To be honest, I knew almost nothing about Asia before my trip. Asian countries have always seemed too mysterious and even mysterious to me to try to unravel them. In general, it did not pull. That is why it was a complete surprise for me to go on vacation to Malaysia, to the island of Penang – a place that is the concentration of many Asian cultures. Before me, as well as before other vegetarians, the question arose of where and how to eat on this trip. From the corner of my ear, I heard that Penang is rightfully called a gastronomic paradise, and their street food is considered one of the best in the world. But is there a place in this paradise for one modest vegetarian? That’s what worried me.
To begin with, I will give below a little official information.
Penang Island (Pinang) located off the northwestern part of mainland Malaysia, with which it is connected by a bridge 13,5 km long. To get to the place, you need to travel a few hours by bus from the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, or you can take an hour flight by plane. I must say right away that the island is not particularly revered by tourists, but in vain!
I settled in the central city of Penang, George Town, which has over half a million inhabitants. At first glance, Georgetown did not make me very happy: strange smells, people sleeping right on the pavement, an open sewer all over the city – all this did not inspire optimism. I even survived a small earthquake (however, I overslept it, since it was at night).
Penang Island is, first of all, a place of mixing of many cultures. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Japanese, Chinese, Pakistanis – who is not here! You can start your journey from a Buddhist temple, then turn into a square with a Muslim mosque, and then accidentally stumble upon an Indian temple. With such a diversity of cultures, everyone lives together and respects the choice of everyone. Therefore, after a while, you also plunge into the atmosphere of universal friendliness and slowly “melt” in it, like a piece of cheese.
Now – facts related to the topic of our article.
1. I, as if spellbound, walked along a row of street food stalls – something boiled, hissed and fried in them, the dishes were washed right there, in basins on the floor, and the sellers themselves concentrated something cleaned, cut and immediately started prepare. Unfortunately, despite all this magic, it turned out to be almost impossible to find food for a vegetarian here.
2. You should not be afraid of the appearance of small restaurants scattered throughout the city. Malaysians don’t care too much about the environment and the glitz on the outside. A couple of plastic chairs, a shabby table and a small corner with a stove are enough – and the cafe is ready. Despite all the fears, the food here turned out to be really very tasty, and the decoration, unusual for a European look, was something that you can put up with. Probably the most popular local treat is various udons – a dish with noodles and various fillings. Udons can be ordered as a second course, or as a soup – a kind of mixture of first and second courses, and at the same time quite satisfying. However, be sure to ask what broth was used to make udon, otherwise there is a risk of accidentally tasting meat or fish stew.
3. Remember what I said about mixing cultures? So, in Georgetown there is an Indian quarter, which is called “Little India”. Getting there, it is really difficult to understand what mainland you are now on, because the local Indians have industriously turned this space into a small “branch” of their native places. For vegetarians, this is a real expanse! In Little India, there are also mixed restaurants, in which, I must say, I did not find something for myself the first time, and just vegetarian places. The locals pointed me to one of them – “WOODLANDS”, from where I then did not want to leave at all. The place is very clean and tidy, the food is unusually tasty, prepared according to traditional recipes (but you can always ask for “no spicy”), there are profitable business lunches, but even at normal times a big meal cost me an average of 12 to 20 ringit (about 150-300 rubles).
3. According to Peng, who works at the Buddhist Vegetarian Café No. 1 Cannon Street Galeri & Kafe”, in Georgetown, about 60% of the population are vegetarians. Mostly for religious reasons. The prices here are a little above average, but I discovered this restaurant for myself when I was looking for a little bit of the usual homemade food. They serve delicious soy burgers, spaghetti with mushroom sauce, and an unusual vegan ice cream made from black sesame seeds – I recommend it to everyone.
4. Also on the territory of Georgetown there are many traditional Chinese and Japanese restaurants of different ranks. If you want to feel the local flavor, look for Chinese street cafes where you can try a large number of dishes from different meat substitutes. If you want a little peace without sacrificing taste, go to some mall or a big restaurant. I was surprised to discover a cozy Japanese restaurant “Sakae sushi”, located in a large shopping center “1st Avenue Mall”. This is a mixed restaurant, but there are several interesting vegetarian dishes, the same udons, incredibly delicious deep-fried tofu, or, for example, extravagant rolls with mango and spicy kimchi cabbage. How do you like that?
What else is worth mentioning? O incredible snacks you can find here.
Fruit ice, which is prepared right in front of you in just a couple of minutes. First, a large ice “snowball” is formed, which is then soaked in any dressing of your choice. I chose orange.
Plenty of fresh fruit. Here you can find the most delicious mangoes, pineapples, green coconuts and other fresh exotic fruits. For example, durian is a fruit that is not even allowed in hotels, smells like dirty socks, but at the same time has such a magical taste that some call it the king.
Lots of inexpensive nuts. Here I first learned that dried beans can simply be eaten mixed with goji berries and various nuts. Cans of beans can be bought at any small shop, along with other nut mixes, which is very convenient during a long walk.
· I can’t help but say a few words about the local traditional drink – white coffee, which is advertised on posters in almost every street restaurant. In fact, this is a drink made from specially roasted coffee beans with the addition of – ta-daaa – condensed milk! But some dishonest merchants just stir up a 3-in-1 coffee bag for tourists (I myself fell for this bait several times). Nothing unusual, but for some reason they are very proud of him here.
Any trip can be made interesting and unforgettable. You just have to try to immerse yourself, “feel” the local environment, and still not be afraid of experiments, even if your fruits smell like dirty socks.