This is a guest post written by an Indian Malaysian who blogs under the name “The Vegetarian Writer.” The VW kindly answered my questions about vegetarianism in Malaysia for the 2012 edition of Vegetarian Asia: A Travel Guide which I am currently working on. So here’s information about eating vegetarian food in Malaysia, in the words of the Vegetarian Writer:
In Malaysia, or to be more specific West Malaysia/Peninsular Malaysia, there are three main races/ethnicities: Malays, Chinese, and Indians. I’ll leave out explanations for the two big States in East Malaysia, namely Sarawak and Sabah, as there many different ethnicities over there.
There are also many religions practiced in Malaysia, with Islam being the official religion. Take note, all Malays are Muslims. Chinese people are either Christian/Catholic, Buddhists, and there are also Chinese Muslims. Indians are either Hindu, Christian/Catholic, or Muslim.
Religion plays a big role on the types of food eaten. Muslims do not eat pork at all, or drink alcohol (it’s forbidden). Muslims also do not eat amphibians, that is animals that live in two different environments – land & water. Hence, no frog legs for Muslims.
Buddhism encourages vegetarianism. That is why there are many Chinese vegetarian restaurants around here. These restaurants do not even serve eggs. As I’ve mentioned on my blog, eggs are not considered vegetarian, but dairy products are. These restaurants also serve what they call “mock meat,” which is usually made of soya-based products, that are cooked in such a way that their taste and consistency is similar to meat dishes.
There are also Buddhists who eat chicken, but like Hindus, do not eat beef.
An added note here: Chinese people love to eat pork. I’m just saying.
Now, Indians, who form the minority in terms of population amongst the three races, are mostly Hindus. And Hinduism, just like Buddhism, encourages vegetarianism. And what’s especially important to note, is that beef is a big no-no for Hindus. The cow is a sacred animal for Hindus. That is why, if you go to an Indian restaurant in Malaysia, especially a South Indian restaurant, you will not find beef served. You will find mutton, chicken, fish, prawns, but no beef.
Hindus are not keen on pork either, so you will not find pork served. And a lot (but not all) Hindus do not encourage eating pork, because they do not consider pigs clean animals. Here’s something else you might find interesting: Hindus do eat wild hog though, but not pigs. I asked my friends about this, they said it’s because wild hogs live in the jungle/forest, and eat berries and fruit, and are hence ‘cleaner animals’.
Okay, so that’s the rather long-winded background, and I believe it sort of answers your first question. I don’t have statistics though. But I can tell you this: a lot of Indian Hindus practise vegetarianism on certain holy days of the week, like Tuesdays and Fridays, and during holy months, such as mid July to mid August, and one month before Thaipusam, which is usually in Jan/Feb. For them, fasting usually means giving up meat.
That is why, vegetarians such as myself, enjoy going to Indian restaurants, even if they are not completely vegetarian, because they serve vegetable dishes and understand the concept of being vegetarian. It is very difficult in Malay restaurants though, because the vegetable dishes there usually have prawns or anchovies floating around.
There are also Indians who are “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” followers, and who do not even eat garlic and onion. This I believe (but am not 100% sure), is because garlic and onions are considered to be aphrodisiacs.
Now, moving on to myself.
My family and I are South Indian Hindus, and we’re Brahmin. Brahmins are almost always vegetarian, except for Bengali Brahmins who eat fish (I think). So yes, my whole family is vegetarian. Mostly, anyway. Some of my family members, upon traveling to foreign lands (er, to the US, haha) became non-vegetarian. So if you’re a Brahmin, chances are bigh you were brought up in a vegetarian household, and you’re a vegetarian. My maternal grandmother is traditional, and on holy days, she does not cook food with garlic and onions.
Just to let you know, my father and his five siblings actually took the time and effort to write a family cookbook, that you can buy from Amazon (it’s print-on-demand).
Well, amongst the vegetarians that I know, they don’t meat for religious/spiritual reasons. This has to do with killing animals for the sake of eating, and to prevent the suffering of animals. Hindus also try to eat food that is Sattvic, because we believe the food you eat affects your body and mind, and Sattvic food is good for you.