Food! Glorious food! At VegVoyages our two passions are travel and food – and we do our best to offer you the best of both!
We always say (and we probably say this too much as we like to eat so much) that a great way to get an idea about a country’s culture and heritage is through its food. Asia undoubtedly offers vegans and vegetarians the widest, most diverse and tastiest food to be found anywhere in the world. The combination of spices and herbs, sauces, curries and other ingredients makes Asian food an exciting culinary treat!
Each country, and often, each region within the same country, have their own methods of preparation, combination of ingredients and ways of eating. In India, you may eat off a banana leaf just using your hands. In Malaysia, forks, spoons and chopsticks are common, but also so is eating with your hands in more rural areas or at your local banana leaf or nasi kandar restaurant in the city. In Laos, the culinary balancing act of taking steaming sticky rice from a bamboo basket with your right hand, making into a ball and then eating it along with various tasty dishes that make up a delectable Lao meal - is the norm of the day. No matter which way you eat, one thing you can almost always count on is an exciting, savory and palate pleasing experience!
Most of Asia shares one simple ingredient in almost all of its cuisines - and that is rice. Rice is the staple food of Asia and billions of people depend on it for their daily survival. In Asia, rice is cooked in a variety of ways. Simple steamed rice is used to pour curries over. Sticky rice, which is popular in Southeast Asia, on the other hand is rolled into a ball and eaten with vegetable or fruit dishes. Then there are the tasty fried rice dishes that are mixed with an assortment of spices, sauces and veggies and enjoyed in a variety of styles.
But the staple of Asian cuisine is not just limited to rice and also includes a range of breads baked, fried or grilled and an endless collection of noodles served in soup, curry, fried or steamed.
Cuisines of India
Papads, Rotis, Masalas & Chais!
India undoubtedly offers the vegetarian traveler one of the most diverse selections of vegetarian cuisine found anywhere in the world. Deeply rooted in Hindu culture, vegetarian food has been cultivated and refined throughout India's varying ethnic regions for thousands of years. While ingredients and cooking techniques differ from area to area, preparing meat-free food provides a common thread in Indian cooking.
Although India may be a country with a huge vegetarian population, it is NOT necessarily vegan friendly however. Actually, the very concept of "veganism" is virtually unknown to the vast majority of those in India. Indian vegetarians tend to be lacto-vegetarians as ghee (clarified butter), curd or yoghurt and other milk products are often used in the cooking process of a dish or are served along with a meal. Even the Vegan Society of India, who we believe is doing a commendable job in educating people on veganism, has stated that people in India in general are not aware about the abuse of animals when it comes to dairy farming or the many animal-derived ingredients found in everyday food items and clothing products. HOWEVER, there is no need to worry while you are on our tours, on all VegVoyages adventures we make sure to provide pure vegan meals.
Whether savoring southern specialties such as masala dosas (South Indian crepes) served with coconut, coriander and tomato chutneys, or feasting on northern delights accompanied by fresh chapatis (Indian flat bread) and vegetable tikkas (vegetable kebabs – we make the vegan versions of) straight from the tandoor oven, the sheer variety of pure veg food makes India a fantastic country to "travel veg" in - and on your VegVoyages adventure - we'll be sampling them all!
Most Indian meals include a rice dish, several vegetable dishes and curries, and especially in the north - a healthy serving of rotis (Indian wheat flour tortillas), naans (which in general are not vegan, but we do make a vegan version on the trip) or parathas (tasty griddle fried Indian flat bread – the one’s we serve are all vegan).
Indian food is often quite spicy. Chili, curry powder, cardamom, garlic, onions, cloves, turmeric and cumin are all common ingredients in Indian cooking. Of course, VegVoyages respects everyone's palate and can have the food prepared to fit your individual tastes and needs.
Indian food's global popularity is owed in large part to its curries. The varieties are endless. Popular vegetarian curries may include aloo (potato) curry, okra curry, mixed vegetable curries, paneer (cottage cheese cubes - for non-vegans) masala and others. Curries are usually served with steamed or boiled rice but are also often eaten with roti, naan or paratha.
