Thailand – also a paradise for vegetarians and vegans
Thai cuisine, based on cruelty-free Buddhist teachings, is quite plant-based in its natural form and contains hardly any traces of dairy products. As it evolved, ingredients such as fish sauce were incorporated into many dishes as a substitute for salt. The enormous choice of meat and fish furthered the ubiquitous image of Thai cuisine as a carnivore’s delight. Veganism, however, is on the rise in the Kingdom. Whether you are a lifelong herbivore or just want to take a healthy break.
Plant-based eating is no stranger to Thailand. The country hosts one of the largest vegetarian festivals in the world, Tesagan Ghin Je, every October. The market has an average growth of 25% per year and takes place in various locations. Phuket and Bangkok host the biggest festivals. This makes it easier than ever to go vegan in the Land of Smiles.
The vegan movement is growing in Thailand
Although the discussion about veganism is just emerging in Thailand, it is growing. Many Thai influencers such as Miss Universe Thailand 2017 Maria Poonlertlarp, Bangkok-based vegan chef Maricel Lukkanit and actor and activist Richie Kul are advocating the lifestyle and bringing it into the mainstream. In shopping malls, you occasionally see vegan pop-up stalls selling homemade and organic products.
With increasing public demand for produce, plant-based supermarkets and restaurants are on the rise across the country, making Thailand an emerging vegan paradise.
You’ve just arrived in Thailand and decided to check out the local market. You’ll be inundated with so many foreign foods that it can be a little overwhelming – especially if you’re vegan.
Here’s some practical advice on how to live as a vegan in Thailand, with some basic Thai words, restaurant recommendations and supportive vegan groups.
Ordering food as a vegan in Thailand
Living vegan in Thailand is quite easy. Fruit stalls are on every corner, fresh food markets are plentiful, and the demand for organic produce is growing. It is always possible to get vegan options in Thai restaurants, as the traditional cuisine consists mainly of vegetables.
The only problem is what they cook with. Chicken broth and fish sauce are used in most dishes, so go ahead and mention it if you want to avoid this. Say that you are vegan by proudly saying “tschan ghin je” (pronounced “tsche” in German) if you are a woman, or “pom ghin tsche” if you are a man.
It is also a good idea to indicate that you do not eat fish sauce (tchan/pom mai ghin nam pla) or egg (tschan/pom mai ghin kai).
While there is no commonly understood translation of the word “vegan” in some countries, this is not a problem in Thailand. The concept of veganism, or “jay” (เจ), has been around in Thailand for hundreds of years and is associated with Buddhist spiritual practices.
Look for red and yellow signs with the word “jay” written either in Thai (เจ) or in traditional Chinese characters.
Memorise some basic phrases
If you’re trying to find your way around Thailand as a vegan, here are some essential Thai words and phrases that will make life easier for you and your waiter. From street stalls to restaurants, these phrases will take you to the promised land of vegans.
- Tschan ghin tsche – I eat vegan.
- Tschan ghin mangsavirat – I eat vegetarian.
- Mai ghin nüah sat – I don’t eat meat.
- Mai sai nahm phla – No fishsauce, please.
Ending these sentences with ka or krab (for women and men respectively) makes it more polite, which always goes down well in Thai society.
Use online platforms for information around vegan lifestyle
As a vegan travelling to or living in Thailand, the website Happy Cow is your best friend. It offers a wide selection of restaurants in your area and includes prices, reviews and photos of the food.
There are also several vegan restaurants on the popular Thai app Wongnai.
Like TripAdvisor, this app lists nearby attractions, hotels and spas, but is more commonly used by Thais as a “restaurant app”.
Another useful website is LifeonplantsPhuket.com.
Visit night markets
Anyone who has lived here for a while will know two things about Thais: they are born foodies and they love night markets. As a result, night markets are packed with food stalls and more than a few vegan options.
At places like the Krabi Night Market, the Train Night Market Ratchada in Bangkok or the Pai Night Market in the north of the country, expect to pay around THB 60 to 150 (Euro 1.64 to 4.10) per dish. Please keep in mind that some vendors use the same pans or cooking utensils that use animal products.
Connect with like-minded vegan people
If you’ve just moved to Thailand, you’ll probably face the challenge of being the only vegan at the dinner table, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. There are vegan communities all over the country, and they continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the lifestyle. In places like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Phangan, it is easier to find vegan communities and vegan food as these places are the main centres for vegans and vegetarians.
