Purify the Stomach

It is the Nine Emperor Festival in Penang now. Actually the festival has been going on for the past week. Devotees who make vows will observe the 9 days of taking nothing but vegetarian food. And in Penang, it’s easy to do so as every corner one turns, one can see the yellow buntings and stalls with throngs of people. Penang is still predominantly Taoist and many take the opportunity to give their bodies some rest from meat and turn to more vegetables and fruit.
To say that many Chinese observe this festival is an understatement. And SAR scares, bird flu and what-not have in a way made it more enticing to have more vegetarian meals. But I feel that Chinese vegetarian restaurants and stalls focus too much on mock meats, which isn’t really a healthy way to observe vegetarianism.
Still, I was a tad surprised when someone asked us if we were observing the festival.
We had just finished our weekly marketing at the Lip Sin market yesterday and with bags of meat, fish and vegetables (and a packet of ‘siew yoke’ too), we sat down to our breakfast at the Supertanker food court (which is located conveniently opposite the market).
We’re regulars at this food court and the person who asked us was a woman who usually takes our drink orders.
“Ni men mei you zher hsu?” She asked. (“You both not taking vegetarian food?”) She must have eyed our meat, fish and yes, that tempting packet of chopped ‘siew yoke’.
Nope. We don’t. Not because we don’t think it’s important. I think it’s important to go vegetarian but not necessarily to go when it’s dictated. Religion is private, between me and the cosmic god and unless I am thanking god for granting me my wishes (which I stopped doing a long time ago because it’s not right to barter with god, you know?), I believe I can go vegetarian any day. Not just on during this festival. And anyway, food from these roadside stalls can be quite dirty. I’ve found sand and stuff in them so I prefer proper restaurants if I want some quality vegetarian food.
When I had firm instructions from my Chinese sinseh the last time to cut out all meat, sugar, eggs, seafood, fruits and processed food if I wanted to get well from my horrible geriatric cough, Nic and I went on a two-week vegetarian food diet. We eliminated everything but rice and vegetables. Initially I had balked when the sinseh told me what I had to cut out. I even had to take my bread plain – no jam, no kaya, no butter, nothing. I thought I was dead and gone – what, none of my favourite stuff like cheese allowed? How do I survive?
Surprisingly, Nic and I did. We managed to enjoy our vegetarian stint. I don’t know if it is psychological (or what Cantonese call “sum lei zhok yung”) but I felt better. Lighter, more energetic and less sluggish especially in the afternoons. In the end, with a strict diet of vegetables and rice (I can be quite disciplined if I need to) and the sinseh’s powdered medicine taken religiously every four hours, I got better and my cough disappeared.
During that time, I found that Penang is a vegetarian’s paradise. This little island has some of the better, if not best vegetarian restaurants all around.
One of my favourites is For You Yen in Dato Kramat (near the Clark Hatch Gym). You can order ala-carte or you can take the economy-rice style pickings with some 25 different types of vegetarian offerings each day! This place is very popular during the 1st and 15th of the Chinese lunar calendar and many people come to take-away or ‘tar-pau’. Parking here can be a headache though. But prices are reasonable.
The next place nearest to where I stay is probably Than Hsiang Temple, near the Snake Temple on the way to Bayan Lepas/airport. The food here is pretty delicious and they even do full vegetarian 8-course wedding dinners too. Their 8-course dinners are replete with vegetarian sharks’ fin soup and mock prawns/fish/meat. The last time I went, the temple had a separate section which served only organic vegetables. Popular with the factory crowd at lunch because of ample parking and a quiet environment.
Of course in downtown Georgetown you can find lots of good vegetarian stalls and restaurants. It’s just that I have yet to explore them fully! Do recommend some to me if you know if any good ones.

5 thoughts on “Purify the Stomach”

  1. Oooh, you regular customers at SuperTanker (AKI pancake there damn nice) and the market also! My aunt and mom shops there weekly!
    And just curious, is your Chinese sinseh at the old houses beside Makro? Cause eating plain bread with absolutely nothing and powdered medicine sounds quite familiar. That sinseh always ask me to do like that but I never once did follow!
    PS : I don’t eat greens!

  2. Hiya, yes, I am regularly seen at Supertanker. I go so often that the waiter just sees us and knows of our ‘regular’ orders. It’s highly embarrassing! Yes, that Chinese sinseh near Makro – you are spot-on. Can’t remember his name though but dozens of people sit at his shop daily. His medicine is highly potent too. Affordable too… about RM21 for 3 days of medicine.

  3. Hi Maya. Well, personally I don’t quite understand the term “vegetarian” nowadays. I mean, those who observe this practice are supposed to abstain themselves from any form of meat, even their thoughts and desire right? Then how come they have all sorts of food like vegetarian meat, vegetarian prawn, vegetarian this-and-that but all in all kinda boils down to the fact that people who are supposedly practicing are still thinking about meat that they even have alternatives for it already? Hmmm… dunno-lah…. just a personal opinion… vegetarians out there, don’t take it at heart yea? 🙂
    p/s: Supertanker lagi??


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