Thai food, like many other Asian cuisines, can easily be vegan. The base for the majority of dishes is carbohydrate: rice and noodles – with lots of vegetables, and no cheese, butter or milk. Meat is only a small part of the dish, so altering it will not change much of the taste and dining experience. The full flavor and texture will still be there.
Replacing meat: Tofu, either crispy fried or non-fried, is offered in many Thai and Chinese restaurants. Mushrooms, broccoli, or even a mix of vegetables also work well.
Fish sauce: Thai food uses fish sauce to create the salty flavor, so you’ll need to ask the server to leave it out. They will usually replace it with soy sauce. Another ingredient found in some stir fry dishes – fried rice, stir fry vegetables, or stir fry noodles – is oyster sauce. Most dishes won’t be affected without it, and soy sauce is also a good replacement.
Egg: Some dishes, like the very popular Pad Thai, contain egg. Order Pad Thai with no meat, no egg and no fish sauce. Wonton skins and yellow noodles also contain eggs, so you’ll want to avoid them too. Always specify rice noodles with your order.
Here are some examples of Thai vegan dishes, but there are many more to explore:
- Vegetable Spring Rolls are filled with clear/glass noodles and vegetables, fried to the perfect crunch and served with sweet chilli sauce. Some restaurants offer these meat-free ones, but make sure you ask because some restaurants pre-make them (with meat).
- Vegetable Salad Rolls come in a rice wrapper and are served with sweet peanut sauce. These can be made without meat when asked, and tofu is a great replacement.
- Fried Tofu is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and served with sweet chilli sauce and crushed peanuts.
- Battered Fried Mushrooms are served with sweet plum sauce. This dish is not usually offered in Thai restaurants, but is common in Thailand. If you find an accommodating Thai place, they should be able to make this dish for you easily.
- Tom Yum Mushroom Soup is a spicy, citrus soup with fragrant herbs like lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal. This is one of the dishes Thai food is famous for.
- Tom Kha Mushroom Soup is similar to Tom Yum, but milder and smoother with added coconut milk which balances out the flavor.
- Vegetable Soup is a mixed vegetable in clear broth, usually made with napa or cabbage, carrots, green onion, and goes well with soft tofu in it. The taste is mild and comforting (similar to chicken soup).
Thai Salads: Thai salads are spicy and sour. The seasoning consists of fresh squeezed lime, sugar, pepper and soy sauce (in place of fish sauce). Salads are popular because of the intense flavor, freshness, and quick cooking time.
- Clear (or Glass) Noodles are made from mung beans and are clear, stretchy, and light in calories. This salad is refreshing, full of flavor and great for people on a health kick.
- Green Papaya Salad or Som-Tam is made from unripe, green papaya, sliced into strings, and flavored with Thai salad seasoning and fresh Thai chillies – normally made on the spicier side! This dish is fully raw, rich in vitamin C, and very low in fat. You’ll have to order without the dried shrimp and fish sauce. It is Thailand’s most popular salad.
- Thai Mushroom Salad is delicious, and great for when you want a softer texture and something different than crunchy vegetables. Fresh mushrooms are blanched then seasoned with the Thai salad lime dressing.
Thai Curry: Curry is a stew-like dish, made of herbs, pepper and spices, cooked in coconut milk, and eaten with rice. It’s popular because of the fragrant herbs and hot soupy vegan sauce. It’s best to replace tofu for meat, and add extra vegetables and mushrooms.
- Red Curry with tofu is the most common type of curry and normally comes with bamboo shoots and holy basil.
- Panang Curry is similar to red curry, but with a thicker sauce and not as many vegetables. A vegan version is Panang curry over fried tofu, with Thai pea eggplant.
- Massaman Curry with tofu is made with onions, potato and tofu. It is a little sweeter and the potato makes it unique.
- Green Curry with tofu comes in a green sauce because it is made from green chilli paste. It is spicy and comes with bamboo shoots and mixed vegetables.
Noodles: Rad-Nar or rice noodles with gravy are pan-seared with soy sauce and topped with a broccoli gravy, resembling beef broccoli sauce. This dish is influenced by the Chinese dish with black vegan bean sauce.
- Pad Thai is Thailand’s most popular noodle dish. The rice noodle is stir fried with tofu in sweet and sour tamarind sauce, palm sugar and served with bean sprouts ground peanuts and a wedge of lime. Make sure to order without meat, eggs, and fish sauce.
- Pad-Se-Ew or sweet soy sauce noodles are stir fried with Chinese broccoli, carrots and seasoned with sweet soy sauce. This dish normally contains egg, so make sure to order it without.
- Pad-Kee-Mow, Spicy noodles or Drunken Noodles are rice noodles stir fried in fresh Thai chilli, holy basil and soy sauce. It is a variation of the spicy basil dish and comes with noodles, fried rice and stir fry.
Rice: Spicy Basil Fried Rice is spicy and fragrant, with fresh Thai chilli and holy basil. If you love fried rice, and would like something a bit different, then this dish is for you!
Pineapple Fried Rice is sweet and tropical because of the pineapple chunks and cashew nuts.
Stir fry options:
- Spicy basil mushroom
- Sweet and sour fried tofu
- Ginger tofu and ginger mushrooms
- Cashew stir fried tofu
- Mixed vegetable stir fry with tofu
- Stir fried mixed vegetables is a great dish, with colorful vegetables stir fried in light sauce, and served with rice. Adding mushrooms and/or tofu also enhances the nutritional value and texture.
- Spicy basil mushroom is spicy and fragrant, with holy basil and a mix of vegetables. Adding tofu would also be a great combination.
- Mango-sticky rice
- Black rice pudding
- Fried bananas
- Banana spring rolls
Drinks: Thai drinks are very sweet. You have the choice of Thai tea and Thai coffee, both strong and sweet. Ensure you ask for no milk or creamer. Alternatively, they can sometimes make these with coconut milk.