Cubalah Veganism: Ramadan Edition

When you follow someone around for five days, it’s only appropriate to know a little bit about the who, what and where, right?

I’m Marsya, you have probably seen me on the site (shameless plug: here and here). A typical millennial of 20 years old. I’m a Muslim college student at Michigan State University but am currently home for the summer.

Hold up! For those who might not know what veganism pertains to, veganism is basically a lifestyle that completely avoids consuming any sort of animal products. The vegetarian lifestyle is very different from this as it’s a lot more lax since the main focus is more on avoiding meats like chicken, fish, lamb etc. Veganism, on the other hand, are plus products such as honey, eggs, milk, and leather

With that said, see how well I fare going vegan for 5 days during Ramadan.

Day 1: The Grocery Shopping

I started the first day with a slight advantage. Upon doing research on veganism, one of the toughest things others have to go through is finding the right milk substitute.

Not for me, though, I love me some almond milk.

I’d been a firm almond milk drinker for awhile now so I was able to eat my cereal with that for sahur without a problem.

However, Milo isn’t quite vegan. I remember picking up the tin, looking at its contents and whimpering when I saw that it contained a little bit of milk powder. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love Milo. My parents literally send me packets of Milo all the way to America because I needed it.

My mum offered an alternative – tea with almond milk. It was subpar.

I think one of the most intimidating things about being a vegan here is the lack of vegan options. My many searches on Google failed to help me locate any vegan supermarkets or restaurants. Although vegetarian options are a-plenty, it doesn’t apply to the challenge.

Speaking of the word ‘challenge’, The word and its meaning never really registered in my head till I found myself wandering around aimlessly at Jaya Grocer.

Finding vegetables and tofu were easy enough, but wow was I stumped at finding vegan substitutes. It was either too expensive for me or simply non-existent. I had a budget of RM50 for a week’s worth of food or during Ramadan – two meals a day. RM50 is more than enough for a ‘normal’ diet but not if you’re a vegan.

All sorts of cheeses are readily available. Just not vegan cheese.

I must have looked a little crushed and bothered by all of this as it caught the attention of my friend, Eurica, who came with me to the grocery store. I remember her staring me down in the middle of the vegetable aisle, passionately telling me, “I KNOW YOU CAN DO THIS, MARSYA.”

I was invigorated by her words of encouragement. It was like a scene from Million Dollar Baby.

Much like how Maggie pulled herself through her match, I pulled myself together and charged through the aisles again. I made it to the cashier and paid RM49.60 for everything.

For iftar, my mum bought me mee goreng from the mamak store. As I ate, she told me about how when she was ordering, the cashier gave her the strangest look and asked incredulously,  “Tak mau ayam? Tak mau telur jugak? Nak kosong saja?!”

Apparently, vegetables and tofu don’t really count as anything.

Day 2: The Cooking Show

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My tofu scramble ended up more like Nyonya fried tofu.

It would be pretty boring and unrealistic to only eat cereal for sahur. Hence, I decided to stir up some tofu scramble – a vegan alternative to scrambled eggs.

I woke up around 4.30 a.m. and walked with vigor – let’s be real, sleepiness – to the kitchen.

Well, as you can see from the photo above, I didn’t really plan this right. One of the things I’d completely forgotten during my trip to the grocery store was seasoning. Sure, I could have ground chili, turmeric or garlic to use but when you’re really sleepy and have less than an hour till subur to eat a proper meal, that wasn’t an option for me. So, I looked through all of the kitchen cabinets furiously like a looter.

Finally, I found a bottle of vegan oyster sauce.

“This will do!” I exclaim.

As someone who rarely cooks back home, me picking up a frying pan is a move so fascinating that my mum and long-time family helper, Mak Cik Yus, actually hovered around me to watch.

I felt like I was on an episode of Masterchef.

That is if Masterchef had a segment of your elders imploring you to add more oyster sauce. Literally, every five seconds one of them would go, “Cukup ke sauce?!” or “Not enough lah.” 

When I first took out the bottle of vegan oyster sauce, it was half-full. By the time I was done, I’d already finished the entire thing.

Thank Allah, my buka puasa that night was a lot less theatrical. I followed my mum to an organic restaurant – the best option you would have as a vegan in Malaysia – to get something to eat.

Day 3: The Concerned Father

After yesterday’s sahur hysterics, I decided to keep it low-key and eat my cereal.

The rest of my day was pretty chill. I usually like to have one day in a week where I can just laze around at home in pajamas. Doesn’t everyone?

With so much free time and without the withering glances of my mum – who was at work – and Mak Cik Yus – who was busy gardening – to sweat under I decided to prep for berbuka.

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To be honest, my favourite part about cooking is prepping.
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My dad rated my aglio olio with “WAH MY DAUGHTER CAN COOK?!”

I wanted to cook something where the vegetables could be the stars, the flavor. So, aglio olio it was.

During iftar, I was telling my dad about how amazing it is that the vegan community has managed to come up with all sorts of alternative recipes. For instance, cauliflower buffalo wings, bean burgers, and so forth. This led to the topic of fake meat.

Dad: I don’t know lah, girl.

Me: Huh?