Through Facebook groups like Vegan Thailand, Vegans of Bangkok, Vegans of Phuket, Meet and Eat Chiang Mai, Vegetarian and Vegan Foodies Thailand, Vegan Supermarket Finds Thailand, you can connect with other vegans.
In these groups you can find more tips on living as a vegan in Thailand and find out about the best places to eat in the area.
Check out these groups if you are interested in vegan activities:
Root The Future: this is all about educating people about climate change. They are always looking for people to help with projects, outreach and content creation.
They have also teamed up with dear-tummy.com to start the first vegan supermarket in Thailand called Vegan Basket.
Vegan Camp: It is located in a small village called Li in Lamphun province, about 130 kilometres south of Chiang Mai. If you want to learn more about organic farming in Thailand, this is the camp for you.
Even though the pandemic has temporarily stopped operations, the camp usually offers other activities such as gardening and harvesting, cooking, developing organic farming methods, making natural products and other creative projects.
Find your favourite vegan restaurant in Thailand
Vegan restaurants are usually marked with a yellow banner and red Thai writing – เจ – that looks like the number “17” when enlarged. Speciality restaurants of this kind exist in every city, but that plant-based cuisine is becoming mainstream is a relatively new development.
Want to give up meat and dairy one day a week? Here are some favourite certified vegan spots in Bangkok and Phuket.
Rootthefuture.com is publishing its new Plant Based Food Awards list for the second time. Vegans were able to vote for their favourite vegan dishes and restaurants. More than 20,000 votes were received.
Root the Future is a website founded by Brit Max Hellier and Australian Joanna Broomfield that promotes a plant-based lifestyle in Thailand.
Here are the winners of the Plant Based Food Awards 2021:
Vegan Restaurants in Bangkok
Best Restaurant: Vistro
Best Meat: First Pride’s crispy nuggets
Best Burger: Golden State Vegan Restaurant’s Seafood Burger
Best Cheese: Butter Me Up
Best Delivery Service: Kaek Kao Kua
Best Dessert: Flogurt’s Vegetable Yoghurt
Best Ice Cream: Hebe
Best Milk: Goodmate’s Oat Milk
Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurant: Hummus Heads
Best Ready Meal: Meatoo
Best Seafood: Golden State Vegan Restaurant’s sushi
Best Snack: Balls & Juices’s Fit Balls
Best Thai Dish: Loving Hut’s Hor Mok Curry
Best plant-based cheap food: So Vegan
Vegan Restaurants in Phuket
Best Restaurant: The Vegan Table
Best Meat: Vegan Ready’s Nature’s Nuggets
Best Burger: The Chickin Hawaiian Burger from The Vegan Table
Best Cheese Base: The Vegan Table
Best Delivery Service: Vegan Junkie
Best Dessert: Salted Caramel Shake from Vegan Junkie
Best ice cream: The vegan options from Torry’s Ice Cream
Best Milk: Goodmate’s Oat Milk
Best vegan-friendly restaurant: Levantine – Eastern Mediterranean Cuisine
Best plant-based ready meal: Vegan Ready
Best plant-based seafood: Vegan Junkie’s Phish & Chips
Best Plant-Based Snack: Cocomoons’ Biscuits
Best plant-based Thai dish: Tom Yum Tempeh from The Vegan Table
Best plant-based cheap eats: Dok Bua Vegetarian Restaurant
Here is another interesting link to cafés in Phuket, because Phuket is particularly close to my heart.
Cook vegan yourself
If you’re not mobile enough to go out to eat at your favourite vegan restaurant, or perhaps you’re not yet comfortable with the delivery app, the solution is to cook for yourself.
Cooking at home is one way to ensure that all ingredients are vegan.
For meat substitutes, use tofu, textured soy protein, vegan meat/fish balls.
For seasoning, use soy sauce, mushroom sauce, fermented soybean paste (taocheow,
Galangal, lemongrass, ginger, Thai basil, coriander and kaffir lime leaves.
Coconut milk and curry paste are also a must!
What is the national symbol for vegan?
The Thai vegan symbol is called Jay and stands for vegan food. In the Thai language it is written as เจ – it is a red symbol on a yellow background. The correct pronunciation of the Thai vegan symbol is the same as that of the English letter J.