Friday 17 March 2017

Healthy Vegan Thai Food (And Where To Find It in Thailand)

healthy vegan thai food

Sawaddee ka! 😍 Thai food is famous world-wide as some of the tastiest in the world, and justifiably so, but how easy is it to make (or find) vegan Thai food and additionally, how can you make sure that food is healthy?

Thailand was one of the first countries I lived in as a vegan, but I also lived there before I went vegan - so, for this (loose) reason, I feel like I can make sure you eat well as a vegan in Thailand without 'missing out'. (Missing out on murder and torture, oh no!) Seriously though, I know how important food is, I know how people worry they will no longer be able to have the authentic foods as a vegan when they're travelling (or entertaining at home) - I know because I was one of these people. And Thailand was the first place where I realised food could still be tasty and authentic even without the flesh and lactations - and for that I'm eternally grateful. It's also my go-to cuisine when I'm cooking for people at home, so although there is a mini section at the end about being vegan in actual Thailand, most of this post is about Vegan Thai food, with an emphasis on health. So let's take a look:

vegan vs travel aka me, Laura, my first time in Thailand

But first, I'm often asked:

Is Thai Food Vegan?

Not all Thai food is vegan, but, there are three reasons in my opinion that it's easy to make Thai food vegan:

1.) Because Thai cuisine actual uses spices, varied flavours and multiple textures to make the food taste yummy* it's easy to find or make vegan Thai food that's yummy and authentic in its own right, without having to resort to faux cheeses or meats. (*So like the opposite of say, Europe, where we just lean heavily on cheese for 'taste' [and I say this as a European, so don't @ me plz])

2.) Additionally, the practice of Je is familiar in Thailand - practicing Je involves spiritual things like meditation, but it has food rules too - participants are expected not to eat meat, milk, cheese, eggs, or really anything from an animal - sound familiar?? :D (They're also expected not to eat onion and garlic, but you win some you lose some, ey) My point is, as a country that's used to this kind of (kind) way of living, you're going to get less judgements, eye-rolls and barf faces (again, looking at you, Europe).

3.) Last, but not least, as a country abundant in exotic fruit it's also very easy (imo) to be a vegan in Thailand, especially if you want to be a raw vegan (my ultimate goal).

Healthy Thai Options

healthy thai options

So, if you stumbled onto this blog post as a non-vegan, I would like to say: if you want to be healthy in Thailand then avoid eat meat, dairy, eggs, fish and honey. Why? Because that's just how to be healthier in general anywhere in the world, lol, but seriously though hear me out:

  • just 1 egg has 62% of your daily recommended allowance of cholesterol;
  • dairy is biochemically meant to make baby crows grow real big real fast and has the same effect on humans - It's one of the top sources of artery-clogging fat in the USA;
  • honey is extremely high in sugar;
  • fish are polluted with mercury like the waterways they live in;
  • and meat? eating it drastically raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and many cancers - especially bowel cancer.

But back to assuming you're vegan: When I lived in Thailand, it was not so much that I struggled to find vegan options, it was more that I struggled to find healthy options because so many things are fried in oil and/or covered in sugar and MSG. In the end I think there are really two good options:

1) cook for yourself! (if you can)

Because Thailand has such an abundance of vegan restaurants (see below) you will be able to find healthy vegan restaurants too, so if you're staying for a short while it should be okay, but if you are staying for longer I recommend getting a kitchen and cooking for yourself.

2) go raw vegan!

With the abundance of fresh exotic fruit and veg and cheap markets this is an easy place to be raw vegan. Unfortunately I never tried to be raw vegan in Thailand :( but I did go to the markets a lot and I will be raw vegan if I'm lucky enough to go back one day! (Live my dream for me now, please :D)

healthy thai options

With this in mind, I will now focus on the later - making healthy vegan Thai food at home - I've written it with the idea that your home is in Thailand (in terms of you being able to easily find the ingredients, and bearing in mind that most Thai homes do not have an oven). Of course, I hope you can make these meals no matter where your home is, I just figured I might as well focus on Thai homes (and I was in Thailand when I wrote this, lol). At the end of the post I've touched on vegan Thai restaurants too.

How to Veganise Traditional Thai Dishes:

#1. Pad See Ew

vegan thai food

When I lived in Thailand as a non-vegan this was my favourite dish. It's chewy and salty. I'd marry it if that wasn't weird. As with most dishes, it's pretty easy to make it vegan: Take this authentic pad see ew recipe use tofu or tempeh as the protein and take out the eggs (you can add black salt in if you want egg taste, but I never even realised Pad See Ew even had egg in it, so it's not essential imo). Leave out the fish sauce and oyster sauce and either add in more soy sauce (or not if you want it to be healthy) and add in spirulina/seaweed (or not if you don't like it fishy). Finally, omit out the sugar for a healthier dish.

