When you tell somebody that you are visiting Penang, the usual response is “Oh, there’s amazing food there.” There probably is but the vast majority of it contains meat or fish and I ain’t putting that in my mouth for anybody. So what’s a vegetarian to do in Penang? I won’t lie, you probably won’t be gorging on street food, but there are enough decent vegetarian restaurants and cafes dotted around for you to still have a great eating experience on this island so well known for its food culture.
Ee Beng Vegetarian Food (20 Lebuh Dickens)
This place actually counts as two eateries. Ee Beng plays host to both a buffet café and a more formal restaurant next door. The café style part of this establishment became my regular lunchtime haunt, where I would pile my plate high with different veggie dishes each day and I would never spend over 5RM (£1). I don’t eat that many mock meats at home because they are just not that good and I have enough variety in my diet without them, but the veggie eateries over in Malaysia are very fond of them. This place has mock meats galore and I was massively impressed with them. I’d say that the chicken properly tastes like chicken, if I had a clue what chicken tastes like. There are also plenty of veggie-only dishes if you are not so keen on mock meats, so pile that plate high and enjoy. I was less impressed with the restaurant next door where I found the staff were not all that friendly and the food was just okay.
Annalakshmi Temple of Fine Arts (1 Babington Avenue)
This place is amazing for those on a budget because it’s payment by donation only. You choose what you want to pay and the money goes towards this temple of fine arts (which looks more like a conference centre than a temple, in my opinion). What this place lacks in atmosphere it makes up for with its food – a mixture of south Indian and Malaysian food. South Indian food is some of my favourite food in the world so I really went to town. It’s best to visit here when they have their buffets, which is each lunchtime (aside from Monday), and Saturday nights.
Lily’s Vegetarian Kitchen (98 Lorong Madras)
This place appears to have a fair bit of buzz online but the meal I ate here was probably my least favourite in Penang. I opted for vegetarian Nasi Kandar, which is a traditional Malaysian curry set. It didn’t look all that appetizing and its taste was average. The service was also somewhat detached and the place has no discernible atmosphere.
Hui Sin Vegetarian (11 Lebuh China)
Like Ee Beng, Hui Sin is another self-service vegetarian buffet. Load up your plate with as many veggies as you would like, take it to the counter, and somebody will glance an eye over it and tell you how much to pay. This place didn’t have quite as much variety as Ee Beng, but the food was still very good and reasonably priced. A decent place for a quick veggie lunch while in Penang.
The Leaf Healthy House (5 Lebuh Penang)
Everything in this place is vegetarian and organic, so if you are in need of a health fix then the Leaf is the place for you. I ordered a simple mushroom noodle soup as I wasn’t very hungry, and it was perfectly fine but nothing special. But what I did really like about The Leaf was the friendliness of the staff who go out of their way to make everybody in the restaurant feel comfortable. If you are hankering for some Western food, this place also has a lot of pasta dishes, although I didn’t get round to trying any of them myself.
Sri Ananda Bahwan (25 Lebuh Penang)
This is probably the place in Penang that I visited most frequently for dinner. It is a south Indian restaurant, and when I have the opportunity to eat masala dosa and drink masala tea every day, I grab it with both hands. They also serve a fantastic vegetable thali with a huge number of dhals and curries. Highly recommended.
Water Drop Teahouse (16 Lebuh Penang)
This Buddhist teahouse is perfectly located but nobody seems to know about it. I have no idea why as its super-cute. As you walk in, there is a small bookshop selling absolutely nothing in English (useful) and then you reach the teahouse, which is manned by Buddhist volunteers. I had a recommendation to eat the Sesame Pao here, and it was probably the best part of the meal – a soft bun covered in crispy sesame seeds and filled with salty mock pork. Each day they have a different special, which is always a vegetarian take on a local classic, so a visit to Water Drop Teahouse is a good way of getting to know the local foods away from the meat-heavy food stalls that line the streets.
And there you have it. My guide to the best vegetarian eateries in Penang, Malaysia.