When I first went vegan, the word “vegan” was really not in my orbit at all. That was probably eight years ago at the time of writing, and if I’m ever asked why I went vegan, I would be hard pressed to give an answer. Due to many health and mental issues, I decided that I was able to make peace with my plate by going completely plant-based with my diet. In those days, I used to travel with a mini rice cooker so I could prepare my meals, and eating out presented a conundrum: Where do I go to find good vegan food? What is on the menu at a regular cafe or restaurant that is suitable for me?
It was no wonder that many people confessed that going plant-based or vegan was a difficult lifestyle to maintain. Nevertheless, I found a great community online and persevered. In fact, I felt bad for those who had to cater to my dietary requirements even more than the idea of keeping this up. I was content with cooking food for myself and discovering new plant-based lifestyle brands, and living like this was truly rewarding. I felt I was doing something good for the planet and for my own body and mind.
Vegans have definitely come a long way from dining out at greasy mock-meat-heavy restaurants, while veganism is no longer merely a diet, but a holistic approach to all things. It has been on the rise in Hong Kong where I have lived for the past three years, and I have enjoyed some really amazing food at the plant-based and vegan-friendly cafes and restaurants here. I can find Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat, and Hong Kong-based Green Monday has been instrumental in spreading plant-based love with their fantastic plant-based store Green Common and plant-based pork Omnipork.
Kuala Lumpur is fast catching up with the spirit of veganism. On my recent return to my hometown, I put my nose to the ground and sniffed out some of the top locales where the cool vegan kids hang out. Consider this your cheatsheet—you’re welcome!
Note: While most restaurants are labelled vegetarian, there is a common misconception that the food is also vegan. However, vegetarian could mean that dishes may include dairy and/or egg, so remember to double check with the staff before ordering.
1. THE HUNGRY TAPIR: BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL
Where there is an Instagram playground, the cool kids come out to play. Nowhere is this most evident than at The Hungry Tapir. In fact, there is a corner in the back that is specifically designed for the gram! It’s a joint effort by Miss Malaysia-Asia 1982 and fitness extraordinaire Cynthia Rodrigo, her son Tristan and daughter, Makissa (who studied design at London’s Central Saint Martins).
The chic laidback decor is a fusion of modern and traditional—think painted green leaves, as well as actual Monstera fronds and potted plants hanging from the exposed beams, against daring palettes of hot neon pink and Lego yellow chairs juxtaposed with Nyonya house designs, magnificent tasselled Chinese lanterns, and exposed brick walls. This must be a design lovers dream café!
Fast becoming a well-known fixture in KL’s vegan scene, The Hungry Tapir has captured a loyal following with its food. Dishes at this vegan-vegetarian restaurant and bar—proof that vegans love their tipples too!—located in the hip and trendy row in China Town are creative interpretations of some of our most-beloved Asian delights.
First up, the Jungle Laksa is a must-mention for its A+ efforts in recreating that taste of Asia without resorting to shrimp paste. Then the vegan Mama’s Satay made of juicy, marinated hedgehog mushrooms, vegetarian Nasi Lemak with the said ’shrooms in a potent rendang and tempeh sambal, the very snacky Spicy Tempeh Fries, Rainbow Ulam Fried Rice named after all the colours on your plate (you can skip the “yellow” fried egg topping to make this vegan) and the signature favourite, Pink Bombshell Burger designed with a beetroot bun and patty and slathered with a homemade vegan herb cheese. They also make an in-house brew of Li Hing, and recently added Goodness Bakes’ vegan scones to their Sunday High Tea menu. You can order shared platters or have an entree that keeps you full and satiated—inspiring enough to get anyone to go green.
The Hungry Tapir, 135, Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2022 2137. @thehungrytapir
2. SALA: EAST-MEETS-BEST
The cafe-restaurant, an acronym for “salvar a los animales” (save the animals, in Spanish), is a Tex-Mex Latin-inspired vegan foodie paradise with an outpouring of creative interpretations that go way beyond that category. Sala has come into the KL vegan scene with a bang and has proven its staying power.
