Thailand isn’t as vegan as you might expect. Meat and fish are integrent parts in Thai food. An important thing to know ist that the European concept of Vegetarianism and Veganism doesn’t correspond to the one in Thailand. Being vegetarian/ vegan, you can decide between „mangsawirat“ and something that varies from „jay“ to „jeh“, „jae“ or „chey“, the first one meaning that you don’t eat visible peaces of meat, the latter that you don’t eat neither animal products, nor garlic, onions, certain spices. And no alcohol of course! Instead of rejecting garlic, you could also ask about the ingredients. Here’s a list of some words you might want to understand:
plah/ pla = fish
moo/ muh = pork
neua/ nüa = beef
gai = chicken
gung/ kunk/ kung = shrimps
puh = crab
ped = duck
khai = egg
nom = milk
The question you need to remember is „mi XXX mai?“ in which you have to replace „XXX“ by any ingredient listed above in order to say „Does it contain XXX?“. You can also say what you eat by saying „kin/gin XXX“ („jay“ for example) and what you don’t eat by saying „mai kin/ gin XXX“.
Ok, so let’s see…
The seasoning nightmare
It is everywhere, even in the much-loved papaya salad: seafood flavouring will haunt you for the rest of your stay! Yes, fish sauce, oyster sauce and shrimpy stuff are added to nearly all dishes, sometimes you will also find them on the menu listed under „vegetarian dishes“. Luckily Thai people are also used to hearing „No fish sauce, please!“. Fish and oyster sauce can easily be replaced by soy and mushroom sauce, just ask for it.
By the way, here’s the list of the seasonings to avoid:
nam plah = fish sauce
nam man ho = oyster sauce
kung kaeng = dried shrimp
ka pi = shrimp paste
Start with Pad Thai
Pad Thai is probably the first dish you will want to eat in Thailand. It is a mix of fried noodles, sprouts, veggies, eggs and peanuts. Apart from Chicken or Seafood Pad Thai you can also get vegetarian Tofu Pad Thai. Ask to prepare it without egg and of course without fish sauce. You should also ask about the stock, because it might be the chicken one.
If you want to keep it simple, you can always go for rice noodles. Doublecheck there is no fish sauce/ shrimp paste/ egg or whatsoever in it and just make sure you can distinguish rice noodles from egg noodles. If you buy summer rolls, it is quite easy to see what is inside, so that you can easily order them without animal ingredients. There are some other dishes, which aren’t vegan, but can be turned into vegan ones. For a vegan papaya salad, for example, order one without dried shrimp and fish sauce. Stews: no meat, no seasoning, voilà!
The main problem about street food is that you cannot tell what it is actually made of and most of the time communication isn’t too successful. In any case you can eat stuff that is obviously vegan, barbecued corn (without butter) for example. Try all the kinds of fruit you can get and don’t miss the sliced mango with sugar and chili powder. You will also find people selling fruit shakes, which are just amazing. Watch before buying, some are made with milk.
Vegan is not enough? Go raw! We absolutely support that and link this guy’s blog. And wow, check out this for a great overview of links, translations, suggestions, phrases and a very useful glossary. If you speak German, this page might also contain some important advice for you. We also reccomend the Uproar-Blog with detailed information about eating vegan in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket.
This might interest you
If you have some more money at your disposal, you can also travel Asia with VegVoyages. This company emphasises the „off the beaten track“ character of their trips and attach great importance to introducing you to local life. They provide accomodations, meals, transports and organise different activities in several Asian countries.
More to come…
So yeah, we are just getting started and decided to provide some basic information before we get lost in writing an enormous guide about vegan travelling in Thailand. There is much more to say and we will try and update the information as soon as we can. Here are some of our ideas:
- More food descriptions
- Advice for sustainable travelling in Thailand
- Cooking schools
Anything else? Write us, comment this page, share and like it and last but not least: participate! Help us to create a bigger information platform and yeah just travel and enjoy Thai food! 🙂