyway.
So about this dessert.
This dessert has eggs. I know it has eggs. And I eat it anyway.
It’s a thin crepe, flavored with a plant called pandan. Pandan is unlike anything else I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. If coconut and vanilla had a baby, it would be pandan.
So you have the thin pandan flavored crepe, and rolled up inside is toasted coconut and palm sugar. It’s simple. It’s delightful. I happily eat it every time I go back. Luanne also loves it, hence the dance in the background.
Eating out is a BIG thing in Malaysia. I would say 7 meals out of 10 are eaten out and every meal is with a different set of friends or family. When we didn’t eat out I had simple meals. Here’s some cereal and mango and toast with almond chia butter. I found unsweetened soy milk, almond butter, sprouted bread and cereal without a ton of sugar at a local supermarket called Jaya Grocer.
Remember how I told you last week that eating in Malaysia is a national sport? I wasn’t kidding. “How are you, have you eaten?” is a common greeting instead of “Hello, how are you?”. If you haven’t eaten, you will promptly be offered food or invited to grab a bite.
People here bond over food, it’s what brings them together. No matter what you’re going through or the differences you might have with someone, when you sit down for a meal, complicated life stuff can be put aside, and the love of food is front and center, reminding everyone at the table that we’re human, doing the best we can, while enjoying every bite and savoring the moment. This is one of the things that made me fall hard for Southeast Asia. There is common love that everyone can relate to, making the culture connected in a way that you don’t see in other parts of the world.
I never understood why Luanne didn’t like eating alone, until I visited Malaysia. People here don’t eat alone. It just doesn’t happen. Eating is a social thing, not a solo activity.
Here we are at a vegetarian restaurant with Luanne’s aunt, cousin and mom, nomming away on yummy food. Noodles, okra in chili sauce, stir fried bok choy in mushroom sauce and clay pot rice. Just a light lunch on the go, connecting and sharing our love of good food.
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