Everyone has been buzzing about ecotherapy for some time now. Essentially choosing a holiday where one is ensconced amid nature to seek respite — or for more serious cases, an antidote — against the stressors of frenetic city life, ecotherapy advocates look to nature to be cured. Fortunately, for those of us who manage to live fairly sensibly and simply wish to digitally detox for a few days while eating cleanly and indulging in holistic activity, Malaysia offers unending paradisiacal options.
Langkawi in the north has always been an obvious choice. Blanketed by rainforest and ringed by tropical sea, it is tough to pick how you want to spend the day, from trekking through the jungle in search of waterfalls to snorkelling in the company of rainbow-coloured reef fish. For those who seriously want wellness to anchor their precious few days off, the Ambong Rainforest Retreat is a good choice. The boutique resort, set on 9.5 acres of hillside land, is well known for its spa and regular yoga and wellness retreats. But even if you are not staying, its on-site Pegaga Café is worth making a pit stop for.
Occupying a spot among the treetops is Pegaga, a vegan café that opened last May to cater for health-conscious islanders and travellers. Named after the Asiatic pennywort, pegaga is particularly prized in the ancient Indian life science of Ayurveda. Scientifically, it is used to treat a wide range of maladies, including bronchitis, asthma and dysentery. Locally, it is also favoured by traditional healers and as an ingredient for ulam, the blanket term for all the indigenous shoots, ferns and herbs eaten raw or lightly blanched in a Malay salad.
That said, the mildly bitter herb does not feature in the menu, as the café takes a friendly East-meets-West approach to eating versus offering strictly medicinal fare. For breakfast, you need not fear being force-fed wheatgrass shots but can instead enjoy your selection of smoothie bowls starring cacao and homemade granola, red dragon fruit or a medley of yellow fruits such as mango, banana, lime and pineapple.
Hot meals include mushroom tacos, tempeh and mushroom rendang and the Good Earth burger, where a pumpkin, millet and chickpea kofta replaces a traditional meat patty. And just because it is a vegan café does not mean you must deny yourself dessert either. The pudding menu will definitely offer something to please everyone, be they a grown-up or a conscious-eating child. There are homemade ice creams and sorbets (choose from coconut, mango, sour plum and lime, or lychee with bunga kantan), vegan carrot cake, coconut mango pudding or, best of all, Pegaga’s own gluten-free chocolate cake made using 62% dark chocolate, rice and corn flour, reduced sugar and a rich coconut-chocolate ganache.
As much as possible, Pegaga sources all its ingredients locally, ensuring a healthy yet tasty meal that combines nutrition with flavour and a low carbon footprint. Ambong Rainforest Retreat also has its own organic farm called Buluh & Tebing, which is open as an excursion option to guests who want to visit or try their hand at harvesting produce, followed by a farm-to-table cooking class.
Pegaga Café, Ambong Rainforest Retreat, Jalan Pantai Tengah, Langkawi, Kedah. Daily, 8am to 3pm; 7pm to 10pm. Call 017 588 2080 for reservations.
This article first appeared on July 17, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.