I changed my diet to vegan while living in Bangkok and found out the hard way that most Thai food isn’t vegan. Although with a little insider knowledge, it’s possible to order delicious strictly vegan Thai food.
Vegetarian Thai dishes may seem vegan but usually have non-vegan ingredients such as fish sauce or shrimp paste. To order vegan Thai food you’ll need to make a special request to exclude these non-vegan ingredients or visit an exclusively vegan Thai restaurant.
To help you find what Thai dishes are vegan friendly. I’ve created a breakdown of popular Thai food and what ingredients you’ll need to exclude to ensure it’s vegan.
|Dish||Thai dish name||Vegan option – Exclude|
|Stir-fried Sweet and Sour Rice Noodles||Pad Thai||Eggs |
|Stir-fried Basil and Mushroom||Pad Krapow Hed||Oyster sauce|
|Stir-fried Tofu and Mint Leaves||Larb Jay Tofu||Fish sauce|
|Green Papaya Salad||Somtam Jay||Fish sauce|
|Vegetable Fried Rice||Khao Pad Pak||Prawns|
|Stir-fried Vegetables||Pad Phak||Fish sauce|
|Mango and Sticky rice||Khao Neeo Mamuang||–|
What non-vegan Thai ingredients to look out for
If you could define Thai food with a single ingredient it would be it’s notorious Nam Pla (fish sauce). This sauce gives Thai food it’s famous salty taste and uniquely fishly like smell.
It’s hard to avoid fish sauce in Thai food as a vegan because it’s used as a taste-enhancing ingredient in almost every dish. It ranks as the number one ingredient you’ll need to ask to be excluded when ordering vegan Thai food.
Shrimp paste (Kapi) is another non-vegan friendly ingredient used in Thai cooking. The paste consists of fermented fish and salt to add additional flavoring. Request no shrimp paste when ordering dishes such as vegetable red curry or soup.
Some Thai dishes also use traditional Chinese oyster sauce (Nahm Man Hoi) with certain stir fry dishes. This is not be confused with traditionally Thai fish sauce.
Does it already feel like a vegan food nightmare? Don’t worry – The majority of Thai dishes are made freshly to order so just inform the waiter or chef you’re vegan so they can cater to your needs.
If you’re ordering food in Thailand simply say “Kin Jay”. This translates to saying you’re vegan and want the vegan alteration of the dish. Jay is a Buddist way of life where no direct or indirect suffering should be inflected by lifestyle choices such as eating meat. Sounds familiar?
There is a Jay festival during October where Thai people will practice the Jay way of life. This is a convenient time for vegans to travel to Thailand as many restaurants offer Jay (vegan) alternatives directly on the menu.
What Thai dishes are vegan friendly?
The most popular Thai dish intentionally is Pad Thai which is stir-fried rice noodles with sweet-sour sauce and peanuts sprinkled on top.
Go vegan with Pad Thai by requesting Tofu as a meat alternative and say no to fish sauce and egg.
Is Thai tofu vegan? The firm tofu used in Thai dishes is usually vegan although check with the restaurant first because some tofu types can consist of eggs.
Pad Krapow Hed (Basil and Mushroom)
The go-to dish for locals is Pad Krapow, stir-fried Thai basil in a spicy sauce. Have some water close by cause this dish can get hot!
Go vegan with Pad Krapow by requesting mushrooms (Hed) as a meat alternative and say no to fish sauce and the fried egg which they place on top.
Vegan Larb (Larb Jay)
Larb is a refreshing minty dish originated from Lao’s a bordering country in the north of Thailand.
Go vegan by requesting the tofu Jay alternative and remember to pass on the fish sauce.
Stir-fried vegetables (Pad Phak)
The restaurant doesn’t have any vegan options? Play it safe and go with the stir-fried vegetables in a thick soy sauce.
Go vegan with this dish my requesting no fish or oyster sauce.
Gang Jay (Vegetarian Curry)
Is Thai curry usually vegan? Thai curries like Gang Jay consist of a coconut milk base with chili paste and selection vegetables. Ensure it’s vegan by requesting a non-shrimp based chili paste.
Green Papaya Salad (Somtam Jay)
Another well know Thai dish is the raw papaya salad which is primarily a mix of papaya and various herbs and species to enrich the flavor.
Go vegan by saying no to the crazy amount of fish sauce they put in this dish. As an alternative, ask for a combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Vegetable Fried Rice (Khao Pad Pak)
Another go-to dish if you’re in a restaurant that doesn’t look vegan-friendly is stir-fried vegetable rice, an oily combination of rice and vegetables.
Go vegan by requesting no eggs, prawns, or fish sauce.
Pak Boong Fie Daeng
Pak Boong Fie Daeng is morning glory stir-fried in a thick spicy sauce with whole chillis and garlic.
Go vegan by requesting no oyster or fish sauce.
Rice Noodles (Pad See Ew)
What Thai noodles are vegan? Avoid thick yellowish noddles as they are most likely egg-based. Rice noodles are vegan they appear somewhat translucent and thinner than their counterpart.
Pad See Ew is a soy sauce-based Chinese style rice noodle dish with a Thai touch of chili flakes!
Go vegan by requesting tofu as a meat alternative and no eggs or oyster sauce.
What Thai desserts are vegan?
Most Thai desserts are vegan safe because they use a coconut or sugar base instead of traditional eggs, yogurt, or milk.
Manago and sticky rice
One of my favorites is Mango sticky rice, which consists of sticky rice with sugar and coconut coated fresh Mango. Delicious!
Tab Tim Grop
Another vegan-friendly Thai dessert is Tab Tim Grop consisting of colorful beetroot dyed water chestnuts in wonderfully rich coconut milk.
Bua Loy Puuak
Taro is a popular vegetable found in Asia and used in a Thai vegan snack called Bua Loy Puuak, which consists of Taro in rich palm sugar and coconut milk.
Bua Loy Nam Khing
Bua Loy Nam Khing is a popular street food desert found throughout Thailand. It consists of sweet sesame seed rice flour dumplings in a refreshing Chinese style hot ginger soup.
Find authentic Bua Loy Nam Khing at the street found carts in Yaowarat, Chinatown, Bangkok.
Find an extensive collection of vegan-friendly Thai deserts at Messy Vegan Cook.
Thai vegan food is delicious but you need to be careful when ordering to ensure the dish is strictly vegan.
Tell your waiter or chef your dietary requirements and dishes can usually be made to order. A general rule is to always request no fish sauce, oyster sauce, and or shrimp paste.
Ask for tofu, mushrooms, or extra vegetables as an alternative for meats especially with popular dishes like Pad Krapow and Larb.
Hungry yet? I am!