Vegetarianism has an ancient history in Asia, and multiracial Malaysia has long been home to many acolytes of a plant-based diet, especially among Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Today, vegetarianism, and veganism (which bans any animal product, including dairy and eggs), is gaining popularity around the world, not just for ethical reasons. It is also a healthy and environmentally sustainable alternative since plant-based food systems require fewer resources.
In 2017, Malaysia was ranked the third best vegetarian-friendly country by Oliver’s Travels, and our capital city is a veritable mecca for herbivores. Here’s our choice for the crème de la crème in Kuala Lumpur, from vegan cafes and posh restaurants, to traditional temples and roadside stalls.
For strict vegans looking to remove all animal products from their diet, Sala, a restaurant-cum-café with branches in Hartamas and The Row, has proven to be THE go-to place for plant-based Tex-Mex meals with a local twist.
Local model Natalie Prabha, a practicing vegan, swears by the restaurant’s menu. “They never disappoint. The mushroom asada dish is amazing,” she revealed in an interview with BURO.
Indulge in Sala’s pulled jackfruit burritos and tacos, or have a go at the Bagel Burger, or Mushroom Nasi Lemak. Their extensive list of smoothies, from frozen banana to dragon fruit and soy milk, provides the perfect quenchers to complement the Mexican spices. Finish your meal off with their coffee made with vegan milk, paired with some mouth-watering desserts, like the delectable peanut butter brownie.
Dharma Realm Guan Yin Sagely Monastery
Nestled between skyscrapers along the busy Jalan Ampang, a five-minute walk away from the mighty Petronas Twin Towers, is a colourful traditional Buddhist temple. The Dharma Realm Guan Yin Sagely Monastery hosts one of KL's best-known and long-running vegan eateries.
There’s something for everyone in the large volunteer-run temple cafeteria chockful of food counters selling over 80 varieties of vegan dishes, including soups, noodles, stuffed tau fu, vegetable curry, faux char siew and mock meat ‘chicken’ drumsticks fashioned from fried beancurd skin. Try the incredible fruit rojak sauce – there’s no way you’ll be able to tell there’s no belacan in it!
Easy on the wallet as well as on the body, a stacked-high plate of food costs around RM5-7, a big reason it has long been a favourite lunch spot for nearby office workers. The food is simple, satisfying and plentiful. This busy cafeteria is a must-visit for a unique experience, offering perhaps the best traditional vegan food in the whole city.
Lauk Pauk at REXKL
Once home to the Rex Cinema operated by the legendary Shaw Brothers, this historic building has gone through a stunning reimagination as a cultural and creative hub. With its structure largely untouched, the multi-level space has been opened up to allow light and air to flood the many small businesses here, from café to bookstore, barbershop to events space.
One of the most interesting is a hipster food court located on the bottom floor, where you will find Lauk Pauk, a plant-based urban warung, Malay for food stall. Lauk Pauk, which means 'a variety of dishes' in Malay, celebrates our country’s melange of flavours with colourful and creative rice and noodle bowls. You’ll be spoilt for choice with a menu featuring vegetarian reimaginations of nasi lemak, rendang and a spiced basmati ‘Masala Rice Bowl’ that is to die for. Swap out the egg for tempe, tofu or veges for a vegan take on any of the dishes.
KLite Yew Mey Yeng is a fan of the ‘Dry Ramen Laksa’ noodle bowl: “The laksa is so aromatic. The gravy is so creamy we hardly believe it is plant-based. So authentic!”.
RexKL’s food court also includes Hey Peach!, the sister stall for Bangsar vegetarian restaurant, Parklife, so head to RexKL if you want to sample different styles of vegetarian cuisine in one place or even share a table with meat-eaters.
Sathiyanery Vegetarian Food Centre
This humble stall at the corner of Jalan Tun Sambanthan 3 and Jalan Scott in Brickfields is a true gem for vegetarians who want authentic home-style Indian sattvic meals. Run by husband-and-wife entrepreneurs who have been dishing up hearty vegetarian fare for 37 years, Sathiyanery was born from their strong beliefs in ahimsa, the principle of not causing harm to any living being.
The couple is committed to serving people from all walks of life so the food is affordable as well as delicious. Unsurprisingly, most lunchtimes are packed with patrons – from labourers to lawyers - enjoying their food while sitting at communal tables. The lunch sets, at RM7 each, consist of three types of vegetables, a bowl of curry, deep-fried chilli and crispy papadum, with any extra dish costing only RM 1.
“We serve pure vegetarian dishes and do not include mock meat in our menu,” the couple shared with the Star, adding that their paavakai poriyal (deep-fried bitter gourd fritters) and soy chunks peratal are particular favourites.
The stall is also famous for great masala tea, including the more unusual option of sukku malli tea (dried ginger and coriander powder). Try their breakfast too, served from 6.30am, with classics such as tosai, idli, chapati and nasi lemak, for only RM5 with tea and coffee.