Hungry Tapir Restaurant offers a fresh and delicious vegetarian menu that is constantly updated to satisfy the palate of customers while providing a great Instagram vibe.
The The first thing one notices upon entering The Hungry Tapir is that sunlight penetrates through a square roof window, illuminating the entire first floor. The light illuminates the long vegan cocktail bar, which serves different types of drinks, from cocktails to coffee.
The interior is filled with an eclectic array of antique furniture in a variety of shapes and sizes, as well as colorful paintings.
Next, there’s the open Instagrammable balcony with a pink wall, at the back of the café, where are raised concrete steps, hand-painted with floral leaf designs.
Located above The Loong Cafe within a row of old shop houses, the first floor bar has the charm of a heritage building on Petaling Street.
The café and restaurant is owned by a mother-daughter duo – Cynthia Rodrigo and daughter Makissa Sophia Smeaton, who is a graphic, marketing and interior designer.
“We love Chinatown. “It’s the last of a great group of heritage buildings,” Smeaton said, about why they focus on this particular site.
They were part of a large group of buyers touring the site, but everyone walked out after just one look at the dirty, dark, and dingy room once.
“Initially it was a backpacker hotel, painted orange, very dark, not well maintained with a low ceiling. [But] “We fell in love with her instantly,” Smeaton said.
The entire interior was designed by them. “Our style is very black and white or monochromatic. We wanted a splash of pink, yellow, turquoise and lots of botanicals,” Smeaton said.
We went to Sri Lanka in 2019 and took some samples from a textile factory. When we opened this place, we pulled samples and placed the order.
“We have upholstered everything. The tables are made of reclaimed wood. We found used furniture and recycled ourselves.
“We wanted to be very environmentally sustainable, and used pre-granulated or recycled items as much as possible to fit our vegan, plant-based lifestyle. I believe in a sustainable lifestyle and that is why I chose to go vegan for seven years.”
The two always wanted to open a coffee shop, but never had the chance.
“We wanted a cocktail bar because we saw a gap in the market at the time,” Smeaton said.
They realized that in Malaysia, people usually became vegetarians for religious or health purposes, but they wanted to get closer to the lifestyle aspect – they wanted it to be a place where people could go out at night, have a drink and enjoy a vegetarian meal without any restrictions.
“We have a vegan kitchen with cocktails in the evening, and everyone can enjoy that, whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian,” she said.
The menu at The Hungry Tapir includes local and Western cuisine, as well as an ‘east meets west’ blend that caters to Malaysian palate as closely as possible, with scholars and local spices and herbs incorporated into the dishes.
At the same time, they also came up with their own vegetarian version of Malaysian food. Smeeton and the team spent hours, sometimes days, coming up with innovative ideas.
“The ‘Jackfruit Roti Jala’ is one of our biggest accomplishments,” she said proudly.
Unlike any other type of roti jala, the vegan version is not made with dairy products like ghee, butter or eggs, nor does it come with chicken broth (vegetarians don’t consume meat or animal products).
Alternatively, the “pure” yellow pancake comes with spiced jackfruit curry and coconut raita.
“We made it with almond milk,” she revealed, adding that they made their Tapir Roti Canai, a crunchy flatbread with dhal and sambal tempeh.
Smeaton recalled a funny incident during an R&D operation.
She revealed that they tried spinning the vegan paste just like the roti canai connoisseurs at Mamak restaurants, but it kept falling apart and falling on their heads.
But some tests paid off.
“We come up with our own dishes, and we change our menu twice a year. Since our opening in 2020, we have updated our menu about four times. If we notice that some dishes are not being ordered often, we replace them with a new dish to keep it fresh and exciting for our customers.”
It tastes as good as it looks
Their signature dish is Mama’s Satay. It looked like chicken meat satay, but when I took a bite, I was pleasantly surprised by the familiar texture.
At the time, Smeeton revealed that it was actually urchin mushrooms marinated on skewers. I wouldn’t have guessed I was biting into a piece of mushroom if you hadn’t told me.
The satay was served with nasi empet cubes, pieces of cucumber and onions with peanut broth or chutney.
“Some clients were eating it, and they wouldn’t know it wasn’t chicken. It’s a success when they don’t realize they don’t eat meat.
“It’s not placebo or soy meat, it’s just mushrooms. We use natural meat instead of imitation meat. We use vegetables from local farmers and small food companies.”
“In fact, our hedgehog mushrooms come from Cameron Highlands, and we also get burger patties from Phuture Food, which makes meat suppliers from plants.”
Another highlight on the menu is the Pink Bombshell Burger.
“It’s all pink – a pink bun and a pink pie. The burger patty is made with a mixture of beetroot, chickpeas, mushrooms, etc., topped with vegan cheese and caramelized onions.
Then, there’s the delicious Nasi Lemak, with the traditional taste of rice cooked in coconut rice, aromatic sambal, hedgehog mushroom rendang, tempeh, green vegetables, sliced cucumber, and crunchy peanuts.
The popular vegan Eggs Benedict is also made into an “eggcelent” Benedict consisting of “tofu that turned into an egg-like batter”, bacon and carrots, a crunchy slice of carrot with spinach and hollandaise sauce on fresh sourdough.
For drinks, Tapir is known for cocktails like Tembikai-rita, cocktails like Jungle Tapir and Kombucha, and smoothies with ‘very tasty’ foods like Spirulina, Acai Berry, and coffee.
Berry-kissa was one of those smoothies, rich in ingredients and delicious.
There is something for everyone, even dogs! The clever chefs at Tapir have transformed their signature dishes – Mama’s Satay and Rainbow Ulam Fried Rice – into Mama’s Paw-Tay and Nasi Fur-Ever Ulam, exclusively for the furry creatures.
The pets also have their own place to “party” and enjoy their meals, in the pink-walled balcony right at the back.
Changing Views About Vegetarians
For Smeeton, their goal isn’t to convert others to an entirely new vegan lifestyle, but rather to “open the mind” to the taste of vegan food.
“We want to change their perception of vegan food. ‘Vegan’ is not a salad on the plate. It’s fun and delicious contrary to popular belief. If you eat a tasteless vegetarian dish, don’t blame the food, blame the chef.”
Our approach is to encourage others to consume fewer animal products and enjoy good food. In fact, 80% of our customers are not vegetarians or vegans, which is a plus for us.