#2. Vegan Thai Curry

vegan thai curry

The above photo is my baby-vegan attempt at a Thai curry. Did it taste good? Yes, I liked it at the time. Did I make it in Thailand from ingredients I bought at the market? Also yes. Was it authentic? Hell no. It had pumpkin and cauliflower in it 😅 (which aren't exactly your go-to Thai ingredients)... I added loads of lime, and lime pieces too - in lieu of kaffir lime leaves, it's not really the same. In fact, the only thing I really got right was the abundance of coconut milk and the curry paste (though even that I bought ready made 😭) Anyway, to try and apologise, I am actually going to send you to my friend Pai's website (vegan red curry) and/or encourage you to watch her video:

Pai's recipe is delicious af imo, but in order to make it healthy I would advise you to skip the palm sugar.

#3. Khanom Krok: Thai Coconut Pancakes

khanom krok - thai coconut pancakes

One dish that's accidentally vegan and authentically Thai is khanom krok - Thai coconut pancakes! Sweet but salty, crispy but soft, I used to liveeee off these badbois - you can buy them as street food and there was a place outside of my base that made these ones. Thus I never made them, I never even knew what was in them lol (I just knew what wasn't in them - animals or stuff that came from animals). Anyway, if you want to make me yourself some, Pai has a recipe! I just realised these don't exactly scream health, so let's move on to a salad:

#4. Green Papaya Salad: Som Tum

Green Papaya Salad som tum

This salad is a combination of sweet and sour and absolutely perfect on a hot Thai day when you don't feel like cooking. Papayas can be found in pretty much every Thai market and are cheap! Here's a recipe that's authentically Thai but isn't vegan by Hot Thai Kitchen and here's another recipe that's not authentically Thai at all but is vegan by Minimalist Baker so pick your poison - I'd personally go for the former and just switch fish sauce for soy sauce and leave out the shrimp paste. Sorry Minimalist Baker but cabbage ain't Som Tum.

#5. Vegan Tom Yum Soup

vegan tom yum soup

Firstly, gigantic apologises for what may well be the ugliest photo of Tom Yum Soup ever.. I leave it as a testimony to how bad I was at cooking when I'd just turned vegan and to encourage me to remember to take a better photo next time I make it. Lol.

Tom Yum Soup is traditionally made with prawns/shrimps and shrimp paste, replace the prawns with mushrooms and tofu for nice textures. Add spirulina or seaweed for the fishy taste (or not, I know a lot of even non-vegans don't like fishy taste). Ready-made Tom Yum pastes generally have shrimp paste in them, although I did find Tom Yum pastes in Thailand without. If you're stuck, make your own: Tom Yum Paste recipe here - just omit the optional shrimp paste. (And omit the sugar if you're still at this point aiming for healthy). [I wrote my own recipe for vegan Tom Yum Soup but it needs updating. Check it at your own risk.]

#6. Vegan Pad Thai

healthy vegan thai food

Pad Thai, along with Tom Yum and Thai curry is one of Thailand's most famous dishes - and fair enough, it's delicious. As such, it's almost always found in any vegan restaurant in Thailand, so I've never made it myself. But here's a vegan version by Pai and there's a video too:

#7. Khao Niaow Ma Muang: Mango Sticky Rice

sticky mango rice

Another one that's actually accidentally vegan! It's another favourite and is thus everywherrreeeeee. Mango sticky rice is exactly what it says on the tin: mangos and rice but as it's cooked in coconut milk and tends to come with a sugar-salty coconut sauce, it's not exactly healthy.. So if you want a healthy version make it at home without the sugar. If you want it really really healthy, leave out the coconut milk too - mangos and rice? Healthy af.

#8. Fried Rice: Kao Pad

kao pad vegan fried rice

Egg fried rice used to be one of my most favourite dishes to cook (read: one of the only dishes I could cook) before I went vegan. So naturally, I wanted a good vegan version. Replace the egg with black salt (for the eggy flavour), peanut butter (for the sticky texture) and tofu (if you wanna). My personal recipe is here: egg fried rice without the egg - it needs updating, and it's not (yet) very Thai. But I'll get around to it I promise.

Thailand: Cheap Food

According to my research, some people found their way to this page by searching for 'Thailand Cheap Food'. Hi. How are you. I will of course give you some tips on finding cheaper food in Thailand, but I first want to stress that if you are coming from a wealthier country, if you do have the money to fly to Thailand in the first place, if your passport and/or skin colour gets you into places easier, please take a minute to recognise your privilege. Many people in Thailand live in conditions like this:

life in Thailand

Please, don't be one of those privileged asshats that go there looking to squeeze pennies out of people who don't have pennies.. When I first went to Thailand I was one of these privileged asshats I'm talking about. I was a cheap asshole who believed in capitalism and believed that I'd 'worked hard' to get there and thus deserved cheaper things or something. I was crazy. I apologise. I'm frankly disgusted that I went there and tried to barter with people who have less than me, simply because of where they were born. So please don't be like old me. Please be kind.

