It was during a discussion with a vegetarian delegate representing the Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre at the Asia for Animals Conference 2010 that I made several startling discoveries about vegetarian food and its lack of popular appeal.
"To encourage my friends to try vegetarian food," revealed my new friend Wai Pak, "I work hard to improve my cooking. All food must be fresh, tasty and attractive. I try to ensure that I serve veggies of 5 different colours."
I had hitherto failed to consider the taste and appearance of vegetarian food as a prime factor in getting others to attempt meatless meals. Being the pedant that I am, I had thought that it was sufficient to inform or remind others about the environmental benefits and animal welfare aspects of eating less meat.
Since that minor epiphany, I have been making a conscious effort to find out what people around me did or did not like about vegetarian food. Many non-vegetarians find vegetarian food to be unhealthy, laden with artificial flavour enhancers, aesthetically unappealing, enigmatic ("What the Hell was THAT black lump I just ate?") and unpalatable.
Where in the Klang Valley, then, can one go out for a healthy, nourishing and appetising vegetarian/vegan food? By blogging about the vegetarian restaurants that I frequent, I hope to be of some small service to potential customers and to the vegetarian food industry.
Vegan Eugene had sang praises about the food at Chayo Cafe in Kelana Mall before, and when my buddy Sheela P. raved on Facebook about how much she enjoyed Chayo's spice tea and Indian set meals, I knew I had to make a date with Chayo.
So on Saturday evening, after our Nature Guiding Workshop, I asked Vegan Eugene to join me for dinner at Chayo. The ambience was welcoming, the establishment was clean and comfortable and the service was commendable.
Sensible lighting, comfortable seating, reasonably-sized tables and interesting decor makes Chayo a winner in the ambience department.
Organic cotton t-shirts with environmental messages would make good gifts for our treehugging friends, while magazines keep patrons occupied while they wait to be served. Service was prompt, however, and the staff were considerate and helpful.
The food and beverage is, of course, the main point of the visit, and we were not disappointed. Vegan Eugene and I both ordered the Indian thali set, which may seem a bit steep at RM9.90 per set, but which we were prepared to make a concession for, as the set comes with Chayo Spice Tea (organic, so I'm told) and the food uses mostly organic and fresh ingredients. What a welcome change it is from MSG-laden chunks of reconstituted soy!
Chayo Indian Set Meal ~ Clockwise from left: diced spicy pumpkin, masala curry, yoghurt (thairu) and 'mutton' varuval (not included in the set) .
My assessment? The diced pumpkin was delicious and infused with flavour without being overwhelming. Although diced, the consistency was firm, not squashy or starchy. That it was diced made it absorb flavour better and thus prevented the dish from tasting too sweet, as most pumpkin dishes tend to be.
The masala curry was thick with beans and fragrant with spices and made a highly appropriate accompaniment to the rice.
The thairu was delicious too, but shouldn't, in my humble opinion, have the reconstituted soy 'thing' in it. Mint leaves or chopped cucumber and onions would have gone down better with the thairu.
The 'mutton' varuval, like the pumpkin, was finely diced, adding to its flavour and improving its texture and consistency. It was exquisite -- almost crispy, peppery, not excessively salty and blending beautifully with the rice and vegetables.
The green pea masala (not in the picture – it was given to Vegan Eugene to replace the yoghurt dish) had the right balance of natural sweetness and spiciness, and was not runny or squishy as most green pea masalas tend to be.
Chayo Spice Tea ~ a soothing blend of tea, spices (we picked up hints of cinnamon, ginger and star anise) and milk. Vegan Eugene forgot to inform them to omit the milk in his, but the astute staff actually picked up on it when he told them he did not want the thairu that came with his meal, and took the initiative to replace dairy with soy milk. It's little thoughtful touches like this that we appreciate.
The official opening hours may be 0900h-2100h, but Vegan Eugene and I continued to be waited on graciously until 2200h.
If there was anything less than satisfactory we found about Chayo, it was that the price was rather high for a vegetarian meal, and the portions were a little small, considering the fact that we could have a huge South Indian banana leaf rice meal with lashings of curry and vegetables for the same price. Also, we hadn’t really expected to be charged 50 sen each for a glass of iced water! For the price they were charging for the food, the iced water should be thrown in for free.
Were we satisfied with the quality of their food and service? I'd like to sum up my first visit to Chayo Cafe this way: If all vegetarian food were this good, the global livestock industry would go bust.
Address: 50-2, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS6/14, Kelana Jaya, 47301 Petaling Jaya.
Phone: 03 7806 2035
Opening Hours: 0900h - 2100h