The fitness freak in me positively thrives here because their vegan bowls allow me to pick and mix anything I want to create the exact meal— from the sauces to the carbs and protein ratio desired—of my dreams. Sala also has a set menu with some star dishes, such as Vegan Bakso and a vegan version of the General Tso. Highly recommended dishes include the vegan Nasi Lemak Rendang, the Verde Zen Bowl for serious clean eaters, and Chimichanga, a bowl of air-fried mushrooms or jackfruit and tacos smothered in melted vegan cheese, or “cheeze” as it’s called here. Its newest outlet on the trendy Asian Heritage Row is proof that veganism is as mainstream hip as the café is a great success.
Sala, A-G-3A Galeria Hartamas, No 21 , Jalan 26a/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 011-1150 3606. @sala.kl
3. SUPE: EXCEPTIONAL JAPANESE VEGAN
Japanese food that is vegan? Sign us up! Located in the beating heart of Kuala Lumpur, not only is this the best place to relax amidst the bustle, you can also have some of the most beloved Japanese rice dishes without ever worrying about consuming fish sauce by accident. For all the fuss about Japanese food being typically tricky to recreate in plant-based interpretations, I must give kudos to Supe for making this thoroughly enjoyable.
Reminiscent of the wabi sabi of Japanese architecture, the interior decor at Supe is all about simple, clean lines of marble, glass and wooden elements. There is also a private room that facilitates parties and meetings, whilst an area with a bar gives one a sense of intimacy that is perfect for a dinner date.
With healthy eating in mind, most of the ingredients here are handmade in house with authentic, premium ingredients imported from Japan. Some of their delicious fusion fare includes Japanese Edamame Fried Rice seasoned with their homemade special Supe sauce and premium grade whole sesame oil, the sushi platter, which explores flavours from light to decadent—keeping it guilt-free with light virgin coconut oil and super fresh vegetables—with creations like Climate Maki, Mango Sushi and the Happiness Couple and Bachelor platters. Do not miss out on the Kitsune Ramen, which you can choose from Level one to five for your spiciness level. I definitely went all in and boy, was five fiery! Summer Ng, one half of the Supe duo, values balance in well-being so every dish is made with a holistic experience in mind.
Supe Vegan, Unit G2, Wisma Noble Land, 2, Lorong Changkat Ceylon, 50200 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03- 2859 2462
4. REAL FOOD MONT KIARA: HOMEMADE AND HEARTY
I had the great pleasure of meeting eatery founder Sherine, who has always been super accommodating with special dietary requirements. True to its moniker, everything made here is made from natural ingredients and is absolutely made from scratch. Dishes are also gluten-free. This cafe sells local produce and healthy snack options as well as pro-sustainability products for the home, so you’re definitely in safe hands when it comes to saving planet Earth.
Though Real Food also comprises a store where you can stock up on all-organic food and home and beauty care products, the spaciousness of the layout means that you do not feel the least claustrophobic. The cafe side of Real Foods is cosy with cushioned seats and large potted plants that separate each table so you get the privacy you need to catch up with old friends. There is also a play area for children.
The dumpling soup is a must-try—“three pairs of hands and six hours of dedication” is what they would divulge about the process. Dishes such as the vegan Alfredo pasta uses organic fusilli, while gluten-free soups like the Spicy Kimchi Soup and Dumpling Soup are highly recommended for all—vegans and non-vegans alike have raved about it. You can also ask to add celery noodles to the Dumpling Soup or Kombu Soup. There are plenty of stars to give to this place for fulfilling the healthy and yummy criteria!
Real Food Mont Kiara, G-11, 1 Mont Kiara, No.1, Jalan Kiara, Mont Kiara, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-6211 9078
5. NAMUL VEGAN CAFE: GREEN ASIAN DELIGHTS
Dig into vegan Nyonya kuih and vegan dorayaki in this hidden gem. Secreted away up a wooden stairway, Namul is in fact located in the heart of Chinatown that is pulsating with vibrant, youthful energy. It has a good mix of vintage architecture and modern touches that I love. This is truly a cosy space into which you could escape from the hubbub of KL and relax with a cup of hand-dripped cappuccino, served with some really cute foam art. If you are hankering for a full meal, they also have a rotating lunch menu filled with Asian delights, such as the Vegan curry.
Namul Vegan Café, 1st Floor, No. 54, Jalan Sultan, 50000 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 012-265 4472