Tips for ordering vegetarian food in Bangkok

Despite living in a mainly Buddhist country, Thai people are rarely vegetarian. I am actually yet to personally meet one. Although there are many yummy vegetable dishes, pure vegetarian food is quite hard to find in normal restaurants.   

Vegetarian lunch at Banana Family ParkHaving said that, it’s perfectly possible and enjoyable to travel and live in Thailand as a vegetarian. All it takes is a little bit of effort! Luckily, in almost all restaurants and street food stalls in Thailand the food is freshly made to order, so you can usually just request for your dish to be prepared with a few modifications. Here are some tips for enjoying Thai food on your travels as a vegetarian:

Ask them to leave out the fish sauce

Fish sauce is one of the most common ingredients in Thai cooking and is used to add salty flavour to almost any Thai dish. The delicious som tam or papaya salad, for example, is a staple of Thai cuisine and definitely worth a try, but not naturally a vegetarian option as it contains both fish sauce and dried shrimp. Luckily, you can ask for these to be left out when you order and enjoy a vegetarian version.

To order a vegetarian version, say:  mai sai nam plah (without fish sauce) and mai sai goong haeng (without dried shrimp).       

Explain that you’re a vegetarian

The meaning of vegetarianism in Thailand is understood slightly differently from the West. Most Thais tend to assume that being a vegetarian simply means you don’t eat actual pieces of meat or seafood, but anything else, be it fish sauce, oyster sauce, eggs etc. is still fine to eat. If you are ordering food in a Thai restaurant and want to tell your waiter you’re a vegetarian, you can say: gin jay, which more specifically translates to being a vegan, but will imply that you don’t eat any meat, seafood or animal byproducts.

Ask for substitutions

The wonderful thing about Thai restaurants is that there is often tofu on the menu as an alternative to meat. And so there’s no reason not to try a delicious pad krapow (meat fried with holy basil and served with rice) for example. You could just ask for it to be prepared with tofu (tauhu) instead of meat and with soy sauce (sai saw thua luang) instead of fish sauce.

Look out for dedicated vegetarian restaurants

vegetarian restaurants chinatown BangkokOf course it’s not that hard to find purely vegetarian restaurants and even street-food stalls in Bangkok. One of the best areas to find vegetarian options in any Thai city or town is the local Chinatown, and Bangkok is no exception. Look out for yellow signs or flags with red writing to indicate that a restaurant is dedicated to a-han jay or vegetarian food.

Don’t forget dessert

The nice thing about visiting a hot, tropical country like Thailand, is that fresh fruits are always available! Any trip to Bangkok simply wouldn’t be complete without trying some of the exotic fruits that Thailand has to offer. Mango and pineapple are in season from late spring to early summer, while fresh papaya and guava can be found all year round. Or why not try something a bit more exotic like rambutan, dragon fruit, durian or custard apple? Everyone has their own favourite and with so much choice on offer, you’ll certainly find yours!

Do you have any tips for vegetarians visiting Bangkok? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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