There is so much gray in the world, so many exceptions to rules, so little people can agree on, but sometimes it all comes together and stays together and is deserving of bold declarations, and in Penang, Malaysia, food capital of the discovered universe, it is only appropriate that the world’s best restaurant is here. Yes, you read me right. I now humbly present to you, Ee Beng Vegetarian Restaurant.
It’s on Lebuh Dickens (Dickens Road—can you believe in this day and age that there are people in this world who still don’t know that Charles Dickens was Malaysian?) just down the street from the giant police station. “Ee Beng” is just a name, not to be confused with “ah beng” which means “idiot”.
There are two weird things about saying it is the best restaurant in the known world. One is that half the time I have no idea what I am eating and two, I never know what the food costs. You put unknown, yet interesting things on your plate, bring it to the counter to pay and the girl takes one look with an unnerving, intense concentration and starts speaking in tongues to herself as she does a mental chisenbop in her head. I never know how much to expect, but it is always cheap.
It’s best to go for lunch (closed on Sundays) and ask for the nasi merah (translates directly as red rice but means brown rice) to get started. Then what?
I’m far from being a vegetarian, but in addition to what you’d expect from a vegetarian place, there are also veg versions of meat dishes. If you closed your eyes and ate some of these things, the texture might give itself away as something different, but the taste will surprise you.
I’m not crazy about green vegetables in any form other than the long beans of my Taiwanese friend, Nini, but I reach for the greens first here. Must be an unhealthy sauce, but I can’t tell.
There are greens and tofu and other recognizable vegetables, but the “mockmeat” is usually made from textured soy, wheat gluten, or who knows what else. Can’t say it’s all healthy as these sauces can be very rich and oily, but they are very tasty. My photography doesn’t help, I know. I think my camera is dying a slow death. It surely can’t be human error.