As a vegetarian, I find Thailand as an easy country to eat what I want to and also to experience the local flavors without meat. Unlike several other deep Asian countries, language is not a barrier here. The locals manage with some fragmented English at almost every nook and corner. Besides, Thailand is a country having a profusion of fruits and vegetables. As you walk around the local market and you’ll find varied assortment of garden-fresh harvest in huge numbers. Additionally, with a lot of Buddhist Monks and several religious establishments, Vegetarianism has never been an issue in the country.
Don’t be frightened of the Thai menu even if you hear the pork obsession and the fish sauces being common. The Thais never cook your food until you have ordered it. This means they would wait until you specify your requirements. They are always willing for customization and are willing to take care of allergens and ethical requests. This also enables you to choose any dish form the menu. Just ask them to replace the meat with tofu/veggies and eliminate the sauces that you wish to not consume.
What is the locals’ idea of ‘vegetarian food’ in REMOTE Thailand?
Remote places in Thailand are unlike what you may see in Thai cities. You should know what these locals think of veg food if you casually ask them for a ‘vegetarian’ dish. The word “Vegetarian” roughly decodes to “mang sa wirat”, which means you don’t eat obvious pieces of meat or seafood which are visible on the plate. All other things that contain eggs, fish paste, meat stock, or other animal products is well accepted – Only not the visible pieces of meat!
The word ‘Vegan’ on the other hand infers in Thai as “jay”, denoting a person who doesn’t eat meat, seafood, any animal derivatives, garlic, and even a few herbs and veggies having sharp flavors.
Placing orders for vegetarian/vegan food
- At the outset, you need to tell the chef or attendant that you are a vegetarian/Vegan. In Bangkok, English will help you. For smaller towns, you may want to say “ben mang sa wirat”. To be safer, just say “gin jay”
- As you order your meal, lay emphasis on the fact that you are vegetarian and make sure to mention that you want your food without any form of meat (“mai gin neua sat”) or without fish sauce (“mai ow nam bplaa”) or without oyster sauce (“mai ow nam man hoy”)
Thai dishes you must try in Thailand
Pad pak gachet – This is a stir fried water mimosa and one of the most remarkable and delightful vegetables in Thailand. It’s a chunky tough vegetable that matures underwater. Remember, they could use fish sauce even if they have listed it under vegetarian food. Hence, ensure to be specific with the purging.
Gaeng Om – This is a lovely stew made with quite a few earthy herbs, vegetables, pork or chicken and often a dab of fermented shrimp paste. Ask them to make you the same with your proxies.
Som tam Thai – This is a healthy green papaya salad. It may contain a few non-vegetarian ingredients in the blend but can be often customized with tofu.
Pad Thai – This is a stir fried rice noodle dish and is a street favorite. This differs a lot to Pad Thai from our home countries. The original ingredients are dried rice noodles, eggs, tofu, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried or fresh shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chili pepper, palm sugar, lime, peanuts. When you ask for the vegetarian version, they know what should be done!
These listed above are a few alternatives to try the local cuisine in the vegetarian way. There are several more and regardless of what you choose, remember the rule to explicitly mention which ingredients are to be excluded. Ordering any food as a “jay” dish, will automatically draw your meal minus the meat, fish sauce or oyster sauce.
Tip – I often ordered those dishes whose names sounded fun to me (in the menu). All I had to do was to ask them to NOT add any meat to the dish (Jay). That way, they gave us the option of tofu as a replacement which worked completely okay with us!
In the current time, English is widely understood and with several travelers having multiple food habits, the urban Thais are well aware of the vegetarian practice!
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