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Tofu and vegetarian food in Laos

  • arlidon

    Joined Travelfish
    19th January, 2008
    Posts: 6

    Hi
    I´m planning on travel in Laos for 4 weeks. my wife and I are vegetarian and TOFU is basic in our meals. It is easy to be vegetarian in Laos? Tofu is easy to find?
    Thanks in advance

    #1 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 05:26

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  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
    12th February, 2006
    Location United States
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    It is generally easy to be vegetarian anywhere in southeast Asia, with many dishes being just as good without meat in them. Tofu is usually a standard option to offset chicken, pork, beef, or fish, and I doubt you'll have too much trouble finding places that serve tofu in their dishes. If not, just order the food without meat (particularly with rice&veggie- or noodle-based dishes).

    As with meat, I think you'll find that tofu is typically sprinkled into foods as an accent and source of protein rather than the main part of the dish.

    The word for vegetarian in Thai sounds like the letter "j" in English, so you can always try that when ordering. I suspect the same word is used or at least understood in Laos. This technically means vegan, not vegetarian, but most of the places where backpackers frequent should understand what you mean. Since Buddhism looks favorably on vegetarianism, many of your hosts will also appreciate the effort. Plus, vegetarian-style dishes are often less expensive too. Bonus.

    #2 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 06:56

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Contrary to the information posted by the previous poster - Lao eat a lot of meat. It is possible to eat vegetarian, eg fried or steamed vegetables and rice, but not necessarily tofu unless you eat at some specialist vegetarian restaurants. You can find these in the major areas, but are unlikely to do so in remote areas.

    #3 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 08:59

  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
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    Arlidon,

    Hi. I'm going to stick with the information in my previous post. Like Rufus says, the Lao are meat eaters. But that wasn't the question. The question was if it is easy to be a vegetarian in Laos, and the answer is yes.

    I don't know if Rusus is a vegetarian. Maybe yes, and maybe not. Perhaps if not, then he wouldn't have had occasion to see just how easy it is to ask for and get vegetarian food. Either way, I've travelled through the country many times requesting strictly veggie food and never had a problem.

    Rufus does make an excellent point, however, which is that there are many specialist vegetarian restaurants that should have exactly what you are looking for. Another option would be to look for Indian food restaurants, which will also have vegetarian specialties.

    Also, my experience in Laos is largely limited to the major areas like VTE, LP, VV and Phon Savan, so as Rufus says it may be difficult to find these vegetarian places in the more remote areas you may plan to visit. Cheers.

    #4 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 11:40

  • arlidon

    Joined Travelfish
    19th January, 2008
    Posts: 6

    I read in LP guide that Lao loves meat so I was a little bit worried. Thanks for the info.

    #5 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 14:32

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 563

    Arlidon I’d like to add to and clarify some of the information already posted, incase anyone else reading this is interested in vegetarian food in Laos or Lao food in general.

    Yes the Lao love meat. Three or four out of five children are malnourished simply from the lack of oils found in meat. (Tofu is heavy in soy oil) To give food a meaty flavour they add pla dek, (fermented fish) or fish sauce (commercially available fermented anchovy water). It’s in everything they make and forms some of the pungent background flavour found in all Lao food.

    There is no tradition of vegetarianism with Buddhists in Laos that I’ve ever heard of. Never met a veggie monk, seen lots of fish sauce given in the gift baskets. Far from appreciating foreigners for their vegetarianism, they look upon us as being slightly bonkers, but that follows for many of our strange affectations, like MSG.

    When thinking about Lao food it is impossible to think of a purely vegetarian dish. Even the vegetables are always flavoured with fish sauce of some sort. I seldom by choice eat at tourist restaurants. I guess at those places the food could be said to be the same with or without meat. Uniformly bland.

    Lao food is seldom cooked for foreigners, the tastes are overpowering and strong. I’m not talking just hot peppers, but also lime juice by the gallon, kafir lime leafs like ten or twenty, not the one or two used in western cooking, handfuls of dill, and you know how strong fresh dill is.

    I’ve eaten at the Indian places in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, and Vang Vien and found them mostly over priced and not so great.

    I’ve also eaten at many, many tourist restaurants in those three places. They are a necessity when eating late or to talk to other foreigners. The people working there have no idea how to cook veggie food for the western palate as that’s not what they eat themselves.

    The Lao mostly use the word “jay” in the context of eating vegetarian food as in “gin jay” eat veggie. I don’t think the word is originally Thai or Lao, but perhaps Chinese. I’m sure if you walk into a tourist restaurant point to the stir fried rice with tofu on the menu, and say gin jay, they’ll get it.

    I personally like tofu. I worked at a tofu factory for a few months and would taste ever batch cold and uncooked for quality. I emphatically disagree with the idea that people who aren’t vegetarians can’t judge vegetarian food. Almost every market in Laos sells fresh tofu, (pronounced doh-hoo), I think again brought in with the Chinese influence. Every town in South East Asia has a long term Chinese population.

    Lastly I’d urge you get away from the beaten trail that having English Language menus and vegetarianism might otherwise restrict you to. Last year I walked for five days in a remote part of one of the remotest provinces with a woman that had been a vegan her entire adult life. She ate almost all food served except chunks of meat or uncooked meat with no ill affects. An extremely resourceful adaptable woman.

    #6 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 21:40

  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United States
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    Arlidon,

    I'm happy to yield to the others on the specifics of food in Laos, since they obviously know many more details on this subject than I do. I have, however, had pretty good luck finding vegetarian food on my trips to Laos. I hope you will have the same luck I had and that as Somsai suggests, you'll be able to find your tofu in the markets and order vegetarian food by saying "gin jay".

    Also, Somsai, I wasn't saying that you must be a vegetarian to judge vegetarian food. What I was suggesting is that if you weren't specifically looking for a thing like vegetarian food, then you might not be as aware if it is easy to find or not. For example, if you don't plan to drive in a place, you might not be as aware of the driving rules as someone who has driven there, or if you don't have any letters to post back home, you might not know for sure the cost of a stamp. Regards.

    #7 Posted: 3/2/2008 - 23:46

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    "if you don't plan to drive in a place, you might not be as aware of the driving rules as someone who has driven there"

    Exacto, road rules in Laos? You have got to be kidding! Actually I also have never seen a vegetarian monk. I don't know where that furphy came from.

    #8 Posted: 4/2/2008 - 09:15

  • arlidon

    Joined Travelfish
    19th January, 2008
    Posts: 6

    Somsai
    thanks for all the info about this subject.
    To me to be vegetarian is an ethical option, not a healthy option, anyway I´m adaptable to all circumstances.
    Best Regards

    #9 Posted: 5/2/2008 - 00:35

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