How It’s Like Being Vegan In Malaysia

In this digital age, it’s likely you’ve come across some fad diets or #fitspo (short for “fit inspiration”) posts on places like Instagram and Tumblr. And it’s likely you’ve tried some of these diets — whether they stuck or not.

But what about veganism? By definition, a vegan doesn’t eat any animal by-products, and this means no meat, no eggs, no milk or dairy. So you can imagine, in a culture like Malaysia’s, where our food has a lot of animal by-products (belacan in everything, remember?), it might not be as easy to pull off. But CLEO spoke exclusively to Elina Nasution, a young Malaysian who has found it easy to live as a vegan here, and shares her insights with us.

Q: How long have you been a vegan?

I began a 30-days trial on 17th September 2015 after encountering a vegan classmate for the first time at my university. Little did I know that I eventually stayed vegan after the trial ended.

Q: Why did you decide to make this food choice?

Initially, I decided on the ‘challenge’ because I was very self-conscious about my body image. I assumed that being vegan meant being ultimately clean and ‘healthy.’ Halfway through the trial, I decided to educate myself more about veganism beyond my choice of food intake and towards the impact on the species, health, economy and environment.

Q: How easy or difficult is it to find places that are conducive to your diet?

I was doing my internship earlier this year at Chan Sow Lin, Kuala Lumpur. I thought being away from home cooked meals and familiarized campus food, I would face difficulty in finding vegan-friendly restaurants. It turned out that I had accessible and various options! I have managed to eat Indian dishes, Chinese cuisines and even Malay food.  Malay food often include ikan bilis or belacan. To my surprise, the restaurants also cooked chilli tempeh, tofu in sweet soy sauce and an abundance of vegetables.

Q: Do you cook your own food? If so, where do you source for recipes?

Yes, I do. The great thing about being vegan is that food preparation requires less effort because majority of the ingredients have less cooking-time, such as tempeh, tofu, beans, lentils and vegetables. Most of my food is adapted from what I used to eat. I wanted to show people that you do not have to give up your entire favourite and comfort dishes. I learned how to substitute certain ingredients from the internet. I also learned new recipes (sweet potato brownies, black bean burger, veggie meatball spaghetti, home-made hummus, etc.) via social media, specifically Facebook and YouTube.

Q: Tell us where are the best places to shop in Malaysia for a vegan diet.

A lot of vegans would agree that grocery shopping is absolutely amusing and therapeutic. It’s always fun to find items that are either vegan or incidentally vegan. I often go to local supermarkets such as Giant and Hero for my staple food (canned beans, rice, vegetables, etc.) due to the low in price. Faux meat can also be found at Giant in the frozen food section. I enjoy going to Jaya Grocer the most because of the already vegan approved produces from America, Australia and the UK. They have vegan burritos, tacos, cake/brownie/cookie mix, cereal, almond/cashew milk, and many more!

Q: What sort of challenges do you face when being a vegan in Malaysia?

Honestly, I do not face many challenges being a vegan in Malaysia. I can often adapt myself to non-vegan restaurants when I am out with my friends and family by requesting for a dish to be replaced with tofu or to omit non-vegan ingredients. I can easily access to grocery stores for my vegan ingredients/food.

Q: How is your family in terms of this, are they in agreement and supportive?

Although they do not omit meat and animal by-products in their diet, they do respect my decision. I thank my mother the most for always buying vegan friendly ingredients at the grocery stores and at restaurants to take-away, most of the time she offers without me asking! She shows her support through this and with that I am forever grateful. When eating out, my father would often remind the waiter to take a separate order for me instead of assuming I would share the same meal as him. My siblings, particularly Marina and Harris, would bring me to vegan restaurants that they heard about. Lastly, they all showed support when I decided to host Malaysia’s very first MY Vegan Meet Up last month.

Q: What about your friends/peers, what do they have to say about it?

My friends are highly supportive by being considerate to my diet whenever we are going out for social events. They would often take into consideration of places where everyone, including me, can eat and enjoy. They even ask whether I could take them to vegan friendly places so that they could have a try vegan food. There are times when they would ask questions about the health, environmental and economic impacts of veganism. From this, I learn to gather my information and address the answers to them accordingly.

Q: What are the top vegan restaurants in Malaysia that you frequent?

I am a huge fan of BMS Organics. Not because it is organic but because majority of their dishes are vegan friendly. They even have nasi lemak and laksa! I am happy to know that I don’t have to give up my local favourites from being vegan. For desserts, I often turn to Snowflake because I get to indulge in Matcha or Black sesame ice-cream like goodness! Other than that, I do not think much about the places I go to because I learned that you can be vegan almost everywhere you go!


Elina was featured in the CLEO Malaysia July 2016 issue.