Being a vegetarian can be tricky. Those who do not eat meat will find that a vegetarian diet is especially hard to follow when they are traveling through the Land of Smiles. Do not take to your past carnivorous ways just yet, as we roll out a complete guide to being a vegetarian in Thailand.
I want to quickly give a shout out to all our meat free readers. It has become increasingly more clear that a plant-based diet is better for everyone: you, animals, land, water, etc. That being said, not everyone has thrown meat products to the wind to take up this particular diet, especially in Thailand.
Though a majority of dishes do consist of vegetables, you will be hard-pressed to find many without added meat products, sauces, or pastes which contain animal products, especially seafood. Fret not, as this guide was made to make your meat free dining endeavors in Thailand go much smoother.
How to order
One way to ensure visitors are sticking to their meat free diet is to know a few helpful phrases in Thai. If diners are able to communicate with locals and food vendors words like ‘vegetarian’ and helpful phrases in regards to this diet, their dining experience will certainly be less chaotic.
Vegetarian – mawng sa vee rat – มังสวิรัติ
Be aware that the word for vegetarian in Thai does not include animal products. You can tell a server that you are a vegetarian, but your meal may still be made with animal products, such as fish sauce. To avoid this, you can use the word for vegan, instead.
Vegan – gin jay – กินเจ
The phrase ‘gin jay‘ also includes dairy products, eggs, honey, and food products with strong scents, like garlic. We have also included a list of words for several animal products below. If all else fails, you can list out food items you do not eat. Just use the phrase ‘mai gin,‘ which literally translates to ‘not eat,’ then substitute the words below.
Do not be afraid to tell your server a few times and in several different ways that you are a vegetarian or eat strictly vegan cuisine. Thai is a difficult language. Chances are you could be saying a phrase incorrectly and whoever is taking your order simply does not understand what it is you are saying. You can also show a server the Thai translations below to clarify what you are saying.
I do not eat meat – mai gin neau sat – ไม่กินเนื้อสัตว์
No – mai – ไม่
Eat – gin– กิน
Meat – neua sat– เนื้อสัตว์
Chicken – gai – ไก่
Beef – neua – เนื้อ
Pork – moo– หมู
Fish – pla – ปลา
Squid – pla mook– ปลาหมึก
Crab – poo– ปู
Our favorite vegetarian dishes
Not only are servers, chefs, and food stall vendors normally accommodating to a meat-free diet, but Thai vegetarian dishes are also delicious. Here is a look at some of our favorite dishes that are perfect for vegetarians in Thailand. Be aware that some of these dishes are made with sauces containing seafood products or are topped with things like dried shrimp, so be sure to tell your server the vegetarian and vegan phrases as outlined above, just to be safe.
Pomelo salad – yam som-o – ยำส้มโอ
Pomelo salads are healthy, grapefruit salads that are especially popular in Thailand. Grapefruit is the main ingredient, though it is also made with an enticing combination of cashews or peanuts, red chilies, fresh basil, lime juice, soy sauce, and brown sugar.
*Made with fish sauce, dried shrimp
Mixed tofu – tao hoo song kreung – เต้าหู้ทรงเครื่อง
Tofu is every vegetarians’ best friend, and Thailand has entire dishes dedicated to this soybean product. The mixed tofu in itself is pretty basic, but Thai chefs certainly know how to make this dish anything but mundane. Whether they add a spicy, curry paste to the tofu or ingredients such as fresh basil, this will soon be a favorite dish for all meat free diners.
Deep-fried spring rolls – popia tort – เปาะเปี๊ยะทอด
Though normally devoured as an appetizer, deep-fried spring rolls are great on the go eats for vegetarians. They are normally prepared with shiitake mushrooms, dried glass noodles, chopped green onions, and served with a red chili dipping sauce for added flavor.
Green papaya salad – som tom – ส้มตำมะละกอ
This unique salad originates from Isaan, the Northeast Region of Thailand. The dish is made of freshly peeled papaya and carrots, peanuts, tomatoes for added juiciness, and Thai chilis, which give the salad a spicy kick. It is best enjoyed with sticky rice.
*Sometimes made with fish sauce, dried shrimp
The Vegetarian Festival – Tesakan Gin Jay – เทศกาลกินเจ
The best time of year for vegetarians to visit Thailand is in October. There is an entire festival which celebrates meat free diners: the Vegetarian Festival. The festivities begin on October 1 and normally conclude in about a week. The festival, otherwise known as Tesakan Gin Jay, originated in China and is rooted in Taoist beliefs. The festival is celebrated nationwide, though the best cities to frequent are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.
Phuket has the wildest festivities of any destination in Thailand during the nine-day festival. Many of self-mutilating rituals are held in Phuket – some so gruesome that people partaking in the festival have died in the past. That being said, the parades, fire-walking ceremonies, bladed-ladder climbing events, and more are worth making the trip down south for the festival.
To recognize which vendors and restaurants are selling strictly vegan cuisine, be on the lookout for yellow flags and stickers with red, Thai writing on them. This indicates that the eatery has vegan cuisine available.