GEORGE TOWN: Heavy rain did not stop devotees from thronging the vegetarian food stalls here on the first day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
Among them was engineer Tank Tan, 27, who was looking forward to buying his favourite vegetarian snacks like tau sar piah (mung bean pastry) and baked rice crackers.
"I have been observing a nine-day vegetarian diet in conjunction with the festival for eight years now.
"Although I work nearby, I had to drive here due to the downpour," he said when met at a vegetarian stall along Madras Lane here on Wednesday (Oct 6).
Sales executive Emily Neoh, 25, braved the heavy rain to take away vegetarian meals for herself and her friends.
"I have been observing the festival since I was young.
"I came to pack economy rice for lunch and fried noodles for dinner," she said.
Tyre technician Yeoh Jun Xiang, 24, said he had been observing the festival since he was 16 years old.
"I will go vegetarian for nine days.
"My family has always encouraged me to consume a vegetarian diet during the festival.
"I work nearby and came by motorcycle but it started raining. Luckily, I managed to get my favourite vegetarian char siew for lunch," he quipped.
Restaurant manager Leng Yi Hoong, 22, who volunteers at the stall, said business was slightly slower due to the heavy rain.
"We have fewer customers due to the downpour. Dining-in is also not allowed.
"Most of our food is ready-to-go. Some volunteers were asked to prepare food at home to reduce contact.
"We have some new dishes on the menu this year and everything is sold at a reasonable price to encourage more people to go vegetarian for the festival.
"Among the new items are homemade sandwiches and guang jiang, which is a Teochew dish," he said.
According to Leng, all the volunteers are required to have had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival started on Wednesday and will end on Oct 14.
It is held on the first day of the ninth lunar month and is observed with great reverence by the Taoist community.
Many devotees start their vegetarian diet a day earlier to cleanse themselves. Some also observe sexual abstinence and refrain from using foul language.
The festival coincides with the Navarathri Festival, for which Hindu devotees also follow a strict vegetarian diet.
This year, the second in a row, the Tow Boo Kong Temple in Jalan Raja Uda will not organise a procession for devotees to send off the Nine Emperor Gods.
Temple chairman Datuk Khor Wan Tat said only two temple advisers and a few committee members would take part in the ritual to send off the gods from Pantai Bersih in Bagan Ajam.
"We have to call off the procession because of Covid-19," he said.