Delicious Food For Vegetarians To Feast Upon In Thailand

Delicious Food For Vegetarians To Feast Upon In Thailand
Sarah J
Sarah J 

With an abundance of locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables, vegetarian Thai food can be really tasty. If you are a pescatarian (a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish) you will find mealtimes in Thailand pretty easy. Things can sometimes be a bit tricky for vegetarians, due to the common use of fish sauce in dishes, but that doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to the same few options.

In areas frequently visited by tourists, for example Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui, there is often a lot more availability of vegetarian Thai fare. The further away from the tourist trail you move, however, the trickier it can be to find culinary variety that also meets your dietary needs. Make sure that you explicitly state that you don’t want fish sauce or oyster sauce in your food.

Perhaps surprisingly, Thai cuisine doesn’t really have any dedicated vegetarian fare. Most of the time it is simply a case of adjusting the ingredients in meals that would commonly contain meat, fish, or a non-vegetarian sauce.

That said, here are four tempting veggie-friendly Thai dishes that you’re almost certain to fall in love with:

1. Stir-fried vegetables with boiled rice

delicious food for vegetarians to feast upon in thailand | stir-fried vegetables with boiled rice

A very common choice for many vegetarian travellers in Thailand, this dish is usually fairly easy for a restaurant to make. Try to choose restaurants that have a good selection of vegetables on display though, otherwise you could end up with essentially a mound of cabbage over your rice!

This meal can vary substantially between different establishments, but you’ll often be able to find ingredients like cabbage, onion, tomato, baby corn, carrot, and mushroom. In cooler parts of the country you might also find bell peppers. Chilli might sometimes be added too. If you like spicy cuisine, or just want to add a little more kick to your dish, look out for the typical table condiments of dried chilli flakes or black pepper.

Some eateries or market vendors will just use cooking oil, whereas others will add soy sauce for added flavour. A major plus-point when eating out in Thailand is that the vast majority of places prepare meals to order, meaning that if you can’t understand the menu, or if the restaurant doesn’t actually have a menu, you can often get by with pointing at the different vegetables on display.

2. Vegetarian fried rice

delicious food for vegetarians to feast upon in thailand | vegetarian fried rice

Often using the same ingredients as stir-fried vegetables, the major difference is that fried rice dishes will have the rice mixed in with the other ingredients, with everything lightly stir-fried together. It is also common for egg to be included too, but it is generally easy enough for this to be omitted.

You can also sometimes find fruity varieties (highly recommended!) that use ingredients such as pineapple and sultanas. The juicy chunks of fruit and the sweet flavours work really well with the plainness of rice. Try a little bit with dried chilli sprinkled on top too – it’s not to everyone’s liking, but the spicy edge can really complement the dish.

3. Som tam

delicious food for vegetarians to feast upon in thailand | som tam

Som tam is a spicy papaya salad that originated in the region of Isan (northeast of Thailand) but was so popular that it spread throughout almost the whole country. Prepared using a pestle and mortar, it is also quite a delight to watch the vendor bashing and grinding the ingredients together.

Whilst regular som tam is made using fish sauce and dried prawns, it is usually very simple for vendors to substitute with a different kind of sauce. Do note, however, that not all som tam vendors, especially those who have street carts, have a different sauce. If somebody refuses to make you a vegetarian som tam it’s really not personal!

A top tip is to ask the seller, very politely, to wash the mortar (bowl) before tossing your ingredients into it. This washes away the fishy flavour, along with any small remnants of seafood. Don’t worry about sounding impolite – because of the different seafood items that can be included in som tam varieties, lots of Thai people will ask for the pot to be washed too.

Grated or shredded strips of unripe papaya are thrown into the bowl, along with small slices of fresh chilli, chilli flakes, lime, palm sugar, and a salty sauce (usually fish, but it can be made with soy sauce). The papaya is then beaten and bruised, whilst at the same time being soaked in sweet, salty, spicy, and sour flavours. Chunks of tomato and peanuts are often mixed in before it is served, and raw cabbage, cucumber, or yardlong beans are normal side accompaniments; the vegetables help to temper the fiery spiciness of the som tam. As a general rule, the redder your som tam is, the hotter it will taste! It is often eaten with sticky rice, but it is also deceptively filling on its own.

4. Pad Thai

delicious food for vegetarians to feast upon in thailand | pad thai

Perhaps the most iconic Thai meal known to the outside world, pad Thai is a tasty noodle dish. Readily available from numerous street carts and in restaurants, vegetarian versions are usually very easy to rustle up.

Rice noodles are stir-fried with chunks of tofu, egg (can be omitted if required), tamarind paste, garlic, palm sugar, and chillies. The regular version includes dried prawns, which are left out of veggie dishes, and fish sauce, which is replaced by soy sauce.

Served with chunks of fresh lime, it is also very common for pad Thai to include peanuts, bean sprouts, coriander, and radish. Although it contains chilli, pad Thai is typically not overly spicy, so it’s often a great option for vegetarians who like their food a little more on the mild side.

A final word of caution

Thailand is known for its wide assortment of tasty curries and soups. Whilst vegetarian-friendly options are available throughout the country, these are best enjoyed in dedicated “jay” (a similar concept to veganism) restaurants, or in establishments that are used to serving large numbers of foreigners and understand your dietary requirements. Many places say they can make these items suitable for vegetarians, but the reality is that vegetables are used in place of chunks of meat, fish, or seafood; the actual sauces and broths are often just the same, complete with fish sauce, oyster sauce, or having been prepared with meat bones.

Being a vegetarian traveller in Thailand does not need to be difficult at all, it just might take a bit more planning and research than you may have first thought. Visit Thailand to discover the delectable favours of meat-free Thai cuisine and give your taste buds a treat!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Originally from the UK, Sarah has been mostly based in her second home of Thailand for the past five years. As well as exploring new places, learning about different cultures, and sampling lots of...Read more

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