A lot of people have been asking me if it was difficult to find food (and cheap food especially) as a vegetarian/vegan in Thailand this summer.
The short answer is no; it was, generally, pretty easy to find cheap and delicious food in Thailand. There are many vegetarian/vegan restaurants (or separate menus) in Thai cities, and many veg traditional dishes. While many things traditionally contain fish or oyster sauce, these dishes can typically be made without these ingredients for you. Often the only difference between something vegetarian or vegan is the removal of egg, which is a typical garnish or filler for noodle dishes.
The easiest way to make sure you’re eating 100% veg is to eat street food, and luckily for street food is everywhere in Thailand, for locals and tourists alike. However, if you venture off the beaten path, finding veg options may become a little trickier, but don’t worry! At the bottom of this post are Thai phrases to help you navigate any language barriers.
There are two kinds of street food; grab ‘n’ go, or quick-serve, where you order at the kiosk and they bring your food to your street-side table. In many towns, you can enjoy a hot $1-3 meal right along the riverfront.
Fancy a finer restaurant? I’ve also included some traditional main dishes, and some basic restaurant phrases to help.
These are generally more expensive and larger dishes, however you may encounter them at street-food stalls as well. (Street curries and soups 9 times out of 10 contain fish/oyster sauce, so if you’re looking for veg curry I’d definitely recommend a nicer establishment.)
Red or Panang Curries: Coconut milk, mixed vegetables, chilis. Every place makes it differently; just make sure they can make it without fish/oyster sauce; nicer places will be more than happy to.
Khao Soi: rice noodles, crispy rice noodles, red curry, tofu.
This Northern Thai specialty is delicious; like red curry on steroids– just make sure yours isn’t made with chicken stock, which is a tradition. Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son are famous for Khai Soi and there are plenty of veg renditions of this classic.
Glass noodle soup: rice noodles, chives, green onions, sometimes peanuts, opt. soy-protein
Similar to a Vietnamese pho, this is one I’d recommend only getting at a 100% veg restaurant. Soups 9/10 times contain bone or animal stock, but the right place will make glass noodle soup with soy/veg stock and it’s incredible, especially if it’s chilly in the mountains.
Pad See Ew: thick rice noodles, Chinese kale, Thai-style tofu, lime, peanuts
Tom Yum: lemongrass-ginger soup with mushrooms, chilies, tomatoes, sometimes other mixed vegetables. Just make sure its shrimp-less!
Som Tam “Papaya Salad”: shaved unripe papaya, carrots, raw long-bean, peanuts, tomatoes. Order without shrimp, fish or oyster sauce.
Pad Thai: thin fried rice-noodles, soy sauce, green onion, sugar, lime, peanuts, red chilies
These noodles can be found everywhere from street markets to restaurants, but these 10-baht noodles in Mae Sariang were my favorite. Vegans, ask for pad thai without egg, which is often an unspoken go-to substitute protein for those who do not eat meat in Thailand!
Street Snacks and Desserts
There are hundreds of dishes, but these are just a few of my favorites! Most things are fried in palm oil, so you shouldn’t have to worry about pig fat. A lot of street food stalls will have ‘halal’ signs (Arabic for ‘permissible’) حلال, meaning the vendor 100% does not use pork products.
**Halal does NOT mean vegetarian or vegan, just that pork is not used. Halal simply means that the food is made according to Quranic standards**
There are lots of different kinds of leaf-wrapped sweets in Thailand– just make sure whatever you’re purchasing isn’t a fish and you’re food. Most desserts do not contain dairy or gelatin, however it’s always a good idea to ask.
Fillings can be anything: taro, coconut, banana, sweet corn, pumpkin, etc., try them all!
Lifesaver Thai Phrases (just show the waiter to avoid miscommuncation)
I am a vegan/vegetarian: (Pom/Chan peng mung-sa-wi-rat (ka/krap))
men: ผมเป็นมังสวิรัติ ครับ
Vegans: I do not eat meat, pork, chicken fish, seafood/shrimp/oysters, milk, or eggs.
women: ฉันไม่กินเนื้อ, เนื้อหมู, ไก่, ปลา, อาหารทะเล, นม, กุ้ง, น้ำมันหอย.
men: ผมไม่กินเนื้อ, เนื้อหมู, ไก่, ปลา, อาหารทะเล, นม, กุ้ง, น้ำมันหอย.
