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  • Writer's pictureAround the World in Vegan Eats


Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Wait, another Vegan Eat from George Town, Penang? That's right. If you've been following our blogs, you'll know about the time we've spent in Penang, a place full of incredible - and often interactive - graffiti. You'll know too that we've already enjoyed an amazing vegan version of local Penang cuisine, in our Curry Mee blog. But we were in the foodie capital of Malaysia, you didn't think we'd leave it at one delicacy, did you? In today's blog we're going to sample another of the famous dishes from the region, but made with entirely plant-based ingredients. We wouldn't leave Penang without trying Char Koay Teow!

So tell us, what exactly is Char Koay Teow?

The central component of this dish is the stir fried flat rice noodles (in fact, this is what 'char koay teow' literally translates as!) The noodles are flavoured with multiple types of soy sauce, garlic and chilli, and bean sprouts. The traditional recipes then add lots of not-so-vegan ingredients: often you'll find Char Koay Teow containing sausage, cockles, prawns and pork lard too. Some of the fancier, modern versions also include crab and duck eggs. Obviously we didn't want to try these variants, but we still wanted to sample this legendary dish in its adopted hometown.

Originally invented in China, Char Koay Teow has become a massive part of Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine, with adaptations made to the recipe in these countries making the Malaysian version of the dish a little different and notable in its own right. As a foodie city, Penang is home to regular and fancier or more gourmet versions of the dish: and lucky for us there are vegan versions here too!

Where did we try vegan Char Koay Teow in Penang?

We went to Lily's Vegetarian Kitchen to get our taste of Char Koay Teow, made vegan. This friendly eatery is a favourite of the locals here, and you'll find it getting really quite busy at mealtimes! This restaurant is fully vegetarian, but they don't use eggs and anything that contains milk is clearly marked on the menu. The staff are really friendly and helpful too - if you mention that you're vegan they will be able to help you out to make sure that whatever you order is suitable for your requirements!

There is a really great, community atmosphere in this eatery. Each table comes with a menu, and a slip of paper for making your order. All you need to do is mark your choices down on the order form, then take it over to the cashier to pay. Soon, your food will be on its way! Service was fast and friendly here, and the restaurant itself was very clean and we felt very welcome. It was great to see that they also sold some veggie groceries here too!

So come on - tell us all about the Char Koay Teow! How did it taste?

Now, our experience so far was that Malaysian food can be pretty spicy! Thankfully, when I ordered our Char Koay Teow, the cashier asked how spicy we would like it - and I think they added a little less spice for our Western mouths! But if you can handle the heat, by all means tell her you'd like it spicy!

As it was, our Char Koay Teow was pretty hot: it was even hotter than the Curry Mee that we tried (and that was really really spicy!) But honestly, it was so delicious and scrumptious, we loved it so much! I could have kept eating this Char Koay Teow forever, and I'm sad that I don't have a bowl to hand while I'm writing this. Mike isn’t the biggest fan of hot things but he adored it too: the tofu was great and I'm sure with tofu like this, even omnivores wouldn't miss the sausage! The flat rice noodles were soft but with that slight crispness that comes from being stir fried.

This isn't the healthiest Malaysian dish (but it's much healthier than the traditional recipe!) with a slight sticky, oiliness from the frying - this felt indulgent while still being fairly wholesome in its ingredients. The beansprouts, which added some extra nutrients to the dish, provided plenty of texture and crunch: honestly, there was so much yum on this plate. It might well have been the my favourite thing I ate during my time in Penang!

How much did this plant-based Char Koay Teow cost - and was it worth it?

Two vegan summer rolls with a slice of vegan sausage visible, with a dish of peanut dipping sauce in the background
Can you tell how spicy this is from the photo?

Want to know another amazing thing about this Char Koay Teow? It was so cheap! We paid RM7 (approx. £1.28, €1.46, or $1.59) per portion of this delicious, filling dish and were left very, very content. We highly recommend!

Lily's Vegetarian Kitchen is located at 98, Lorong Madras, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia. The restaurant is open every day from 8am to 8pm, except Monday, when it is closed.

Have you tried vegan Char Koay Teow in Malaysia? Or elsewhere in the world! Where did you go and what did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below.


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The centre of Vienna with tall, historic buildings all around
George Town has surprises around every corner!

Where should I stay?

The most popular hostel in George Town, Penang, is House of Journey. This place has plenty of clean and comfortable dorm rooms with a friendly and social vibe. It's really well located too!

For something unique, The 80's Guesthouse offer both dorm and private rooms within an old colonial shophouse that has been sympathetically updated to keep all the original features whilst adding modern amenities like rainfall showers.

Tours & Experiences

There's so much to see and do in George Town, a capital city with so much history, art, and culture in its beautifully preserved streets. To get the most out of your time here, why not try this private half-day tour, where an expert guide will show you jetties, temples, and give you some top insider tips for the rest of your time in the city. Or, if that's not for you, check out some of the top-rated Viator tours below!

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