Nov 08 2012

Where to eat vegetarian in Bangkok

Published by at 8:48 am under Food

Thailand is very much a meat-eating country. Grilled chicken and pork-on-a-stick vendors line the streets of big cities and small towns, and a lashing of fish sauce or chicken stock finds its way into otherwise vegetarian dishes like som tam and sauteed morning glory. Before you resolve to surviving entirely off fruit and plain rice throughout your stay, have a look at our suggested places in Bangkok to score quality vegetarian eats.

Ready to eat at Banana Park -- not a slice of meat in sight.

No meat in sight at Banana Park.

One reason it’s so difficult to find vegetarian Thai food is that the kingdom’s mother cuisine has long relied on ingredients like shrimp paste, pork fat and especially fish sauce. Preparing true vegetarian Thai food isn’t just a matter of leaving out the meat, but rather a tricky challenge that forces chefs to get creative.

One place that succeeds in turning out tasty, entirely meatless Thai fare is Deva. Our former Asian kitchen-familiar correspondent had an inkling Deva uses a mix of quality light soy sauce mixed with mushroom soy sauce to bypass the fish sauce, but whatever their secret, Deva does it right. It’s centrally located near Ploen Chit BTS station and offers a range of authentic Thai dishes that can be made-to-order or chosen from a display of pre-prepared curries and stir fries.

Another excellent choice for vegetarian Thai, although with a Chinese twist, is Baan Bai Pluu in the Sathorn part of town. Here you’ll find a no-frills atmosphere to go with fantastic veggie renditions of Thai standards like pad see ew and krapao. Baan Bai Pluu is also known for its vegetarian Chinese-style bao (steamed buns) and fresh juice flavours that include roselle and butterfly pea.

If not wanting to sacrifice the street food experience — but also not wanting to trust the average meat-hawking sidewalk chef’s ability to understand your phrasebook Thai — head for Chinatown. Many of the area’s Chinese have stuck to their Mahayana Buddhist custom of exclusively eating vegan fare, so there’s more of a general understanding here of what it means to be a strict herbivore. During the 10-day vegetarian festival each year in October it’s difficult to find anyone selling meat in Chinatown, but a range of veggie goodies — in particular countless varieties of dumplings — are readily available year-round.

Frying up veggie rice cakes street side in Chinatown.

Frying up veggie rice cakes streetside in Chinatown.

Thanks to its Mahayana Buddhist influence, Vietnam is another country where a fairly large slice of the population are vegetarian. It may seem strange to seek out Vietnamese food in Thailand, but Rom Ngao Indo-Chin near Krung Thonburi BTS station offers a healthy number of vegetarian selections, including a full page of the menu dedicated entirely to meat-free noodle soups.

With meatless offerings being standard practice, Indian restaurants often appear as beacons of hope to vegetarian travellers all over the world. There’s no shortage of them in Bangkok, and all — such as Royal India in Pahurat and Mrs Balbir’s out on Sukhumvit — offer several vegetarian choices. Diamond Indian restaurant in what we’ve dubbed Little India Silom is entirely meat free, and Indian Hut on nearby Surawong Road offers an intriguing all-vegan Jain menu.

Moving into more eclectic territory, Living Food Cafe, Sustaina Organic and Banana Park all offer organic and mostly vegetarian foods that range from stir-fried spicy pumpkin to banana muffins to flaxseed pizza. All of them also promote a philosophy infuenced by meditation, yoga and the general belief that a healthy mind isn’t possible without a healthy body, making these great choices for anyone whose vegetarianism is part of a greater holistic quest.

Just off Khao San Road, we’ve found the food and service at our longtime favourite Thai vegetarian restaurant, Mae Kaidee’s, to have gone down hill over the last year, and the space was undergoing what looked to be major — but very slow-moving — renovations last time we walked past. The popular all vegetarian Thai cooking school with the same name remains open for business, and it seems that Mae herself has been putting most of her energy into that in recent times (although we hear the Chiang Mai branch of Mae Kaidee’s is as tasty as ever).

If you’re not put off by its earthy-crunchy vibes, Ethos is now our go-to spot in the Khao San Road neighbourhood for Thai and international vegetarian and vegan dishes to go with herbal teas and smoothies just past where Mai Kaidee’s is (was?) located. The Thai selections are solid, but we’re especially partial to Ethos’ veggie lasagna and homemade falafel and hummus plate.

Getting creative at Bug & Bee.

Getting creative at Bug & Bee.

Passing through what’s ‘eclectic’ and entering into the murky terrain of ‘fusion’, you might give Bug & Bee Cafe and its large and somewhat confusing vegetarian menu a shot on Silom Road right next to Sala Daeng BTS station. We’ve had good luck with the salads that are big enough to be a meal, and the tofu wrapped in seaweed with fried aubergine and miso sauce is a standout vegan selection that you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Hopefully all of the above will keep vegetarians satisfied while in Bangkok, but meatless options get considerably thinner as you venture into the more rural parts of Thailand. To avoid getting considerably thinner yourself, we recommend learning how to order a vegetarian or vegan Thai dish anywhere in the country through a good, long study of the Vegetarian Thai Food Guide by Mark Wiens.

If you know of any other worthwhile vegetarian food options in Bangkok that we’ve missed, please do let us know by leaving a comment below!

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