Rotis resemble tortillas and are made from wheat flour (sometimes corn flour). They are cooked directly on a tawa (a cast-iron type griddle) while cooking, whereas naan bread tends to be more fluffy and is baked in a tandoor oven. Parathas on the other hand are tasty griddle fried Indian flat bread served plain or stuffed. They can be eaten with curries – but also go well with fresh chutneys and pickle.
As the staple component of the Indian diet, rice plays an important role in their cuisine and is served in a myriad of forms. From boiled rice to biryani laced with cardamom and cloves to the fabled Indian basmati rice rich and delicate in flavor, Indian rice and its many forms will leave your appetite well satisfied.
Throughout North India, the staples include dal (lentils), curries, bread and rice. Nearly every meal is served with dal in some capacity. Often it is offered as a soup-like side dish that can be poured like gravy over rice or used to dip roti in. Dal is prepared in many different ways and no doubt, you will find a style that you'll enjoy.
At VegVoyages, we want to make sure that you get the widest variety of local vegan and vegetarian cuisine available from the different regions of India. So, in addition to eating the more popular dishes, we will also introduce you to an eclectic selection of more regional dishes.
In the Rajasthan for example, dal bhati is a famous dish consisting of spicy dal ate with round ball-shaped bread (we enjoy a tasty vegan version of this dish on our adventures). Rajasthan is also famous for their gram curries - which are gram pieces delicately simmered in a mixture of spices and a pungent curry. While Gujarat for example, is known for its vegetarian thali (set meal), where you are presented with a vast array of scrumptious vegetable delicacies, dal, papad, snacks, rice and roti until you can't eat anymore.
On a VegVoyages adventure, you'll discover Indian food in all its varieties - from Southern specialties, Northern delights and region specific delicacies you'll truly experience what Indian food has to offer.
Cuisines of Malaysia
Asian fusion cuisine at its best!
The variety of vegan food found in Malaysia is endless - if you know where to look! Actually, Malaysia - in our opinion, offers the vegan traveler some of the tastiest vegan cuisine found on the planet!
Eating is a national pastime in Malaysia and you'll never be too far from some delicious food. Rich and spicy dishes influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian and Eurasian cuisines make Malaysia a veritable culinary "melting pot"!
Moreover, the fusion of these cuisines that has developed over the centuries makes Malaysian food not only colorful, spicy and eclectic - but also downright tasty. The combination of these culinary elements all add up to one thing for us - which is, some really great food (and a few extra pounds)!
The Malay influence to Malaysia's vegetarian and vegan cuisine is its generous use of coconut milk, chilies, garlic, cloves, ginger, lemongrass, mint and other pungent spices as the main ingredients in making curries. These curries will often include a combination of fresh vegetables and/or bean curd or a variety of vegetarian or vegan "mock meats".
Malay food is also known for its satays, or barbequed meats - which we will be sampling the vegan versions of, accompanied by an assortment of dipping sauces such as fiery sambals (hot chili condiment - which we have made specially vegan for us - otherwise it is often made with shrimp paste) and sos kacang (spicy peanut sauce). Of course, the spice levels we adjust as per our fellow travelers' palates.
The Chinese influence to Malaysia's vegetarian and vegan cuisine, in addition to its wide assortment of delicious fried or steamed vegetable and bean curd dishes, is its contribution of noodles. Malaysia boasts a unique and tasty variety of fusion-style vegetarian and vegan noodle dishes including tangy noodle soups, mouthwatering mee kari (curry noodle soup) and spicy mee goreng (fried noodles).
The Indian influence to Malaysia's vegetarian and vegan cuisine comes from the South Indian Tamil community. Some South Indian favorites include the ever-popular banana leaf thali (vegetable curries served with rice on a banana leaf) and dosais (rice flour pancake) served with dal and fresh chutneys.
When talking about Malaysian vegetarian and vegan food, we definitely cannot forget the influence of Nyonya cuisine - delightful dishes owing their taste to the centuries old fusion of Chinese cuisine with the rich and spicy ingredients found in Malay cooking. Nyonya cuisine's origins date back to the 15th century when Chinese migrant traders set up shop in Malaysia and married local Malay women - adapting many of the local traditions and customs, as well as fusing many of the cooking methods between the two cultures.
And last but not least, there's the influence of mamak cuisine - Malaysia's Indian fusion cuisine that gave birth to such mouthwatering meals as nasi kandar, murtabak & roti canai (we will have the vegan versions of these tasty breads on our adventure), mee mamak, and of course, teh tarik, the famous hot frothy tea (we will also have the vegan version of this on our trip as well).
