3 November 2019 / Angharad Bates / Bangkok

A guide to vegetarian food in Bangkok

Bangkok is a foodie heaven and it's pretty easy to find vegetarian restaurants here, not just representing Thai food but most other world cuisines. Nevertheless, as in the rest of Thailand, things get a little more tricky once you leave the tourist and expat enclaves. It's a disheartening prospect exploring the culinary delights of the ramshackle sois and markets, knowing full well that most things will contain meat or seafood and lashings of fish sauce. 

Don't be dismayed, because with a bit of hunting you can enjoy an array of vegetarian versions of one of the world's favourite cuisines. If your beliefs and stomach allow you to turn a blind eye to fish sauce, things will be even easier. Remember the two magic words for vegetarian - 'Kin Chey' and 'Mangsavarat', as either of these will make you vaguely understood. Also look out for little yellow flags on food stalls. 

Here are some dishes and veggie hotspots to get you started. 

Phad thai phak - Thai stir fried noodles with vegetables

Phad Thai is possibly the most ubiquitous dish in Bangkok. You will see it being whipped up everywhere for hungry hoards of workers, business people and hungover backpackers. It is usually made fresh, so just ask for soy sauce instead of fish sauce and omit any ingredients you don't want, such as eggs or prawns, while keeping the bean sprouts, spring onions, peanuts and fresh herbs. 

Phad see euw - stir fried soy sauce noodles

This is another incredibly popular street food, made with wide flat noodles, soy sauce (and sometimes fish sauce), broccoli, onion and egg. It sometimes contains meat too, but once again, just ask for it without. It has a deeper, more sour and salty flavour than the sweeter and nuttier Phad Thai. 

Khao phat phak - vegetable fried rice

Rice is the most important food in Thailand, and they do amazing things with this simple staple, transforming it into a multitude of dishes in their own right. A classic is vegetable fried rice, although it isn't as easy to find without added meaty extras as you might think. 

Pa pia sot - fresh spring rolls

Although more common in Vietnam, these little salad rolls are popular in Bangkok too. They usually contain lettuce, carrots, cucumber, loads of herbs and prawns or pork - although the transparent wrapper lets you get a sneak peak at what's inside. If they're made fresh you can simply ask for no meat.

Som tam - papaya salad

This classic Thai salad, made from shredded papaya, tomato, green beans and peanuts is a perfect example of an oh-so-nearly vegetarian dish. The scrumptious dressing is usually garlic, sugar, lime, tamarind juice and fish sauce. The saltiness has to come from somewhere! Small dried shrimp are often sprinkled on top too. Luckily it is often made to order so you can easily ask for it without.

Roti - fried flat breads

These flaky flat breads are most often found as a sweet snack drizzled with condensed milk or filled with banana. They're also popular served with curry, for Indian style dunking and scooping, usually from specialist cafes and stalls, such as the famous Roti Mataba near the Khao San Road. 

Pak boong - stir fried morning glory

This humble but healthy green vegetable is one of Thailand's most popular foods, and is as simple as it is delicious. It's usually served as a side dish and is fried together with garlic, chilli and soy sauce - although often with fish or oyster sauce too, so remember to specify if you want it without. 

Pad phuk tong - stir fried pumpkin

It may come as a surprise, but pumpkins and other seasonal gourds are a common ingredient in many Thai dishes. This meat free version can be a bit tricky to find, but is worth looking out for, especially at festivals.

Khao lam - sticky rice in bamboo

You might come across stalls with sections of bamboo for sale, inside you will probably find sweet rice steamed to perfection with coconut and sugar. A perfect snack for on the go. 

Exotic fruits

It goes without saying that the markets in Bangkok are filled with more exotic and delicious fruit than you can poke a stick at. Mangosteen, Rambutan, Pomelo, Durian, Lychee, Coconuts and plenty more. 

Vegetarian stalls 

All the main food courts in Bangkok have at least one section dedicated to vegetarian food. Options will normally be heavy on mock meat, but it give you a chance to try some Thai classics. At Chatuchak Weekend Market track down Chamlong’s Asoke Vegetarian Restaurant, this large canteen is cheap, has loads of variety and is staffed by volunteers. 

If you happen to be in Bangkok in early October, head over to Yarowat or other Chinese areas for the 9 day Vegetarian Festival, where the streets will be filled with stalls selling meatless delicacies and snacks. 

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