This Vegetarian Penang guide looks at places to eat in George Town, the main city on this Malaysian island! It also gives tips as to what else you can find and the kinds of vegetarian food to expect!
Malaysia is a diverse country with large Malay, Indian and Chinese populations. As such the food has great diversity and you can find many influences throughout the different ethnic/religious groups. The Malay are largely Muslim, the Indians Hindu and the Chinese Buddhist, though of course there are many other religions too. This cultural mixture means Malaysia is somewhat of a melting pot of different food styles! This Vegetarian Penang Guide helps you navigate this to find great vegetarian food to sample and enjoy!
Penang is well known across South East Asia as a fantastic place for food. George Town is Malaysia’s second largest city and the main focal point on the island. Whilst in Malaysia as a whole it is the mainly Malay who are the majority, George Town is majority Chinese. This impacts the food of course because it means you see many Chinese owned business’s and Chinese style restaurants. There is a large Little India in Penang too, where you can find some good Indian food. This is particularly good for vegetarians as of course in this part of the world Hindu style dishes tend to be be vegetarian.
I’ve written this post based on my own experiences as a vegetarian visiting Penang. It’s somewhere I’ve been a couple of times and I love it there. Obviously I don’t live there so this isn’t a complete list or anything, it’s just what I’ve personally enjoyed as a visitor! As always I recommend asking locals what they recommend. A girl working in a hostel I stayed at recommended me Ee Beng for example, and I’m so glad she did!
Vegetarian Penang Guide
Here is a look at 5 of the best places to eat vegetarian food in Penang. Please note that only 1,2 and 5 are exclusively vegetarian. Restaurants 3 and 4 do however have great vegetarian options. They have been included to give good diversity to this list. One of the highlights for many people visiting Penang is trying all the different styles of food and there is no need for vegetarians to miss out!
Most of the time vegetarian and vegan is interchangeable here. The vegetarian dishes you will find in these restaurants usually won’t feature any cheese or milk. Particularly in the Indian or Buddhist Chinese places. As always don’t be afraid to double check with the staff! Occasionally egg will be used, particularly in Malay food. When in doubt – ask!
1. Thali-NR Sweets Cafe
This is a fantastic place in Little India to get a large and cheap vegetarian set meal. ‘Thali’ is an Indian name for the food style where several dishes are served on a round platter. You can see from the picture below how it works! They offer a few options including a D.I.Y where you choose your own selection. And as the name implies they also sell many Indian sweets here, which you can take away with you.
2. Ee Beng
The Chinese restaurant is a 100% Vegetarian buffet where you pay per helping. Its very cheap and taste amazing. There are a lot of ‘mock meat’ options here, a style that is popular amongst Chinese Buddhist restaurants. as well as plenty of vegetable dishes and other choices. Take a plate and load it up with rice and whatever else you choose! You can find noodles off to the side too. Its located on Dickens street. Go at lunchtime when the food is fresh but be prepared, its very popular!
3. Tofu Village
This Chinese restaurant on Church Street has loads of vegetarian options. Its a good place to mix and match a few dishes, especially if you are eating out with someone. As the name implies there are several tofu options, as well as some Hakka Specialities. The Hakka are a Chinese ethnic group with their own cuisine style. Expect a lot of chilli and spices to be used here!
4. Mr. Shawerma
This restaurant does some great Middle Eastern style vegetarian food. Its the place to go to find falafel and hummus! The menu includes wraps and set meals, for the latter the Falafel Platter is highly recommended!
Find it on Chulia Street near to Love Lane and Little India.
5. Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House
This restaurant on Armenian Street does great dishes in the Peranakan style. Also known as Nyonya, this cuisine blends Chinese ingredients with Malaysian spices, cooking techniques and flavours. It came about after Chinese immigrants (usually business men/traders) married local women and formed the Baba-Nyonya community. The vegetarian laksa they serve is a popular version of a local Nyonya dish. Other options include spring rolls, rice dishes and rice noodle rolls. They also make a nutmeg juice which is recommend to try!
What else to look for?
To complete this Vegetarian Penang Guide here is a quick look at what other food you can find across George Town. There really is a large variety, they love their food here!
As with anywhere that has a large amount of backpackers in South East Asia, there are plenty of Western Restaurants serving them and locals. You won’t have to look to far to find pizza, pasta and burgers. To single one Western place out on this Vegetarian Penang guide though I have to highlight Holy Guacamole. It is a great Mexican restaurant located on Love Lane. This is the main backpacker area in George Town so it’s always full of travellers. Its Vegetarian food is good and whats more its decor is amazing! You can find several other restaurants around this area too. Its certainly worth a look around to see if there’s anything you fancy!
This Vegetarian Penang guide has already mentioned Ee Beng, which is a great highlight for any vegetarian/vegan visiting the island. This is the style of food to look for amongst the Chinese community when searching for vegetarian options. You can find several places that do it, as well as some that mix it in with Malay or Western styles. Places to look for include
Zhu Yuan, Luk Lea Yan and Lily’s Vegetarian Kitchen. There is also a Buddhist style vegetarian restaurant underneath the Kek Lok Si Temple on the island. This is the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and gets a lot of visitors.
Its worth nothing that ‘mock meat’ is in fact popular with Buddhist restaurants across South East Asia. So if your travelling elsewhere such as in Thailand or Vietnam then look out for it!
Malaysia and Singapore have significant Indian populations which has led to ‘Little India’s springing up across the countries. Penang is one of the best places to find such a community and the vegetarian food it creates! The Little India in George Town is a good place to look for vegetarian restaurants as many Hindu’s don’t eat meat. As well as the previously mentioned Thali look out for Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant and the
Vegetarian branch of Sri Ananda Bahwan. Set meals are usually great value for money in Indian restaurants so look out for them! Dosa’s are popular too!
Popular dishes such as Nasi Lemak or Nasi Goreng can be made vegetarian, usually by just leaving out the meat. These are nice dishes flavoured with coconut and spices. They often come with a fried egg on top and vegetables in with the rice. Likewise Nasi Campur is another common rice dish which can be made vegetarian. Mie Goreng is made with noodles rather than rice and flavoured with spices. Similarly it can be made vegetarian if you ask.
You can often find places that do vegetarian versions of Nyonya cuisine, such as with the Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House featured above. Laksa is the most popular of these to be made vegetarian, though claypots and rice dishes are common too.
So that brings the end to this Vegetarian Penang Guide.
Thanks for reading! It is much appreciated. If you are interested in learning more about vegetarian food in South East Asia you can check my other guides out. Just click the links to open!
This one gives a overview to eating as vegetarian across the South East Asia region.
This one covers travelling as a vegetarian in Thailand.