Veggie Delights in Thailand
Mehk Chakraborty November-December 2016
Indian Vegetarians in for a Delicious Adventure
Thailand, a popular destination for Indian tourists, caters to every type of foodie, with numerous choices for vegetarians.
A walk through a typical Thai food market is a treat for gastronomy lovers. Splendid colours, aromatic spices and famous Thai curries – all of them are on offer as an experience for foodies. Mostly known for their preparations with seafood, meats such as pork and fish, sauces to add flavour, vegetarian options on offer in Thailand are often forgotten or unexplored. While Thai cuisine is a popular choice for many visiting the country, travellers also find restaurants catering to the vegetarians with options in different cuisines from across the world. A rich cultural experience also comes forth when Indians find tastes from their home at this Asian country. With added initiatives such as apps for the phone by the government available for travellers, Indians visiting Thailand can be rest assured that they are bound to be fed well.
Destinations across Thailand offer specialties that are renowned worldwide. Thailand is most famous for its street food, alongside spicy preparations. Cities such as Bangkok have received titles for serving the best of the same in the world. For vegetarians, however, sampling street food or the authentic local dishes comes with its own risk as often the food considered as ‘vegetarian’ by Indians differs from that of the Thai. Many Thai chefs would, perhaps, consider eggs and fish as vegetarian, while many Indians would strictly consider it non-vegetarian.
To overcome this cultural difference, travellers are advised to mention ‘Jay’ when browsing through options, as this indicates use of no meat or eggs. Even milk is not used in such a preparation. The traditional Thai food usually uses meat-based ingredients even if it doesn’t contain meat. Thai curries are known to have shrimp paste as part of the preparation while fish sauce is used in almost all dishes. However, chefs usually comply with requests if they are asked for the same. New recipes for curries are gaining popularity, with the Thai curries finding new vegetarian forms such as the green curry. Additionally, for those exploring street food in the country and opting for a more immersive and local experience, all hope is not lost. A lot of street stalls offering Thai food can be distinguished as vegetarian with ‘Jay’ written in Thai script, on a yellow banner in red ink. These banners are usually safe indicators of vegetarian food and can be extremely helpful for those who fail at communicating with a local about their dietary preferences.
Major cities in Thailand such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai are home to pure vegetarian restaurants that are frequently haunted by Indians. May Kaidee, Mango Vegetarian and Vegan restaurants are top-rated restaurants in Bangkok which also have dedicated food courts for vegetarians. Known to be a home to a number of vegetarianonly restaurants, Chiang Mai has a lot to offer. Ratsamitham and Ariyasathan Haeng Panya Foundation in the city are popular restaurants where a vegetarian would find delight. Khunchun, a restaurant that dates back 20 years, is quite popular with locals although it is lesser-known to tourists and travellers. Food streets and local markets are also good options for Indians to visit, where they will find fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on. Lychee, longan, watermelon, banana, coconut, papaya, dragon fruit, rambutan are fruits easily available in markets which make for nourishing snacks.
The Thai culture has a practice of preparing special dishes that are shared amongst those having a meal together. In fact, it is almost customary to share every dish that is present on a table, whether it is served at home or in a restaurant. Every region has its special kind of food which consists of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. These dishes are paired most often with rice of different kinds depending on what is available in the region. Sticky rice and jasmine rice are two favourites among visitors. Ahan Lanna or Lanna food from the northern region of the country has mostly meat options with rice and so does Phak Tai or southern region food. However, central Thai shared food known as Phak Klang has a high range and variety alongside Ahan Isan or Isan food from the northeastern region.
All shared setups for meals come with spicy dips with intricate flavours and salads which are mostly vegetarian, presenting themselves as delicious options for the Indian traveller who is looking to avoid meat. For those who find themselves being hosted by a family for a meal, special requests can be made to make a shared meal moreenjoyable.
