Apr 13 2011
Horror, pity and grudging admiration: the three main ways Malaysians react when they find out someone is a vegetarian. This would suggest that keeping clear of meat and fish is a tough ask, even in cosmopolitan KL. Which is odd, because there are few places in the world where vegetarians can eat as well.
The only real non-starter is Malay food. As a general rule, Malays do not do vegetables. And even when they do suffer something green to pass their lips, it has to be made palatable by some meat, fish or seafood. In addition, the vast majority of Malay food on sale is pre-prepared, which means dishes cannot be altered to accommodate misguided vegetarians.
By contrast, KL’s two other large ethnic groups, the Indians and the Chinese, have a strong cultural understanding of vegetarianism. Your best bet overall is with Hindu-run eateries. While many of these places do serve some meat or fish dishes, much of their food is vegetarian. Regardless of what you eat, it is likely to be tasty, filling and excellent value for money. Choice is much more limited at eateries run by Indian converts to Islam (known as Mamaks). But as long as you can make yourself understood, you are unlikely to go hungry.
While far fewer Chinese than Indians are strict vegetarians, many will avoid meat or fish at certain times for religious or health reasons. This has led to a large number of Buddhist Chinese restaurants, cafes and hawker stalls in KL. A large number of the dishes are made with so called “mock meat” and although they may look and taste suspiciously meaty, they are one hundred percent vegetarian.
As long as you can make yourself understood, standard Chinese restaurants are a good bet too, because most of their food is freshly prepared. Generally, the less formal the place, the more helpful they will be to alter dishes in order to accommodate vegetarians.
If you fancy something a bit more international, then the best bets in KL are Middle Eastern, particularly Lebanese and Turkish, and Italian. The trick with Lebanese and Turkish food is to avoid the main courses, which are usually fish or meat based, and stick to the meze, or starter dishes, which are mostly vegetarian. A selection of meze has the potential to be a truly tasty meal.
KL is blessed with a surprising number of excellent Italian restaurants. Even though very few Italians are vegetarian, many classic dishes are meat and fish free. It’s always worth checking the menu closely though to make sure dishes have not been altered to satisfy ingredient hungry Malaysians. The concept that less is more still has some way to go in KL.
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