Traveling as a vegetarian in Thailand

Figuring Out Thai Food with a Little Help – What’s Vegetarian and What’s Not

As a vegetarian who travels perpetually, finding appropriate food can sometimes be stressful. Last year I spent two months in Chiang Mai, Thailand and since I’ve been there there many times I was aware that scores of vegetarian options were available at local restaurants, food courts, and street vendors, such as those at the street vendors at Chiang Mai Gate, shown in the photo below:

Street food vendor at Chiang Mai Gate, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Street food vendor at Chiang Mai Gate, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My problem was the language barrier; I speak a little Thai but not enough to ask about all the food choices at street food stalls, markets, or food courts. So I asked a Thai friend to accompany me to the local food bazaar in the lower level of Central Airport Plaza to show me the ropes. I toured the kiosks with her as she explained the various foods on display, and then learned how to negotiate the food stalls, all the while filming the following video.

As I suspected, many of the foods that I would normally have thought safe contained pork or chicken, but after my friend’s explanation and descriptions, I felt much more confident that I could determine which foods were safe. As a result, I was able to eat at food courts and markets that cater to Thai clientele, which charge much lower prices than pricier restaurants that cater to tourists.

31 Comments on “Figuring Out Thai Food with a Little Help – What’s Vegetarian and What’s Not

  1. Barbara,

    Savi and I absolutely love Thai food. The only cuisine that comes close to Thai is Malaysian.

    Street food is delectable in both countries and so easy to come by 🙂 And as you have mentioned, pretty cheap too 🙂

    • It’s one of my two favorite foods in the word Vid, along with Nepali food.

    • Hi Tina – if the Philippines has great street food, I think I’d better move it up my travel wish list 🙂

  2. I’m not a veggie, but it definitely seems hard at times to find a truly meat-free meal…!

    • It is hard sometimes, David, but fortunately it’s getting easier all the time. Vegetarianism is much more mainstream than it used to be.

  3. Very interesting Vera! I’m glad I found your blog. I’m a vegetarian travel writer too! I’ll be coming back to follow your adventures.

    • Hi Eve. Vera left a comment but I’m actually Barbara. So glad you like my blog!

  4. In some places, vegetarian eating must be such a battle. I love exploring markets and tasting morsels of enticing food, but I am certainly glad I don’t have to go thru the extra step of ensuring that they are vegetarian.

    • It is a struggle sometimes, Mark, but it’s getting easier all the time.

  5. Street food in Thailand is one of the best out there, and the best thing about it is they come in cheap.

    • Thanks Cheryl. Glad you think it will be helpful for your veggie friends.

  6. Chiang Mai is a very easy destination for a vegetarian or a vegan like myself.The amount of restaurants specialized in vegan and vegetarian food are impressive, even the small local ones. My problem was usually related to the fish and oyster sauce, that seems to be in every food they sell at the food stalls. As a strict vegan, I used to avoid friend rice or noodles from street vendors, since they fry everything in the same fry pan….

    • Hi Yara. I hear you. Fortunately, in Chiang Mai I found some street vendors who ONLY prepare vegetarian food. There’s a lady at Chiang Mai Gate that makes the best Pad See Ew!

  7. There is an idea for each country you visit as I know from vegetarian friends that this is one of the most stressful elements of their travelling.

    • It is indeed, Mark, but it is getting easier all the time because vegetarianism is becoming much more popular.

  8. Barbara you have show us all about the food that is safe to eat, as well as, delicious. This video was very helpful.

    • Hi Sue – you’re welcome. Hope it helps the next time you’re in Thailand. So sorry I couldn’t do the program this winter, but things were a a bit crazy. Hopefully, the next time I am in the States.

  9. It really helps to have a local with you when you are in a foreign land. I, one time, ate a wrap there in Thailand that I thought would only contain vegetables. That was the last time I travelled without a local with me.

    • It really dos help to have a local friend J. Lee. Luckily, I’m in Thailand so frequently that know a lot of people there.

  10. The food looks so delicious! Here in Japan I have the same dilemma – ask for the “vegetarian” option and they will add bacon to it. Or the soup stocks for ramen and so on are all made from meat. Thanks for the post, this will really be useful when we travel to thailand!

    • Hi Mirelle: It constantly amazes me how poorly vegetarianism is understood. Most countries I’ve visited believe it means no red meat, but pork and chicken are OK. Glad you think my post will be helpful in Thailand. Enjoy your time there – Thailand is magnificent.

  11. Fascinating. I’m particularly intrigued with the portmanteau word that encompasses no meat, no onion, no garlic–since I cannot eat onion. I should have had that word when I was in Thailand! They have such a bewildering selection of foods, and all delicious.

    • Hi Vera: You’re right on both counts. Everything is SOOOOOOO delicious, but it can certainly be bewildering. In your case, the next time you go just tell any food vendor “Jay” and they will know exactly what you mean.

    • It’s a good thing I did it, Heather, or I would most certainly have been eating stuff containing meat.

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