A mix of taste
Thailand is home to many cultures and this gets reflected on the food that can be found in the country. Many options of fusion and world cuisine are available. Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese food can be found for lovers of Asian tastes and there are also options in fast food with multi-national chains to be found easily in the cities such as Bangkok and Pattaya. Some European influences can be found in dishes and cuisines as well, which often comes as a nice surprise for food lovers. Thailand also offers a variety of fusion dishes to mix things up, many of which are available in delicious vegetarian options. Chiang Mai is a top destination to explore international and multicultural cuisines, as is Bangkok. Snack vendors in a lot of places in Thailand also offer many interesting dishes such as the het pho mushroom.
Indians looking to sample world cuisine made in fusion styles, mixed with influences from over the world but developed in Thai taste can find a variety of possibilities to experiment with, including vegetarian alternatives. In Bangkok, one restaurant with special vegan food caters to such an audience, with an international cuisine of Italian, American and other options available with fusion choices, making it a delight for the vegetarian Indians searching for a truly international experience. For an Asian twist incorporating Chinese with Thai food, Suki JehRuyi in Bangkok satisfies all.
Refuge when homesick
India and Thailand have shared a close relationship through history and it comes as no surprise that Indian food finds its own place in Thailand. Choices are available in Indian restaurants which have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, catering to the cravings of an Indian traveller missing home. The familiarity of home food can be quite comforting and cities and locales across Thailand offer restaurants and stalls operated by Indians serving Indian food. With classic and traditional Indian dishes, these places often make for memorable experiences for the Indian vegetarians who can be sure of the ingredients on the plate they are about to be served.
Bawarchi, a successful chain of hotels in Bangkok, is one such place and it has extended to opening one branch in India. Jain food, veggies cooked in Indian spices, the humble roti and dal are available and consumed widely by the community in the country. Indian communities settled across Thailand often take the onus in providing Indian vegetarians the food they need. Locales such Pahurat and Little India which host a sizeable community of Indians are two parts of the Thai capital where Indians can find food from home served in modest settings. For an experience of dining, there are restaurants offering vegetarian Indian food only, which are popular largely among tourists including Indians. Dosa King is one such famous restaurant in Bangkok, along with Mrs Balbir’s. Jain restaurants are also present in Bangkok and other parts of the country. Chiang Mai also has a host of vegetarian restaurants including Cuisine Royal India, New Delhi and Hinlay Curry House, all of which promise an authentic experience with vegetarian choices.
Thailand is also home to a Vegetarian Festival, which is primarily celebrated by the Thai-Chinese community alongside other residents who join in the celebrations. As part of this festival, many restaurants in the country offer vegetarian food, in some sort of a similar practice to the Navratri in India. The festival is held towards the end of September or early October and a majority of the Chinese community celebrating this festival in Thailand turn vegan. Indians who travel to the country at this time can find themselves at an extremely immersive cultural experience while being soothed by the scrumptious vegetarian meals to be found across the country.
During the Vegetarian Festival, not only do cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai embrace a green diet, other parts of the country such as Krabi and Phuket enthusiastically join in due to high Chinese population. The festival, celebrating the nine Emperor Gods, turns the China Towns of various cities into festive spaces. Cities see a large number of shops and eateries sport the veg-only signage – a yellow flag with the red ‘jay’ inscribed in Thai on it.
Thailand sees more than one million Indian visitors every year, a large number of whom are vegetarians. Even the non-vegetarian Indians many-a-times consider themselves not adventurous enough to try meats other than chicken or lamb, hence preferring to stick to vegetarian options. For those who are technology savvy, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country has launched a Bangkok Street Food App, allowing users to access locations, vendors and menus – noting availabilities of vegetarian food according to what one is looking for inBangkok.
Despite navigating through the differing concept of what vegetarian is and what isn’t, Indians in Thailand find a host of options in terms of exploring the culinary delights. From international cuisine, to local preparations and Indian delights, Thailand goes all out in catering to the need of the Indian travellers searching for vegetarian food. Memorable dishes exciting the taste buds await a traveller in Thailand, even the vegetarian Indian who has not yet explored the rich cultural heritage of Thai food.