Jun 5, 2010

Travelling Vegan- Malaysia

I spent this last week in Malaysia on vacation and thought to dedicate a note about food in Malaysia. The Malays love their sea food and it's a bit disturbing (and smelly) for a family for four vegetarians and one vegan.

En route it's almost impossible to get any vegan food. Most international airlines offer vegan food as an option while booking tickets. I was so excited last year when I got to tick that 'vegan' option. It only resulted in me staying practically hungry on a 16 hour flight with the air hostess telling me "...get your own food next time". They didn't even know what 'vegan' meant, confusing it with Jain food. The low cost airlines don't allow you to eat any other food except the ones they sell you on their flights. But who's going to stop you from eating on a flight if they don't have anything to offer you.

In Malaysia the vegetarian movement is alive and kicking thanks to the Indians and the Chinese Buddhists. If you're Indian and don't really want to go to another country and eat Indian food all over again, then the Chinese vegetarian restaurants can be a breather. They serve u some nice soups, salads, noodles, rice varieties and also lots of mock meat. But if you've been vegetarian and do not fancy the idea of eating even a 'fake chicken' then they are almost always happy to omit what you do not want. One good decision was that we took along some theplas. There are a whole lot of places to get good south Indian food with the huge south indian population there. We tried Annalakshmi which is run by the Temple of Fine Arts and they offer a vegetarian buffet. All the proceeds of this restaurant help them in running their organisation, you eat and pay as you wish and all the food is prepared and served by volunteers. We also sampled some Malay/ Chinese street food and they were nice enough to avoid the MSG, meat and eggs. There are many north Indian restaurants also one of which we tried along the Cenang Beach route. We ended up eating only oil i think at that meal.

It was easier to find food in supermarkets and alter menus in Kuala Lumpur. All the food in the super markets contain MSG (a.k.a Ajinomoto) and Aspartame. You really have to look at the

ingredients and buy. Thankfully in Malaysia I found the food labeling laws have forced the companies to list everything in their products, unlike in India where Lays gets away with 'No added MSG'. It helps that the people are friendly and accommodative to your needs. In Langkawi things got a little more difficult. It's difficult to find food to snack on specially for a vegan. It's best to snack on the awesome range of tropical fruit they offer like the Dragon Fruit (pictured on the right), Durians, Mangosteens, Rambutans (on the left), Papayas, Pineapples, Mangoes. I even found Jicama, a crispy sweet
root that is widely used in the South Americas. They also have lots of dried and preserved fruits and vegetables and also potato and yam chips. Malaysians also use many types of mushrooms, celery, broccolli, corn and many vegetables common to Indian cuisine.

It also helps to do a little bit of research and learn a few key words if you're going to a country that speaks another language and also many foods list their ingredients in Malay in English script. So you can read it but you need to know what it means. For instance Milk is Susu (Really! It was amusing at first to see the different flavours of susu available at the supermarkets) and Egg is Telur. Soy milk is easily available for those who need it, though not in as many flavours. Tofu, also called bean curd is also available though some varieties are called 'egg tofu' and contain eggs.

It's not hard to travel with diet restrictions and it's always nice to try new foods. Most people are rigid and only stick to eating what they know and recognize. I think it's time to change, in so many ways!

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