Travelling as a vegan or vegetarian can sometimes seem like the biggest challenge in the world. Now try it when you’re backpacking in Southeast Asia! You’re probably thinking this would be super difficult, right? Seafood, fish oil, meat in every dish… But you’re wrong! Southeast Asia, and particularly Thailand, has an abundance of vegetarian dishes on offer, many of which can be easily adapted to be vegan. Here’s our guide to backpacking in Thailand with dietary restrictions!
Thailand is known for loving fish sauce and adding it to just about everything, so we can see why you would think that travelling with dietary restrictions would be difficult. However, there is an abundance of vegetarian dishes that already have a permanent place in Thai cuisine! So being a vegetarian backpacker requires very little effort. In fact, many people choose to eat vegetarian dishes while backpacking in Thailand because it’s cheaper and because it tends to be easier to get an upset stomach from street food with meat in it than just tasty veggies.
Chinese Buddhism is very popular in Thailand, so the average Thai person is well aware of the dietary restrictions that are linked to religion. Chinese Buddhists do not eat seafood or animal by-products, so the average Thai person is very familiar with the concept of veganism – they’ll just understand the concept by a different name. Othering a Buddhist monk dish at a restaurant is a sure-fire way to ensure that your meal is going to be vegan. No meat broth and no secret dashes or fish oil to add a bit of flavour; religion is very important in Thai culture so Chinese Buddhist dietary restrictions are very well respected.
Street food market in Chiang Mai
Here are some useful phrases for when you’re ordering food:
If you order a jay dish, you’ll automatically receive a dish without seafood, animal by-products, oyster sauce and fish sauce.
Since it might be difficult to get a sense of the pronunciation of these phrases, here are some recordings to listen to!
Pad Thai Jay, served with tofu instead of meat
Now it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for – the best dishes to order in Thailand. This is list isn’t exhaustive, so don’t be disheartened because there are so many more dishes you could order or alter to fit your diet; we just picked the most popular ones! To make the below dishes suitable for vegetarians, meat can easily be swapped out for tofu. Tofu is widely used in Thai cuisine so most restaurants and food stalls will have it to hand already.
Mango sticky rice, the most popular Thai dessert and it’s already vegan!
Want to try these delicious dishes for yourself? Check out our 13-day backpacking tour of Thailand and Laos or our 31-day Southeast Asia Loop! Or drop us a message in the chat box below to find out more.
Published 24th December 2018