Rice is a staple, and unless you're eating noodles or plates of roti - you're bound to eat your meal with rice in one form or another. If you like rice, Malaysia has plenty to offer. In addition to nasi putih, or steamed rice, there's a variety of rice dishes available. These range from the ever-popular nasi goreng (Malaysia's tasty version of fried rice) to nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk often served with sambal, peanuts and vegetables).
From curries to noodles, roti canai (Malaysian parathas) to veg rendang (an absolutely delicious regional dish) - the selection of tasty vegetarian and vegan cuisine in Malaysia truly is endless. And don't forget the snacks, as Malaysians are keen snackers with roadside stalls offering everything from tahu goreng (fried tofu) to pisang goreng (fried bananas), tempe goreng (fried tempe with sauce) to salads such as vegetable rujak (a fruit salad with spicy sauce).
With the all above said however, it is important to note that to find pure vegetarian and vegan food in Malaysia, unless you are familiar with the area, is difficult. Many restaurants may say they offer "vegetarian" fare on their menus or say they can make a dish vegetarian, but in reality very few do (unless you eat at a 100% vegetarian restaurant - then no need to worry with the exception of checking to make sure there are no dairy products or honey in a dish). Many vegetable based dishes made in Malaysia use animal based products for flavoring such as beef or chicken broth (pork broth too if you are eating at a non-Muslim owned restaurant) or seasoning powders, oyster sauce, shrimp paste, fish sauce, etc. This is true for not just stir-fried veggies, but also for soups (including vegetable noodle soups), fried noodles and fried rice. In some cases, even after someone requests for none of the above ingredients, it is not unheard of for that fried vegetable noodle or rice dish to be cooked using lard.
However, there is no need to worry when on our adventures as VegVoyages prides itself on serving our guests the tastiest vegan food available. Often this means getting well off-the-beaten-track and eating at establishments that are "hole-in-the-wall" local treasures and small, hidden places where few tourists eat, but that are filled with neighborhood regulars enjoying delicious local fare. Also on our adventures in Malaysia, we have a delightful cooking class where you'll learn how to cook a mouthwatering Malaysian vegan feast.
With its unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Arab, European, Indonesian and Thai cooking methods and ingredients, Malaysian vegan food is a culinary treat not to be missed!
Cuisines of Laos
Tempting tofu laap, tasty tam mak hoong,
savory soups and bamboo basket sticky rice!
Never had Lao food before? Then you're in for a real treat, as your taste buds will spring to life on tasting mouth-watering home-cooked Lao dishes freshly prepared from scratch in a traditional Lao kitchen.
Lao cuisine tends to vary depending on which region you are traveling in, as it is quite dependent on local seasonal ingredients. One common thread though throughout Laos any time of the year is sticky rice, a glutinous small grain rice that is rolled into balls and eaten with the hand. In fact, Laotians are the only people in the world that eat sticky rice as a staple food. Of course, the more familiar long grain rice is also available but the Laotian's affinity for a steaming bamboo basket of sticky rice always takes the day! A typical Lao meal consists of the ever present basket of sticky rice, soup of some type, grilled meat (tofu in our case), lightly sautéed veggies and steamed and/or raw leafy greens.
Lao cuisine is not big on heavily fried noodle dishes or curries, although it does have some very tasty curries of which we indulge in on our adventures. It tends to be more light and healthy as the ingredients are always fresh. With its delicious soups, lightly sautéed vegetables, lighter style curries and an abundance of steamed and raw leafy greens, along with its famous salads such as the fiery papaya salad (which we will enjoy the vegan version of on our adventure), Lao food is a truly unique culinary treat.
Laotians love their herbs and spices and ingredients such as chili, dill, tamarind, ginger, mint, garlic, spring onions, sweet basil, lemongrass and a variety of spicy or bitter greens are part of virtually every meal - many of which are said to have preventative and curative properties.
Laos, being a tropical country with its fair share of rainfall (as well as sunshine), locally grows a wide assortment of vegetables that are incorporated into its cuisine, from tasty veggie stir-fries and steamed herbs and greens to mouthwatering veggie-loaded curries delicately simmered in coconut milk. Vegetable varieties depend largely on the region and season but there are always countless fresh vegetables and flavorful herbs to choose from wherever we are in Laos.
