As a vegan in Malaysia, it is inevitable for me to be invited to an Open House during Aidilfitri festivities. And yes, there have been moments where most of the food served was not appropriate for me to consume, leaving extremely apologetic hosts flustering around to try and accommodate to my diet preferences.
They feel bad. I feel bad. It’s awkward. But awkwardness can be avoided with some pre-emptive measures. So here are 7 easy steps to ensure a vegan-friendly Hari Raya open house for all your guests!
1. Know the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan
From my experience with the everyday Malaysian, I have come to realize that many still believe that being a vegetarian and being a vegan are one and the same, mistakenly taking the word ‘vegan’ to be a shortened version of the word ‘vegetarian’.
A vegetarian simply means that someone does not eat meat (including seafood, like ikan bilis). Vegans choose to not support any kind of animal exploitation. This not only involves the decision to omit meat from their diet, but also any kind of animal by-products, such as eggs, milk and honey.
It extends to other aspects of living too, such as clothing (e.g. no fur, wool, silk) and personal care products (e.g. makeup that has been tested on animals). So a vegetarian can be a vegan, but a vegan is not a vegetarian.
2. Ask how strict your vegan guest is
Some vegans are particular about their veggies being cooked with pots and utensils that have been used to cook meat. I personally don’t have this issue, as my mother cooks me vegan food from the same kitchen tools she’s had for decades.
Other vegans may apply more definition to their principles. It’s always best to be sure what your guest is comfortable with.
3. Prepare at least one main dish that is free of meat, eggs and milk
This sounds difficult, but there are already Malaysian dishes that are vegan by default. Lontong is one of my most favourite Raya foods, and it can be enjoyed without Sambal, which most likely has Ikan Bilis.
Nasi Ulam, packed with fresh antioxidant-rich herbs and served without fish, happens to be one of the most underrated plant-based superfood dishes around. Another favourite combination of mine is Kuah Kacang with Lemang. Simple and satisfying!
4. Bring out the plant-based protein!
Stumped on where Malaysian vegans get their protein from? It’s most likely right under your nose, in the form of Tempeh and Tofu. Tempeh consists of 20% protein and is one of the most reliable, high quality plant-based sources in the world.
Tofu serves up at least 10% protein. Both are cheap and readily available over the Raya season. Alongside soy-based proteins, other plant-based options to offer include long beans, peanuts, dhall, broccoli, bayam (local spinach aka amaranth leaves) and kacang merah or kacang hijau cooked into bubur.
5. Keep dairy products and sugar separate from the drinks, and offer organic/unrefined brown sugar
If you are intending to serve milk-based drinks at your open house, such as Bandung or Teh Tarik, keep the condensed and/or evaporated milk separate from the drinks, giving guests the liberty to add these at their own discretion.
White sugar may seem vegan, but the bleaching process that makes it white typically uses a filter made of carbon made of cattle bones. Brown sugar that is organic and/or unrefined is a safe choice of sweetener for vegans. You can also offer palm sugar in the form of powdery gula merah or shaven gula melaka.
6. Go Kuih-zy!
One of Malaysia’s gifts to dessert-loving vegans? KUIH MUIH. Many of these bite-sized delights are naturally vegan and gluten free too, thanks to their base of glutinous rice or tapioca, and customary use of coconut milk and palm sugar. Kuih Koci, Kuih Sago, Ang Koo Kuih, Kuih Talam, Onde Onde and Putu Piring are just to name a few.
If I was to ever visit your open house, pass me some Dodol and I’ll be sorted for the day! If you wish to play absolutely safe, a platter of fresh cut fruits is a refreshing plant-based offering to end a delicious meal.
7. Have a sharing session with your guest
If you are welcoming a vegan at your open house, it’s not only a golden opportunity for your guest to enjoy the wonders of Malaysian food, but also an opportunity to learn more about the vegan way of life.
Each vegan has their own reasons for choosing the lifestyle, be it for health, the environment and/or compassion. I believe that connecting with people of differing values helps break down barriers and misconceptions, which will not only maintain harmony, but also ignite positive changes in our community.
The thought of hosting a vegan may seem like a big deal worth stressing over, but it really isn’t! Vegans, being a minority, are used to working around circumstances that don’t seem in their favour, and would most likely be gracious to accept whatever options you may offer, limited or not.
At the end of the day, your kind intentions of inviting someone over is what matters the most.