Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thai Words and Phrases for Vegetarians

Asparagus by Jason Webber Morguefile
It's not easy being green in Thailand. A few words in Thai will oil the way for vegetarians.

Outside of popular tourist destinations, restaurants in Thailand rarely cater to vegetarians. And the number of specializing in Thai vegetarian cuisine is tiny compared to Indian, Chinese or Western variations.  More veggie venues are cropping up, however, particularly in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. 

Wherever you are, there are plenty of fresh vegetables and vegetable dishes in Thailand. And cooks are willing to do their best. The following words and phrases will help oil the way:

ahaan mang sa wi raht—vegetarian food.
raan ahaan mang sa wi raht—vegetarian restaurant.
raan ahaan mang sa wi raht tee nai?—where is a/the vegetarian restaurant?
mai sai nua tuk chanit—don't put in meat of any kind.
mai sai nua/gai/muu/plaa/nam plaa—don't put in beef/chicken/pork/fish/fish sauce
mai kin sat—I don't eat flesh.
may kin nam plaa—I don’t eat fish sauce.
kin plaa—I eat fish.
kin jeeh--I eat vegetarian foods. Especially refers to Chinese vegetarian cuisine, which omits strong and spicy ingredients, such as onions and chili. Drag out the jeeh syllable; it's a falling tone.

Food Courts and Indian Restaurants

There's more vegetarian cuisine in Thailand than is advertised. Particularly in restaurants frequented by foreigners, it's always worth asking for a vegetarian menu, although it’s possible the vegetables have been cooked in oil already used to cook meat or fish. Not many Thai cooks will know to substitute soy sauce for fish sauce. Vegans and other picky eaters should bear in mind that when it’s served in outdoor stalls and food courts, phat thai, a vegetarian standby, is usually cooked in the same big flat iron pan as a mussel dish. Oil made from animal fat is less of a worry because palm oil is the usual cooking oil in cheap eateries.
Hospital cafeterias and food courts commonly have a stall or two with tofu dishes and vegetarian noodles, though brown rice is scarce. The food court on the sixth floor of Siam Square’s noisy MBK shopping mall in Bangkok has a prime selection.So does the food court on the ground floor of the more upscale Paragon shopping mall, also in Siam Square. In big cities and tourist haunts, Indian restaurants are always a safe option. In Chinatown, in the vicinity of Charoen Krung Road, there are also several modest Chinese vegetarian restaurants. A hallmark of Chinese veggie food is "fake meat", usually with a base of gluten, soy or tofu. In appearance, such items may resemble beef cubes or marinated chicken bits, but they don't taste like it.

Adjacent to Chinatown, running along the riverside, is Pahurat, the Indian district. You can find plenty of little restaurants there. Another area for Indian restaurants is around the intersection of Sukhumvit Road and Sukhumvit Soi 11. There's even a Jain restaurant shortly inside the lane next to Villa Market. (Although this is a tourist area frequented by South Asians and Middle Easterners even in the evening, it's also a sleazy one in the evening, over-populated with porn sellers, prostitutes and plump old white men.)

An annual three-week period, usually around October, is the vegetarian festival when vegetarian food can be found just about everywhere. You will even find cooked food in markets and at sidewalk restaurants signaled by a yellow paper flag. The tradition was introduced by Chinese residents and the food is very influenced by Chinese cuisine, but many people from all walks of life decide to kin jeeh during this time.

Copyright +Susan Cunningham. No republication of text without permission. Contact SoutheastAsiaTraveler @

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