14,937 km so far.
One of our favourite things about Malaysia is how easy it’s been as vegetarians. With substantial populations of both Hindu vegetarians and Chinese Buddhists, who, unlike most Buddhists in China, actually follow Buddha’s teaching to “first, do no harm”, we’ve had no problem getting fed. Chalk one up for religion.
On paper, Kuala Lumpur looks like veggie heaven, but after almost a week in the city, we’re feeling a little disappointed. In fact, eating our way around the city has made me miss LA more than anything on this trip so far.
myBurgerLab At SeaPark
This was easily our favourite veggie meal in the city, even though it was at a mostly meaty restaurant far outside the city center. myBurgerLab is a trendy modern burger joint, targeted squarely at college kids. They have a dozen or so burger options, with such varied toppings as hash browns, lychee, enoki mushrooms, and seaweed.
Last fall, they introduced their tofu burger, which means now the veggie crowd can party too.
The burgers we had, The Hangover, topped with hash brown and maple syrup, and The Hulk, topped with fried avocado and Swiss cheese, were delicious.
They were both served on a black charcoal bun, which seems to be all the rage in bread these days. It is supposed to remove toxins and purify your sweat or something like that. Probably a load of hokum, but who knows?
Bakti Woodlands and Gopala Vegetarian Indian
The Indian food in Malaysia is generally not like the exported Indian food you get in the west. Here, it has evolved and blended with the local culture, into a Malay-Indian crossover food. The results have not been all that pleasing to us.
For the most part, you have two or three choices: either order a fresh bread (roti, chapati, dosa etc) which comes with a few pre-prepared dipping curries; order a thali, which is a selection of curries and sauces they choose for you; or eat from the buffet table. All of these options are fine, and some of the fresh breads we’ve had have been amazing. But still, we miss being able to choose a few of our favourite dishes and have them served fresh and hot to the table.
Addendum: We found some half-decent Indian a la carte food at Anjappar Indian Chettinad Restaurant, just around the corner from BackHome hostel. They have a good vegetarian selection alongside their non-veg menu.
Usually, you can also order some Malay dishes, like fried rice and, um, fried rice.
We liked Bakti Woodlands, near Masjid Jamek, a little better than Gopala, which is near KL Sentral. The staff are a bit friendlier there (though neither would win awards for welcoming service), and the food seems a bit fresher. Gopala wasn’t busy when we visited, and we wondered how long the buffet table had been sitting untouched.
Stephen’s note: I had the buffet and while it wasn’t the most exciting food I have eaten, I didn’t get ill.
Neither of them deals in the subtle flavours that a higher-end Indian restaurant might create, and no matter what is on your plate, it all ends up tasting vaguely the same.
Simple Life Vegetarian
At the Petronas Twin Towers is a big fancy shopping mall, the Suria KLCC (it seems as though central Kuala Lumpur is entirely constructed around its malls). On the second floor lies the Signature Food Court. It looks just like a food court in any American mall except the meals are much less disgusting.
Without looking around much, I spotted two places offering vegetarian Indian food, one Turkish place with veggie wraps, and Simple Life, a Chinese-Malay fusion place. Hurray for vegetarian culture!
We ate at Simple Life twice, and it was good, for a quick lunch in the mall, but overall it’s still a little uninspiring.
My club sandwich on charcoal bread (see, it’s a whole thing) was OK, but I wasn’t crazy about the chewiness of the bread or the fake meat and cheese inside. It was also loaded with a strong-tasting mayo (which may have been vegan), that overpowered all the other flavours in the sandwich.
The next day we ordered one noodle and one rice dish that both looked a bit boring when they were served, but ended up being pretty flavourful. I would definitely go back if I’m near a location and hungry, but I won’t be dreaming of the food after we leave KL.
Water Lily Vegetarian
Right across from our hostel is a simple Chinese vegetarian spot, Water Lily Vegetarian. They have all the usual and some very unusual mock meat dishes, plus a selection of steamed buns with some of the fluffiest dough we’ve ever sampled.
The meals we’ve had there, one lunch and one dinner, were both pretty good.
However, Chinese vegetarian food from a restaurant is not something you want to eat on a daily basis, especially if you recently spent 4 months in China!
It’s too heavy, rich, and mock meaty to stomach more than once or twice a week.
Woods Bio Marche
This is probably the closest thing in Kuala Lumpur to a Western-style veggie restaurant, albeit with a heavily Malay twist.
We had their veggie burger, voted the best in the world (although voted by whom wasn’t mentioned), and though the bun and toppings were fresh and tasty, the burger itself was a little dry and seemed like a processed patty. The curry mee, a typical Malaysian dish, was delicious, with a snappy yellow curry and nicely chewy noodles, topped with a good portion of tofu.
My favourite though was the shiitake steak we had as an appetiser. The rich burgery patty tasted of earthy mushrooms, just like you’d expect from something made of shiitake. In fact, it would make an excellent burger patty if they wanted to expand their veggie burger line. Maybe next time I’ll try ordering that.
All in all, none of these restaurants are places we long to return to, but we are thankful for the abundance of choice we have here. We also know that coming to KL and only eating in the central area is like going to LA and only sampling restaurants in Hollywood.
I suspect there are plenty of great veggie restaurants hiding in neighbourhoods we’ve never even heard of and couldn’t get to even if we had. ♥