Mama Sayang is the ONLY nyonya “meat free” restaurant that you will find in the country
Boasts the website.
By 2009, when we finally visited it, it can’t really have been the only one claiming to be really vegetarian. Buddhism, especially a Tibetan form, was rapidly becoming popular among the Malaysian Chinese and I was quite used to my neighbours asking me how to cook “vegetarian”.
But, when I’d just arrived, in 2005, it was rather hard to find food that was fully vegetarian. At restaurants, they’d commiseratingly ask me if I wouldn’t like a sprinkling of some dried fish? Some pork mince?
I’d been wanting to visit this place for sometime – attracted by the promise of Nyonya cuisine and the strange statue outside.
I had encountered some information on the Baba Nyonyas during a conference where one paper talked of the Chinese graphic novels that would be sent to this community long, long ago. Perhaps my memory is wrong and, since the paper is in Bahasa Melayu, I can’t look into it and tell you more. What I remember, vaguely, is that these stories used to entertain the wives and children.
Bangladeshi waiters made ordering less stressful as one could make oneself understood faster and I could also practice/murder some Bangla: Kaymun achon, ami ektu Bangla jaani.
I’m afraid I may not paint a very rosy picture as I’m from a very vegetarian background. Much as I can munch of flesh, I’ve been informed that I have “vegetarian teeth”, for one thing. Mainly, it’s certain odours in foods that, I suppose, attract or repel each one of us, according to whatever foods we were mostly fed in early life. Thus, this was food that was designed for fish/meat eaters who wanted to refrain from those practices. Consequently, some aromas and flavours associated with fish/flesh, were used to make this vegetarian food alluring to those who still craved their favourite foods.
It’s mainly the ambience which is captivating.
Frankly, sayang (darling), I’d rather eat the real thing. The vegetable dishes in some Chinese restorens, in Kuala Lumpur, were outstanding.
The okras were eminently forgettable – and okra in Malaysia is usually a delight as they cook it so the crunch and colour is still there, minus the slime.
The red stuff is vegetarian sambal or blachan, I think (normally a very fishy, chutney sort of thing).
The same thing in Bali was more to our liking but I was determined to be a blachan addict before we left Malaysia and I do feel nostalgic for it.
Well, travel is all about trying new things and, sometimes, it takes time to acquire tastes.