I won’t discuss my reasons for going vegan here. Just know that I started my first week fired up and enthusiastic as a ‘raw vegan.’ Meaning I could only eat raw and uncooked fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. That lasted about three days before I started craving cooked food again: I had to be far better prepared if I wanted to survive the temptations of Bangkok’s gastronomic offerings in the future. Luckily, close to IH Bangkok, in Building 64 just off Sala Daeng BTS station, is Beirut Restaurant. Specialising in Lebanese and other dishes of the Levant, Beirut has been a big help to me because of its convenience. They, like many restaurants in Bangkok, also deliver. Their hummus and falafel is excellent, and has become a dietary mainstay for me. They are by no means a vegan restaurant however – before I became vegan I used to go there regularly for their chicken schwarma. But their menu is extensive and very vegan/vegetarian-friendly.
When I dine out regularly, I prefer to eat at restaurants specialising in vegan food (it’s safer that way, if I don’t want a miscommunication to result in a stray egg ending up in my dinner.) There are three places in particular I would like to mention, but remember that this list is by no means exhaustive, and new places are popping up over Bangkok regularly, as people (both Thais and international travellers and expats) are transitioning to plant-based diets in greater numbers. Here is a brief rundown of my top-three restaurants (so far.)
- May Veggie, Asok.
Located a short walk from Asok BTS station, May Veggie is a busy little restaurant committed to the vegan lifestyle. I have visited multiple times, with Thai and expat friends, and I have never had a dish there that I didn’t like. Their Thai and Japanese curries are fantastic, and their side dishes are absolutely delicious. Their menu has many gluten-free dishes too.
- Mango, Khao San Road.
Close to Khao San Road is the smaller, but equally pleasant Mango. Serving mostly Thai food, with vegan variations of classic Thai dishes, Mango is highly recommended for plant-based backpackers and curious visitors to Khao San Road who don’t fancy the fried scorpions. Their menu is extensive and the environment is friendly and cosy – you even have to take your shoes off before you go in.
- Bonita Cafe and Social Club, Pan Street, just off Silom Road.
Bonita has tasty European and Asian dishes to choose from. The last time I went there I had a full English breakfast, completely veganised! They also offer many sugar and gluten-free options too. The prices are a little higher here than the other two restaurants, but it is worth it, especially if you are craving a little comfort food from home. It is located close to the well-known Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple, so the whole area is quite vegan-friendly, with many Indian restaurants close by offering vegan and vegetarian options.
Of course, the Thai people are friendly and accommodating and if it’s vegan street food you are after, it’s not difficult to come by. I regularly enjoy vegan Pad Thai, Pad See Ew and Kao Pad Pak all over Bangkok. The meat can always be successfully substituted with tofu. It’s just about how you communicate, as there is no umbrella term in Thai meaning ‘vegan.’ This is how I usually do it:
Ask for Pad Thai etc…
pom pen mangsavirat (I am vegetarian) —OR— pom gin jay (I eat vegetarian)
This is usually enough, but you could be a little bit more specific if you don’t want to end up with dollops of fish sauce or egg in your dinner. So…
mai gin (don’t eat) nua saat (meat of animal)
mai sai (don’t put)
nam plaa (fish sauce)
If I wanted to order vegan Pad Thai then, my order would go a little like this:
Sawadee kap (hello)
ow Pad Thai (want Pad Thai)
Pom pen mangsavirat, mai gin nua saat kap. Mai sai nam plaa, mai sai kai, mai sai goong kap.
If the chef looks a little confused you could always throw in a ‘kao jai mai?’ at the end, which means ‘do you understand?’ If they do they will answer ‘kao jai kaa’ (for women) or ‘kao jai kap’ (for men.) If they say ‘mai kao jai’ (don’t understand) or ‘tam mai dai’ (can’t do it) then perhaps it’s best to move on to another vendor. Either that, or visit during Jay vegetarian festival, beginning on the 15th day of the waning of the 10th month of the Thai lunar calendar. This can occur during the months of September or October in any given year, so probably best to google it first. It’s a magical time when, for nine days, Thai cities explode with vegan delights on every street corner; heaven for vegans, at least until Bangkok resumes it’s enthusiastic meat-eating ways at the end of the festival.
In summary then, my first year as a vegan in Bangkok has not been difficult. I have learnt to just smile, be patient and enjoy the experience. Good advice for anyone in Thailand to be honest.
Mai pen rai