How to Travel as a Vegetarian in Thailand

by Angela Dollar - Travel with a Purpose
( August 4th, 2010 )

Longan, one of many lovely Thai fruits

Vegetarians, I have news for you: Thai food might be a staple in your diet at home, but when you travel to Thailand you will discover that vegetarianism is not as widespread as you may think. That exhilarating freedom we veggies experience of ordering almost any dish off a Thai menu with just veggies or tofu is a pleasure reserved mainly for dining here at home.

However, the good news is that you will still enjoy some of the best meals ever to pass your lips as a traveler in Thailand. There’s just a few things to know before you embark on your tasting adventure.

What are the magic words?
There are a few simple Thai phrases you’ll need to help convey your preference. The words “kin chey” and “mangsavarat” both imply vegetarianism. In a sentence, you may say “Di chan kin chey” (for females, or “Pom kin chey” if you are male).

It also helps to learn the words for meat so you can discover what is in a dish. Learning that moo is pork, gai is chicken, neua is beef, pla is fish and kung and prawns will allow you to ask “mi moo mai?” or “mi gai mai” (Does this have pork, does this have chicken?) It will also allow you to say “mai kin neua” or “mai kin pla“. (I don’t eat beef, I don’t eat fish)

Dig in!

A simple lunch of phat thai and som tam

While some dishes are not traditionally prepared without meat, there’s some delicious stand-bys that are. It’s quick and easy to order a phad thai phak (fried noodles with vegetables) at restaurants and noodle stands throughout Thailand. Other noodle dishes, such as phad see euw (fried wide noodles) may be ordered with eggs (sai khai). Khao phat pak (fried rice with vegetables) is a popular morning dish, as are savory omelets with farm fresh eggs. Pa pia sot (fresh spring rolls) may or may not come with shrimp wrapped inside, but at least the translucent rolls allow for a sneak peak. And since som tam (spicy papaya salad) is usually made to order, you can often requested it without the requisite shrimp.

Of course, you could just live on fruit alone in Thailand! Fresh pineapple, mango, jackfruit, mangosteens, lychee, longan, watermelon, banana, coconut, papaya, dragonfruit, rambutan and more fill the fresh markets and street carts of Thailand. The thought alone makes me swoon…

Vegetarian havens

Chiang Mai's Nice Kitchen should be known as Awesome Kitchen

All the veggie-loving farang (foreigners) who have traveled before you have helped to make vegetarian food much more ubiquitous in the parts of Thailand that see a lot of visitors. In tourist hubs like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, vegetarian cuisine is easy to find at many restaurants, and some even feature an all-vegetarian menu. My two favorite all-veg restaurants are May Kaidee (3 locations in Bangkok and 1 in Chiang Mai) and Chiang Mai’s Nice Kitchen. The food at both these places is nothing short of amazing; I dream about them all the time.

Check out many more links to fine vegetarian dining in Thailand at Happy Cow!

Consider flexitarianism
If you are at all open to the idea of eating fish and/or seafood during your travels in Thailand, you will open up a new realm of possibilities. Naturally, traveling along the coastlines of southern Thailand you will find the fruits of the sea are the center of almost every meal. Throughout the country, locally-raised fish like tilapia are a common (and tasty) protein. If your beliefs and your stomach allow you to flex even further, consider sampling curries and noodle dishes that have meat in them, but that you can eat around. I’ll do this when requesting my own special plate is not option, as is often the case when eating family-style with locals.

There’s more to feast your eyes on over at WanderFood Wednesday!

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