We had just set foot in Malaysia when I declared Georgeown to possibly be the most exciting place I have ever been to. A melting pot of cultures, Georgetown is like Europe, Asia, India and Islam all wrapped up in a neat little bundle adorned with incredible street art; a wonder for all the senses.
The eclectic crowd of Malays and tourist-fraught trishaws roam the streets past colonial buildings, old Chinese shophouses, mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples and churches, dodging the traffic in seemingly perfect symbiosis.
Wafts of spices and sandalwood fill the air as we stroll through Little India amidst the boisterous Bollywood music blaring out of the shops’ loudspeakers. At night, Chulia Street comes to life with its famous evening hawker food stalls, swelling up with famished backpackers, but I head straight for the durian stall to have my first taste of Penang’s own red prawn cultivar. As the haunting call to prayer resonates in the sunset sky, Richard watches me in disgust while I ‘ooohhh’ and ‘aaahhh’ at the creamy flesh coating my tongue like cool butterscotch-like custard.
I realize how much of a treat I am in for, as we are next heading to the west side of the island to sample durian fresh from the tree at an organic orchard. Penang is shaping up to be good.
Favorite places for a vegan grub in Georgetown
1. The durian stall at the corner of Carnavon and Chulia Street
I have been eating durian as a meal once a day since Koh Phangan and going strong! This guy always had fresh durian and red prawn on occasion, and at a decent price. There isn’t really anywhere to sit, but isn’t that part of the experience, stand and eat your durian in the middle of the road and have Asians point and giggle at you as they take your photo? Grab a coconut from the dude next door while you’re there. My favourite meal at the moment.
2. Vegetarian life style
Very clean neon-lit cafeteria-style Chinese restaurant. They serve a mostly vegan menu, but dairy is used on occasions, so ask to be sure. Most dishes are for sharing, but they have a few one person dishes, notably the set meal for 12.90RM, a nicely presented sample plate of various little veggie and mock fish dishes. It comes with Chinese tea, soup and dessert – that day it was peanut and lotus root soup and sweet potato and barley in syrup. We also ordered a side of satays that were surprisingly delicious. The owner surprised us with a plate of rambutans from her garden. It all felt very fancy.
Japanese organic vegan restaurant that looks very unassuming from the outside, but the inside has a cool, laid back, kind of grown-up hostel-like vibe. The cafe uses no onion, garlic, msg, white sugar, white salt, artificial colouring or preservatives and claims to soak all the veggies in enzymes for 45 minutes (?). I had a rice porridge with a ton of veggies, Richard had the edamame fried rice and we also shared 2 different kinds of sushi, all of which were absolutely delicious. This isn’t your usual cucumber and avocado rolls, the flavours are complex and the variety of sushi on offer is exhaustive and surprising. Really awesome.
4. EE Beng
Some of the best, freshest Chinese Buddhist ‘Jay’ or vegan eateries we’ve been to. Piping hot al dente veggies and all sorts of mock meat and fish that were surprisingly not bad. Fill up your plate and pay-by-eyeballing from what I gathered. You can sit and order a drink next door. Closed on Thursdays.
5. Madras New Woodland
Located in Little India, this vegetarian restaurant uses ghee (clarified butter) in a lot of dishes, but there are some vegan options to be found, like several of the curries, the lentil dhal and my favourite: idly, which are little piping hot circles of fermented lentil and rice flour bread with different dipping sauces. Unfortunately all the sweets also contain ghee. Rather bad service though.