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Vegetarians and vegans

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Very few Thais are vegetarian (mangsawirat) but, if you can make yourself understood, you can often get a non-meat or fish alternative to what’s on the menu; simply ask the cook to exclude meat and fish: mai sai neua, mai sai plaa. You may end up eating a lot of unexciting vegetable fried rice and phat thai minus the shrimps, but in better restaurants you should be able to get veggie versions of most curries; the mushroom version of chicken and coconut soup is also a good standby: ask for tom kha hed. Browsing food stalls also expands your options, with barbecued sweetcorn, nuts, fruit and other non-meaty goodies all common. The two ingredients that you will have to consider compromising on are the fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste that are fundamental to most Thai dishes; only in the vegan Thai restaurants described below, and in tourist spots serving specially concocted Thai and Western veggie dishes, can you be sure of avoiding them.

If you’re vegan (jay, sometimes spelt “jeh”) you’ll need to stress when you order that you don’t want egg, as they get used a lot; cheese and other dairy produce, however, don’t feature at all in Thai cuisine. Many towns will have one or more vegan restaurants (raan ahaan jay), which are usually run by members of a temple or Buddhist sect and operate from unadorned premises off the main streets; because strict Buddhists prefer not to eat late in the day, most of the restaurants open early, at around 6 or 7am, and close by 2pm. Most of these places have a yellow and red sign, though few display an English-language name. Nor is there ever a menu: customers simply choose from the trays of veggie stir-fries and curries, nearly all of them made with soya products, that are laid out canteen-style. Most places charge around B40 for a couple of helpings served over a plate of brown rice.

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