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Koh Phangan is one of the easiest places that I’ve found to be a vegan. There are vegan restaurants everywhere, especially in the north. Srithanu, for example, is flooded with completely vegan restaurants. In addition, fruit stands are on every corner and fresh markets where you can find fresh locally grown vegetables and more are happening regularly.
Now, the more tricky part is eating vegan anywhere you go, not just at the all vegan restaurant. It is usually always possible to get vegan options in Thai restaurants because their traditional cuisine is mostly composed of vegetables. However, there is one little complication and that’s what they cook those vegetables with. For instance, they tend to use chicken broth and fish sauce in most dishes, so you just have to make sure to speak up if you want to avoid these.
You can simply specify that you don’t eat fish sauce by saying “chan mai ghin nam pla” if you’re a woman, or “pom mai ghin nam pla” if you’re a man; and/or that you don’t eat chicken broth by saying “chan mai ghin nam soop gai” if you’re a woman, or “pom mai ghin nam soop gai” if you’re a man.
Tell them it’s because you are vegan by saying “chan ghin jay” if you’re a woman or “pom ghin jay” if you’re a man. The concept of veganism is not an issue in Thailand. “Jay” (เจ) as they call it has been around for hundreds of years in Thailand because it is connected with Buddhist spiritual practices. If you see red and yellow signs with the word "jay" written either in Thai (เจ) or in the traditional Chinese character (齋), it’s Buddhist vegan food.
For the most part, Koh Phangan is a vegan paradise. It is common for local Thai’s to offer vegan options with no MSG to please the health-conscious crowd that flocks here.
Things many dishes contain that is not vegan but is not “meat” so may be overlooked:
Fish sauce, shrimp paste, oyster sauce, tiny dried shrimp.
And in drinks and smoothies or Thai sweets:
condensed milk is most likely a key ingredient.
Another thing to know is that not all tofu is soy. Sometimes egg tofu is used. To know the difference just notice the shape and texture. If it is firm and square, it’s soy. If it is thick circular slices and a soft, silky consistency, it’s egg. Most of the time, egg tofu is used when the restaurant doesn’t go through much tofu because it keeps longer than fresh soy tofu.
Another soy thing to keep in mind is that not all soy milk is purely soy. Lactasoy (Thailand’s biggest brand of soy milk) contains a small percentage of cow’s milk.
If you are ordering street food, know that the pan was used for cooking meat or eggs and they don’t clean it between each dish cooked. Meaning that even if you order a vegan dish, it is cooked in a pan that was just used to cook meat! Sometimes street food vendors even use a big slab of pork fat to “season” the pan before they throw the veggies in.
Here are some classic Thai dishes that are vegan:
Tom Yum Hed. It is a fragrant, spicy soup full of lemongrass, Thai basil and other delights. Hed means mushrooms, so this version shouldn’t have chicken in it.
Plain Rice (khaw) or fried rice (khaw pad). Make sure to say mangsawirat pak pak pak which means vegetarian vegetables vegetables vegetables!
Sticky rice and mango. The sticky rice is cooked in sweet coconut milk and served with slices of fresh mango.
Deep-fried tofu. This dish consists of cubes of tofu in a crispy, salty coating with a soft inside, served with quick-fried garlic, onion and chilli garnish.
Veggie stir-fried in soy sauce.
Other dishes that could be modified (ask for vegetables or tofu instead of chicken, beef, pork, or seafood) but need to check about the sauce:
Green Thai curry– check for chicken stock and fish sauce
Red Thai curry– check for shrimp paste
Massaman curry– check for beef stock, shrimp paste and fish sauce
Yellow Thai curry– check for fish sauce
Pad Thai- check for fish sauce, chicken stock and egg
Papaya Salad– check for ground dried shrimp
Stir-fried morning glory– check for oyster sauce
Stir-fried broccoli- check for added shrimp
Fruit smoothies, tea and coffee– check for added condensed milk
Last but not least, when all else fails there’s always 7-11! They are literally on every corner and they sell vegan food like soy milk and soy drinks, seaweed snacks, peanuts, and even coconut-based ice cream bars.