Dad *frowns*: I just don’t think it’s very natural.

My dad’s argument is that it seems rather unnatural for these fake meat to mimic the taste of meat. He talks about how meat is important for a balanced diet and went on to talk about the importance of meat in the context of Islam. I then asked him, “Would you be okay if I became a permanent vegan?”

His answer? “Of course, I’ll support you. I’m just worried nanti susah for you.”

This would be a conversation I’d remember till the end of the challenge.

Day 4: The Sorbet Survey

I started the next day eating leftover Aglio olio for sahur. At this point, I’m already okay with swapping out Milo with milk tea. I went about my day like usual.

Some of you might be wondering if being a vegan during the fasting month affected me physically.

I can honestly say that no, it barely hampered my energy or drive. Maybe the first day I felt a little less energetic due to not having my typical cup of Milo, but I started eating more dates during sahur to circumvent that.

In America, it was either halal meat or vegetables for me. The former was extremely difficult and pretty expensive so I would usually go for the latter. Perhaps by doing so, it has prepared me for the challenge.

I can safely say being a vegetarian is a cakewalk compared to being a vegan, especially in a country like Malaysia.

The difficult part for me was not being able to eat my usual very-not-vegan desserts. It was a gripe I shared with Marini, who was my pillar of strength and support throughout the week.

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God bless Marini who was always there to help.

I had a dinner date with another friend that day and there lies one of the things that I discovered was absolutely difficult about being a vegan. Having to be extremely particular.

I don’t like making a fuss. Being a Muslim and dining out with my non-Muslim friends always made me feel a little bad that they would have to cater to my beliefs. I know my friends don’t care and I love them for that. The idea of being even more particular made me cringe.

Jessica, my friend, was extremely supportive. She was down to eat anything. It took me a lot of Google searches to think of a suitable place.

I remember apologizing to her so much how I felt bad that this is all so mafan.

We finally decided to go to BMS Organic Restaurant in Atria Mall.

I cannot recommend BMS Organic enough. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, but they have clear labels of food containing eggs and milk, which made my life way easier. Their menu has a plethora of options to fulfill your fancy, from veggie burgers to vegan bak kut teh.

That night, I opted for their curry. They had an advertisement for their vegan ice cream – that got me super excited! – but sadly the waiter told me that it was discontinued at the moment.

Jessica and I spent the majority of the night catching up in the restaurant. When the waitresses told us gently that they were about to close up the place, my craving for dessert was hitting an all-time high and I really didn’t feel like going home yet.

We found ourselves at Inside Scoop. Oh, how I nearly salivated at all the ice cream options. My eyes landed on their Raspberry Sorbet.

Me: Excuse me!

Cute Worker: Yes, miss?

Me *laughs nervously*: Does sorbet contain milk?

Cute Worker *smiles*: Oh no, it doesn’t.

Me *after a pause*: Wow, that was probably a really dumb question.

Cute Worker *laughs*: Eh, no. Don’t worry about it. I don’t think it was. 

Without skipping a beat, I ordered a regular scoop of that, paid and put my change into his tip jar.

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SUCCESS!

Day 5: The Last Day (For Now?)

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There was a lot of mushrooms.

For sahur, I had a bowl of udon my mum packed for me from the night before.

“The broth is mushroom-soy!” she said excitedly.

As we ate, I talked to my family about my dinner at BMS Organics. My mum was especially interested, as she asked me to bring her to eat there one day. It seems like the past few days were pretty eye-opening for her, too.

I thought it would only be fitting to end the challenge by eating out with Marini, who literally guided me throughout the entire week with her recipes and advice. We went to Beyond Veggies at Sunway Pyramid.

Their menu was flushed with all sorts of options, too. It was only lacking in clear labels of whether or not the dish contained eggs or milk. I ordered their tom yam noodle soup and oh boy it was so good.

So, what are my takeaways from this week?

Veganism is not an impossible lifestyle in Malaysia. I direct you to someone like elinagives (mad respect for her!) to answer that.

Secondly, vegan Muslims exist. Read this Huffington Post article if you’re interested.

I must say, however, it is a pretty expensive lifestyle. Restaurants like BMS Organics and Beyond Veggies were absolutely delicious, but my meals there and my trip to the grocery store easily cost double of what I would usually spend in any other week.

If I had the means to, I would definitely be okay with it. However, when you’re living off your parents, it doesn’t quite feel right to really invest in veganism yet. It absolutely bothers me to see my mum and dad worry as well as go out of their way to make sure I eat properly. When I make my own money, I would definitely pick it up again.

Maybe it’s a statement some people might find problematic, but that is simply my stance on it. I know for most vegans ‘ethical meat’ is not a thing, but it’s a practice in Islam I live by. What I mean by this is that it is absolutely forbidden in Islam to allow the animal to suffer during the slaughtering process. The process must be quick and be of the least painful to the animal in question. Islam too stresses on how important it is to treat livestock well at all times. Thus, seeing the halal logo on my animal products reassures me.

It’s enough to hold me by until the day I can fully commit myself to veganism. Hopefully, some day soon.

Fingers cross when that day comes, vegan Milo is a thing.

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