While many of Thailand’s classic dishes contain meat and fish, there’s a plethora of mouth-watering options for vegetarians to try too.
Thailand’s colourful array of vegetable curries are packed with flavour
Thanks to its tropical climate, Thailand is a nation blessed with an abundant array of fresh fruit and vegetables. While some of its most famous dishes – classics like tom yam gung and Pad Thai – usually contain meat and fish, the diverse selection of fresh ingredients means there are plenty of tasty options for vegetarians too.
While many dishes contain seasonings like fish sauce and oyster sauce, a lot of restaurants and street food stalls will cook your meal from scratch. This means you can still enjoy all the finest culinary treats, without the inclusion of animal products, by specifying what you’d like to exclude. Plus, there’s panoply of local vegetable dishes packed with flavour – so vegetarians never need to feel like their missing out on the best of Thailand’s culinary offerings.
We look at the basics of eating vegetarian in Thailand, providing tips about some of the Kingdom’s finest veggie offerings, as well as advice on how to request that animal products are omitted from your meal.
Vegetarianism in Thailand
One of the Kingdom’s most famous noodles dishes, can be adapted to accommodate vegetarian tastes
Thanks to the prevalence of Buddhism in Thailand, the concept of vegetarianism is widely understood and appreciated – although the Thai version of this approach to eating can be somewhat different from what ‘vegetarianism’ is understood to be in the West. The Thai word for ‘vegetarianism’ is ‘mang sa wirat’. This essentially means that you won’t eat noticeable chunks of meat or fish in your food. That leaves a rather large loophole for ingredients like eggs, meat stock and fish sauce to be included – so if you’re a strict vegetarian or a vegan it’s important to learn how to ask in Thai for these ingredients to be omitted from your meal.
In Thai, the word ‘jay’ means vegan – a person who consumes no animal products at all. If you want to play it safe, then you should tell your waiter or waitress that you ‘gin jay’. You can also say ‘mai gin neua sat’ to emphasise that you don’t want any form of meat or fish within your meal. Requests like ‘mai ow nam pla’ (no fish sauce) or ‘mai ow nam man hoy’ (no oyster sauce) can also be useful to add to your repertoire of Thai phrases.
Veggie comfort food
Thai omelette, or kai jiao, is a meatless delight served across the country
If you’re on the lookout for a delightful plate of comfort food, kai jiao is one of our favourites. You’ll find this golden Thai-style omelette on sale at countless restaurants and stalls across the country, particularly in Bangkok. The eggs are cooked around rice and vegetables, creating a fluffy, turmeric-coloured plate of heaven.
In the West, where omelettes are conventionally eaten as the whole meal, kai jiao is enjoyed alongside rice and veggies – sometimes even tofu – to create a fluffy kind of crepe. If you choose kai jiao at a street food stall, the omelette will be cooked right in front of you – so you’ll be able to see exactly what ingredients are going into your meal.
Spicy meat-free option
Laab Jay is a meat-free alternative to chicken-based Laab Gai
Hailing from the north of Thailand, laab gai – spicy minced chicken – is one of the Kingdom’s most delectable dishes. Traditionally, the meal is mad from mince, either chicken or beef, served with lettuce leaves and infused with a spicy dressing. But vegetarians don’t have to miss out on this tasty choice. In fact, this dish can easily be adjusted to its vegetarian version, laab jay, which uses crumbled tofu or tofu chunks instead. Tofu absorbs the fantastic flavours of all the herbs, spices and lime juice in the dressing, so you’re still going to get a dish that’s just as flavoursome – if not more so.
If it’s your first time trying laab, it’s worth having a glass of water handy as the dish is known as one of Thailand’s fieriest culinary offerings.
Pad Pak is a vegetable-based dish that satisfies vegetarians and meat-eaters alike
Pad pak is a classic Thai vegetable dish that you’ll be able to find on menus across the country, in restaurants and street food stands, also at private villas. In fact, this mouth-watering plate of fried vegetables is so flavoursome that it’s become a favourite with meat eaters as well as vegetarians. Essentially, pad pak means fried vegetables – which may sound a little boring. Thanks to the array of spices and seasonings used to fry the veggies, it’s flavoursome and satisfying, and forms an excellent meal when served alongside a bowl of steaming, fluffy rice.
Gang Jay – tofu curry – is one of Thailand’s many fiery delicacies
From the Middle Eastern-inspired Massaman curries of Southern Thailand, to the spicy broth-style creations of the north, Thailand is a nation known for its curries. While pork, chicken, beef and shrimp are commonly found in your classic green, red and panang curries, many of these dishes can also be prepared with vegetables only. In fact, one of the best ways to enjoy Thailand’s colourful array of curry dishes is with tofu, instead of meat. Tofu still contains high protein content, so it’s an excellent addition to your diet in terms of nutrition. Exotic fruit and vegetables are also abundant in Thailand, and one of the best ways to sample them is in a fiery curry. All the flavour soaks in, giving each bite an extra taste kick.
Tailored to your tastes
Vegetarian guests staying in one of Thailand’s luxury private villas can ask the chef to create their own personalised menu
If you’re staying in one of Thailand’s lavish private holiday villas, you will benefit from access to a professional on-site Thai chef who can whip up an array of dishes tailored to your personal tastes. On arrival at your villa, sit down with your villa manager and chef to discuss dietary requirements, including vegetarianism, veganism and any other preferences. That way, the menu can be tailored to include a cacophony of tasty dishes, packed with flavour, and designed for your personal diet.
In addition to the dishes above, these classic Thai staples can be tailored to vegetarian and vegan preferences:
- There’s no need for vegetarians to miss out on delectable, slippery noodle dishes like Pad Thai. This classic option can be easily prepared without meat or shrimp, or even minus the fish sauce. Vegans can also ask for the dish without egg.
- Som tam is a refreshing alternative to carb-heavy Thai dishes when prepared without fish sauce. Shredded green papaya and tomatoes are served with a jaw-droppingly tasty dressing made from spices and lime juice
- Morning glory – pak boong – is one of Thailand’s quintessential dishes served at restaurants and street food stalls up and down the country.