The climate in Laos is also conducive to the growing of a colorful selection of tropical fruits including mangoes, papayas, durians, mangosteens, guavas, lychees and pineapples among others. The variety of fruits available are a refreshing compliment to any meal, whether eaten fresh from the market or mixed as part of a popular dish such as papaya salad (which we'll also be learning to make the vegan version of in one of our cooking classes).
Laotians are keen snackers and you'll experience roadside stalls busy throughout the day selling freshly made snacks. Great veggie snacks include barbequed bananas (yes it's true - and they're quite tasty), barbequed sweet potatoes, steamed sweet corn still in its husk, fresh veggie and tofu spring rolls, banana flower salads and much more. Also, due to the country's French colonial past, in most towns it is easy to find freshly baked hot baguettes as well.
It's important to note, contrary to what you may have heard or read, basic veggie staple dishes like fried veggie noodles, fried vegetables or veggie fried rice are rarely, if ever, pure vegetarian, much less vegan. Sure, there are no chunks of meat in the dish (though sometimes a detailed second look will prove otherwise) and even though the dish may look vegetarian - on many more occasions than not, it will contain at least one of the following ingredients: fish or oyster sauce, chicken/pork/beef broth, shrimp or fermented fish paste, animal-based seasoning powder, etc. Many an independent traveler, as well as a few prominent travel writers, who thought they were eating pure vegetarian food were, unbeknownst to them, in fact eating some or all of the ingredients mentioned above when they ordered a "vegetarian" meal.
Although Laos is a predominately Buddhist country it is extremely rare indeed to find a monk who is a vegetarian as in Lao Buddhist traditions it is not forbidden to eat meat as a monk, it is only forbidden to kill the animal - if it has already been killed and cooked it is fair game (no pun intended). Most Laotians are non-vegetarians and the vast majority of their food contains some sort of meat (or meat based ingredients). This is not just true for stir-fries and soups but also even for salads (yes salads). The above is also often true for non-vegetarian restaurants that have a "vegetarian" section on their menu - many times the items in the vegetarian section have been prepared non-vegetarian in one way or the other. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are few and far between.
However, on all our adventures we provide our guests with all the rich, spicy and tasty dishes there are to be had - and there are many - without any of the non-vegetarian and non-vegan ingredients. Our meals supplement fish/oyster sauce with mushroom and soy based sauces, animal-based broths with vegetable and herb broths, animal-based pastes with vegetable pastes, meat with tofu and so on - and we make sure all our food is cooked using fresh vegetable oil as opposed to lard or oil used to cook meat in. This way there is no need to miss out on any of the local delicacies in all their regional forms and variations happily knowing we are consuming a pure vegan meal while still enjoying the local cuisine the way it was meant to taste!
Lao cuisine will not disappoint and will leave you wanting to learn its secrets so you can make it back home. No worries on that point as we include half day cooking classes where we spend time learning some of the country's most popular and tasty recipes! At our cooking classes, our guests also learn how and what to supplement in place of what would otherwise be animal-based ingredients to make Lao dishes both traditional and cruelty free!
Whether we're in an upscale restaurant, a local café, a street stall, a rural village home or on one of our several riverside or jungle picnics, you'll be sure to have the freshest, tastiest and widest assortment of local Lao dishes available. So don't be shy, dig in and discover the delectable flavors of Laos!
Just a few more words
about the food...
In addition to fantastic cuisines, India, Malaysia and Laos are all also blessed with a wide, colorful variety and an abundance of fruits such as papaya, mango, durian (very popular in Southeast Asia), custard apple, dragon fruit, starfruit, duku, jackfruit (often made into a curry), rambutan, mangosteen, soursop, salak and guava among others.
In addition to introducing you to the many popular and more common dishes of India, Malaysia and Laos, we also make it a priority to expose you to the more unique and tasty regionalized vegan and vegetarian cuisines that can be found only in certain areas.
On your VegVoyages adventure, we want you to get a taste for the country and its rich heritage, and what a better way to do that than through its cuisines!
Oh, one last thing we
almost forgot - you’ll probably
gain a little extra weight too!