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  • Writer's pictureAround the World in Vegan Eats


Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Our experience so far had been that Kuala Lumpur was full of amazing vegan options, from plant-based street carts and food stalls to affordable cafes and funky restaurants. It was also a city that I completely fell in love with: there was so much to look at, to taste, to get involved in. So what would happen when we searched for our second national dish in KL - would our minds continue to be blown by the vegan eateries in the Malaysian capital?

So tell us, what exactly is roti canai?

First of all, let me just say, this was something I wasn't initially that bothered about trying. I thought it sounded a bit boring, like, it's just bread, right? Wrong! I really underestimated this dish. Roti canai is a dish with Indian roots, that became popular in Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century. Malaysia has a very diverse population, with Indian and Chinese traders settling in the country many thousands of years ago. Thus, the culture and cuisine here are exciting, with lots of multicultural influences.

The central element of roti canai is a flatbread (roti means 'bread' in Sanskrit; 'canai' in Malay is the word for rolling dough thinly). So what makes roti canai not just another flatbread? Well, this is all down to the way that it is served. Roti canai is presented with one or more accompanying dishes: usually this is a curry, and often it is dahl.

This all sounds good, right? Bread and a dahl, this must be accidentally vegan! Well, unfortunately not. Dahls often are vegan, but rotis, not so much. Generally the rotis you find across the country will contain animal products including ghee and sometimes condensed milk. There are lots of modern variations of roti breads too: some of these will have egg or dairy fillings. I was desperate to find a roti canai, but obviously this needed to be a plant-based version. Well, we found one!

Where did we try vegan roti canai in Kuala Lumpur?

To find our vegan roti canai we made a beeline for The Hungry Tapir, a really funky and friendly veggie-vegan cafe in KL. There's no other way to talk about The Hungry Tapir than to say this place felt really cool. From the cute tapir logo to the furniture and decor inside the cafe, even to the staff working there and the menus, this place felt like the kind of place I've been searching for all my life. If I lived in KL I would love to spend my days in The Hungry Tapir, just soaking in the atmosphere and trying to be this cool by association!

This cafe has a menu of mostly plant-based asian and western favourites, with some exciting junk food dishes, as well as innovative takes on Malaysian food. There was a great looking cabinet of cakes and sweet treats, as well as a detailed selection of drinks and cocktails. Their menu catered to lots of specialist diets upon request too.

Before we move on, I have to talk a little bit about the animal that The Hungry Tapir have modelled their brand on. I actually didn't know much about tapirs before I saw this adorable character: I fell a little bit in love with this creature once I knew more. This black and white guy is a Malayan Tapir, who is actually the biggest of the tapirs that still exist. They are native to Southeast Asia and are herbivores: they love to munch on berries and leaves. They are endangered: in fact, there are less than 2,500 of these adorable animals left in the wild now. They live in the jungle and have terrible eyesight but an amazing sense of smell due to that massive nose! Unfortunately, deforestation is destroying their habitats, and subsequently their declining numbers. I love that The Hungry Tapir have taken this iconic creature on as their mascot, and hope that Malayan tapirs have a better future, where they can be as happy as the little guy in the logo!

So come on - tell us all about the roti canai! How did it taste?

We actually ordered this roti canai to share, with the intention of it being a starter and then we'd both have a main dish afterwards. But actually, we found it to be huge and really filling! It was a breakfast dish on the menu, but they serve it all day; I would imagine if you had this for breakfast it would definitely fill you up! In the end, we only ordered one more dish between us after we'd eaten this roti canai, and we didn't manage to finish the second dish!

I had the absolute best time eating this vegan roti canai. The flavours of the flatbread itself were really great: it was flat and crispy, but also a little doughy too. It felt really indulgent, properly comforting food! In fact, the bread was so rich, fluffy and sumptuous (words that I have honestly never associated with flatbreads before) that it was hard to believe it could be vegan: the fact that it was impressed us so much!

The presentation of the roti canai was great: the folded flatbread kept its heat really well, and was decorated with thinly sliced greens. Of course, the traditional bowls of curry were served on the side: as is customary, this included a dahl; the second dish was full of a tempeh sambal. The dahl was pretty much what you'd expect: a tasty, lentil-based dish that had a soft texture, and a relatively soft flavour to match. It was a warming addition to the roti. For me, the tempeh sambal was really where it was at. During my time in Malaysia I developed a real love for sambal: its fiery punch of heat, with its slightly sweet aftertaste delighted my tastebuds in every way. Adding tempeh here took the sambal to the next level: I couldn't get enough of this on my roti canai - and ended up eating the rest of it with my fork once the roti was all gone.

So honestly, this is not your average flatbread. Think a roti, but even more indulgent and delicious, served with a warm and comforting dahl and a punchy, sambal... and then multiply the flavours and textures by 100. This is how much I loved this roti canai.

How much did this plant-based roti canai cost - and was it worth it?

I'll be honest, this wasn't the cheapest dish: we paid RM20 (approx. £3.66, €4.11, or $4.54) for one roti canai. Although this isn't too expensive either, if you aren't vegan you could theoretically find a vegetarian roti canai in KL much cheaper. But what The Hungry Tapir have created here is something special, and I'd really recommend trying it (or, something else on their menu) just to indulge in the atmosphere of this funky eatery. It was my favourite food memories from Southeast Asia, so I'd absolutely recommend anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur to head over and try this delicious, plant-based roti canai.

The Hungry Tapir is located at 135, Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The restaurant is open every day from 12pm (noon) to 10pm except for Monday, when it is closed. On Friday and Saturday nights, The Hungry Tapir is open until midnight.

Have you tried vegan roti canai 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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For a hostel vibe with a bit more luxury, check out La Vista. This place has a city view, an infinity pool, and a choice of sumptuous private rooms or small dorms.

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