As a vegetarian you can explore and enjoy the unique vegetarian culture that Bangkok and Thailand has to offer.
First of all, Thailand as a tropical country has an abundance of fruits. Street vendors with little push carts sell portions of chilled chunks of pineapple, watermelon, sweet papaya and other fruits already cut for ten or twenty baht. Strolling around and getting thirsty? For 20 baht a coconut vendor will happily chop open a fresh and chilled coconut for you.
Vegan Thai sweet Desserts at the food court of computer shopping mall Panthip Plaza in Bangkok.
Popular Thai fruits that are available on street markets include mangosteen, mango, banana, oranges, jackfruit, dragon fruit, and my favorite fruit the Durian.
Durian is a big fruit with a think spiny skin. The ivory colored fruit itself is soft yet firm and has a creamy and full texture. In the durian season (May and June) street vendors with heaps of whole durians will hand pick a durian for you and tap with a long stick on the fruit to see if it is ripe or not. Durians are an expensive fruit yet surprisingly popular with many Thai people. When you buy a durian, likely Thai people will look at you and laugh, because according to Thai Wisdom, foreigners cannot eat durians because this fruit is too smelly. Tip: don’t buy durian already packaged or in the supermarket. Let an experienced street vendor choose a ripe durian who cuts it open on the spot.
In general Thai cuisine isn’t that veg friendly. A delicious and worthy exception are the traditional Thai sweet desserts, which come in a great variety and which are all suitable for vegans. No cow milk and gelatin (a thickener made of animal bones) is used as in western desserts, but coco milk and various plant based thickeners. Thai desserts are widely sold on street markets and often in food courts.
Typical popular Thai street foods snack style that are suitable for vegans are fried banana, sticky rice with banana triangularly wrapped in banana leaf, and steamed corn knobs.
In doubt if a dish is vegan or not? Point at the food and say “Pom Kin Jay. Kin Daai Maai?” “I Eat Jay (vegan). Can I Eat That?”
The vegan heroes of Thailand are undoubtedly the people who run the many “Jay” restaurants. No meat, fish, milk or egg is used for Jay food, out of a Buddhist compassion for animals. Also 5 herbs such as long onion and garlic are not used, because of health reasons. According to traditional Chinese medicine, these 5 herbs are not good for our internal organs like liver, kidney, etc.
“Jay” food was introduced to Thailand by Buddhist Chinese Immigrants a long time ago.
“Jay” restaurants are usually simple restaurants offering buffet style Thai Chinese Jay food. A typical Jay dish is a plate of white rice with two vegetable toppings of your choice. As a Buddhist restaurant their aim is not to earn much profit but rather to offer veg food for a cheap price so that ordinary non vegetarian Thai people will come and eat.
When asked why they eat “Jay”, staff and Jay restaurant owners usually give me answers like “when I cut myself I feel pain but also animals feel pain.” and “when I realized animals feel pain I stopped eating them.”
Thanks to these compassionate vibes, the Jay restaurants are by far my favorite place to relax and enjoy truly vegan food.
Bangkok alone has around 40 Jay restaurants. Some Jay restaurants that stand out are Baan Suan Pai right near Ari Station, an all-Jay food court with an amazing variety of foods, including vegan sushi. Another one is the a-bit-difficult-to-find Chomlong Mangsawirat Chatuchak food court run by the Buddhist group the Santi Asoke. Besides super cheap organic vegan dishes, there is a small Thai bookshop and a shop. It is located near Chatuchak Market. Posh shopping malls like the Platinum Fashion Mall and the MBK have a Jay booth at their food courts, both offer a good quality “Jay” foods.
A typical jay restaurant with yellow and red colors. Above the words “vegan food” we can see the Chinese character and Thai word เจ . Both mean “Jay” (vegan) and are also sometimes used as a tiny red/yellow label on supermarket products like soy milk or snacks to indicate it is “Jay”.
In October Thailand celebrates the ten day Vegetarian Festival.
Other veggie restaurants in Bangkok that are worth to visit for some authentic cultural Thai veg vibes are vegetarian Thamna near Kaosan Road serving organic fushion food, and the super cheap vegan loving Hut in Thonburi, offering quality Thai vegan dishes, cakes and ice cream. A 20 minute taxi ride from down town Bangkok, avoid the traffic jams that start around 4 o’clock.
Opening times, addresses, and reviews of all restaurants mentioned in this article can be found on the Happy Cow website www.happycow.net. Happy Cow has listings and reviews of vegetarian and vegan restaurants all over the world.
Happy Cow also offers an app for your mobile telephone to locate veg restaurants worldwide.
Herwin Walravens lives with his vegan family in Thailand and is the author of the “Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide”, available as paperback, the “Bangkok Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide”, available as paperback, and the “New Flavors For Today’s Pizza”, available as e-book. Herwin Walravens did run the “Herwins Vegan Café” in Bangkok for 4 years. Currently Herwin Walravens is working out new ideas for a new vegan restaurant.