Vegetarians: I do not eat meat, pork, chicken, fish or seafood/shrimp/oysters.
women: ฉันไม่กินเนื้อ, เนื้อหมู, ไก่, ปลา, อาหารทะเล, กุ้ง.
men: ผมไม่กินเนื้อ, เนื้อหมู, ไก่, ปลา, อาหารทะเล, กุ้ง.
No fish sauce please: ไม่ใส่น้ำปลา (My sy nam pla (na) ka/krap)
No oyster sauce please: ไม่ใส่น้ำมันหอย (My sy nam mon hoy(na) ka/krap)
Basic Thai phrases to learn
(Notes: In Thai, one uses ‘ka’ or ‘krap’ at the end of sentences to be polite. If you are a female, use ‘ka’, if you are male, use ‘krap’ (always, regardless of the gender of the person you’re speaking to. It’s for you, not for them. This confused me at first, so just a tip.
Singular Pronoun ‘Pom’ (I) is for men, ‘Chan’ is for women.
Bracketed letters are not fully enunciated or swallowed but written in latinized Thai (which is a mess, but I won’t get into that)
Additionally, h’s are rarely pronounced; things may be written “th” but are always pronounced ‘t’, as in ‘Thai’.
The word ‘na’ is a formal word to be more polite, used in the construction ‘na ka’ or ‘na krap’. ‘Ka’ and ‘krap’ can also be used to mean, rather informally ‘yeah’, which is acceptable if dining in a casual setting and your server is your age or younger.)
Hello: Sawa[s]dee ka/krap
Yes: shy (ใช่) No: my (ไม่)
Please: implied by the use of ‘ka/krap’ in questions
Excuse me: Caw Toad, or (less formal) Pi ka/krap (literally, ‘Auntie please’) (ขอโทษ ค่ะ ครับ , or พี่ คะ/ครับ)
Check please: Keb Taung or Keb Tung + na ka/krap (เก็บเงินด้วย ค่ะ/ครับ, เก็บตังด้วย ค่ะ/ครับ) (It’s not unheard of for Thai people to simply say ‘check/bill krap’)
Thank you: Kob kuhn (na) ka/krap (ขอบคุณ)
How much?: Gi baht? or Raka Tao Rai? (ราคาเท่าไหร่ or กี่บาท)
Could I have some more rice please?: Ow khao kum nun jahn (na) ka/krap?
Do you have ____? Ow ____ (na) ka/krap? or Khun mi ___?
Can I have this one please? (point): Ow ahn ni ka/krap? (เอาอันนี้ ค่ะ/ครับ)
I do not eat: Pom/Chan mi kin (ฉันไม่กิน ____ or ผมเไม่กิน____)
Spicy: P[h]et (เผ็ด)
Not spicy: Me-p[h]et (ไม่เผ็ด)
Big: yiy (like ‘why’ with a ‘y’)
Meat: nuah (เนื้อ)
Milk: nohm (นม)
Pig/Pork: New-moo (เนื้อหมู)
Chicken: guy (ไก่)
Egg: khy (ไข่)
Fish: pla (ปลา) Fish Sauce: nam pla (น้ำปลา )
Seafood: Ahan talay (อาหารทะเล)
Shrimp: koong (กุ้ง)
Oyster sauce: nam man hoy (น้ำมันหอย)
Chicken stock: Nam soup ky (น้ำซุปไก่)
Bone broth: Na soup kron kradook (น้ำซุปโครงกระดูก)
Could you make this without _____? Choi ta baep mi sy dy my _______? ( ช่วยทำแบบไม่ใส่_ได้ไหม)
Can you make this dish vegetarian? Tam hai pen mungsawirat mai ka/krap? (ช่วยทำให้เป็นอาหารมังสวิรัติได้ไหม)
without: mai-ow (ไม่ใส่)