But if you are looking for cheap food in Thailand for ethical reasons - like to help those with less than you - here are my tips:
  • any non-touristy market is great for cheap, local, fresh fruit and vegetables: if you go just before they're closing (between 5pm and 8pm depending on where you are) it will be big discounts;
  • if you're in Thailand for a while, invest in a large bag of rice (the most cost effective way to eat rice);
  • 711 does two Thai meals: they're called 'vegan protein' and are green. They're really cheap and you can ask for them to be heated up: perfect if you notice say a houseless person in need of a hot meal.

vegan thailand

Next up, if you've actually made it to Thailand and are bored of cooking, we can look at vegan restaurants in Thailand.  But first, to make things easier (I hope) I'm going to just summarise those accidentally vegan Thai foods you can find anywhere and know it's vegan:

Accidentally Vegan Thai Foods

  • Khao Niaow Ma Muang: Mango Sticky Rice;
  • Khanom Krok: sweet, salty, crispy, soft pancakes;
  • And an extra one, Tau Hu Tod: tofu fried in vegetable oil, then served with peanut sauce... not exactly healthy food, but definitely tasty!

How to Be Vegan in Thailand

Vegan Restaurants in Thailand

may veggie home

Of course, a great way to make sure you food really and truly is vegan is to go to a vegan restaurant. Luckily there is an ABUNDANCE of vegan restaurants in Thailand - according to happy cow (a useful lil website for finding vegan food worldwide) there are currently a whopping 375 vegan restaurants in Thailand :O - 93 alone in capital Bangkok and 43 in vegan-centre Chiang Mai. And it doesn't stop there (cause as you well know 93 + 43 ≠ 375), unlike many other countries that only have vegan restaurants (if you're lucky) in their main cities, Thailand has them almost everywhere - from Ayutthaya all the way to Udon Thani and so many places in between (that was done alphabetically not geographically lol). Anyway, maybe now perhaps your problem has been transformed from 'where do you find vegan restaurants in Thailand' into 'which restaurants do I prioritise?

I've only lived in Chiang Mai, Krabi and Bangkok, and out of those, only Bangkok as a vegan, so I will now reveal (oo) my favourite place from there. Head back to the pre-mentioned happy cow for reviews of the other 374 restaurants.

May Veggie Home (Bangkok)

may veggie home

Despite it's rather misleading name, May Veggie Home is 100% vegan. I feel like I owe this place a great debt, because it's the first place I ever enjoyed tofu. I was a newbie vegan and before I went in I was feeling rather disheartened by the whole thing. I was focussing so much on what I would be giving up and (having just been in a supermarket) I was weighed by the gravity of all the nasty things I'd been eating. Going there made me realise all the new things I would be trying. But I'm just rambling about myself now as usual. Back to May Veggie Home. They make beautiful burgers, delicious ice cream - and, best of all imo, they make authentic, incredible, vegan versions of Thai favourites - like Tom Yum and Green Curry.

Vegan Things to Do in Thailand

Other than stuff your face and try to visit all 375 of Thailand's vegan restaurants, what else can you actually do in Thailand? Like is riding an elephant vegan (no). Is getting your picture taken with a drugged up tiger (also no). Overall, I'd give any zoos or picture with animal taking opportunities a wide birth, but is there anything you can do that's vegan but involves animals? Maybe, let's explore:

Snorkelling and Scuba Diving in Thailand

vegan in thailand

When I went to Egypt, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most vegans consider scuba diving and snorkelling to be vegan - cause essentially it can be likened to taking a walk in the wood - as long as you don't shoot a deer or a shark in the face, as long as you leave nothing and take nothing, you're not doing any damage. On that note, some things to note:

  • don't wear a suncream with chemicals that will poison the corals (easy if you're wearing a wet suit, if not, there are ones that care about the reefs and aren't tested on animals e.g. thinksport)
  • don't go with a tour that disrupts the wildlife - opt for ones that turn off their motors, respect wildlife etc

Elephant sanctuaries... maybe?

Elephant sanctuaries are miles away from riding an elephant (cruel). At the elephant sanctuaries you can feed the elephants, bathe the elephants and just hang out with the elephants. I went to one in Chiang Mai, because I liked the story: "elephants that are rescued from being ridden still need somewhere to live and something to eat, being fed and bathed by tourists for €50 a head is fairer than being ridden."

elephant sanctuaries

And whilst I was there the elephants seemed happy and healthy, the thing around the above one's neck is a bell, not a lead. But, my jury is still out. In an ideal world we would just give back the elephant's their land and leave them be. But it's not an ideal world yet. If you go or not, I definitely recommend donating to elephants because again (how many times have I said it lol), riding them is barbaric.

Wrap Up: Vegan Thailand

veganism in thailand

Well, there you have it, hope I could help you on your trip - whether that's a trip around Thailand or a trip to your own kitchen, or both! If you're extending your Thailand journey to other countries in South East Asia you might well be interested in my blog post: vegan travel in South East Asia.

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ทานให้อร่อยนะครับ/คะ (thaan hai aroi na khrap/kha), that is: bon appetit! :)

P.S. Have you heard about abillion? It's an app where you review your favourite vegan foods and they donate to vegan sanctuaries. If you have ever enjoyed anything I've written please use our referral code: TRAVELLINGWEASELS when you sign up. Not yet convinced? Read more here about why we have such a boner for this app.

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