How to Order Vegan and Vegetarian Thai Food
When you think of Thailand, the first thing to come to mind is probably the delicious Thai dishes. Lemongrass. Peanuts. Chili. Spice. All things nice. However, as a vegan or vegetarian it isn’t always straight forward to order safely.
The land of tasty food awaits you but you want to be sure not to accidentally consume something you’d rather not. This is a sensible mindset to have in Thailand. Especially when you’re ordering unusual sounding dishes with unheard of ingredients.
The following guide should lift the cloak on the ingredients to have on your watchlist. We’ll also recommend our vegan and vegetarian friendly favorites. Read on and prepare yourself for a country full of tasty gastronomic delights.
Some of these might seem obvious but they’re all worth noting.
- Meat and Seafood – You know this one but we’re not talking about the clear meat dishes. Meat and seafood are used extensively in Thai cooking, especially when it comes to sauce bases and curry stocks. Some of the more vegetarian friendly restaurants will always use a vegetable-based stock but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
If you’re looking for a meat substitute then tofu is widely available and features on most menus and in plenty of dishes. If tofu isn’t your thing then look for the bulkier dishes full of mushrooms, eggplant and broccoli/cauliflower.
- Eggs – Egg noodles. Egg fried rice. These are the ones that are easy to spot. Be wary of the Thai chef’s enthusiastic egg use however. The famous Pad Thai, wontons and some breakfast “mixes” (think Thai porridge) all contain egg. Eggs are worth asking about as they’re sometimes added as a garnish and lots of noodles include them. Rice noodles are a safe option.
- Nam Pla (Fish), Oyster and Shrimp Sauce – This is probably your toughest challenge as a plant eater. The vast majority of dishes will include at least one of these. Even the seemingly inconspicuous Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad) will often include fish sauce, shrimp sauce and even small shrimp themselves. It’s going to be best if you ask about this one alongside every order. Most restaurants can leave it out or substitute with a vegan friendly alternative.
Our Top Orders
These are our favorite vegan and vegetarian options in Thailand. They are almost always easy to order, readily available and tasty to boot! Try them all, find your favorite and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Thai food expert.
Spring Rolls – Immediately you might think of your take out at home and their greasy options. Not the case in Thailand. Try the ‘fresh’ version for the unfried spring roll option. The veggie option will be filled with crunchy goodness, rice noodles and have a spicy dipping sauce on the side.
Soup and Salad – Be wary of dressings and bases but once you’ve crossed that hurdle you’ll be in a flavorsome world. Coconut milk is the base for the majority of soups and adds a delicious creamy richness. Tom Yam is the most famous soup but often comes with seafood so be sure to order your specific version. Salads are plentiful and packed with flavor. Get used to the addition of fruits, spices and citrus. Green (unripe) Papaya salad is an absolute must try.
Bigger dishes – There are simply too many to list here. Our idea of the best of the best?
- Pad Thai – a mixture of rice noodles, beansprouts and fresh vegetables topped with chili, peanuts and a squeeze of lime. Be sure to ask without egg!
- Pad-Kee-Mow – otherwise known as Drunken Noodles (especially great after a few cold ones…) these include the local staple, Thai Basil. Absolutely wonderful.
- Fried Rice – There are hundreds of varieties. Scan the menu for your favorite ingredients and indulge in the filling feast.
Vegan and Vegetarian Thai Food Tips
Learn some of the lingo! It’s certainly worth picking up some key phrases to help you out when English isn’t an option. These are just a start though. If you want to learn more, we wrote a handy guide to practical Thai phrases you can learn in 15 minutes!
- I can’t eat seafood — Kin a harn talay mai dai (khrup/ka)
- I can’t eat nuts — Kin tua mai dai (khrup/ka)
- Not spicy — Mai pet (khrup/ka)
- Little spicy — Pet nit noi (khrup/ka)
Be adventurous! There are hundreds of tasty Thai options out there. Try something you wouldn’t go for usually. Go off and explore vegan and vegetarian food in Thailand!