Eating Vegan in Thailand
Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and for a good reason. The affordability and ease of traveling the country coupled with the food, beaches and friendliness of the locals makes it a hot spot among many. In fact, Thailand was the first country I started my first major backpacking trip in 2013 and is a place I often find myself returning to. So what is the deal with eating vegan in Thailand?
Before I left for my trip I was warned by many that it would be hard to find food that was completely vegan because the Thai’s have a love affair with their fish sauce. It is literally used as the main flavoring in almost all dishes and is as omnipresent as salt is for us in the West. However, I learned that being very specific with the correct Thai words and phrases would make eating vegan in Thailand a much less complicated experience. Essentially it is easiest to order the dish you would like and use the term “gin jae.” Gin jae refers to Chinese buddhism and means vegetarian but corresponds to the exclusions of veganism including all animal by-products. Click here for the correct pronunciation of the term. http://www.enjoythaifood.com/learnthai/vegetarian.php
In addition, I recommend that when you order your food gin jae that you also always add the the following phrases, mai sai which means without, kai which means eggs, and nam plah which means fish sauce. So for example:
mai sai kai - without eggs
mai sai nam plah - without fish sauce
Gin jae is the most important phrase you need to order vegan since it excludes all animal and animals products. I always recommend that you use “gin jae” instead of trying to use other Thai phrases such as I only eat vegetables or I am a vegetarian (“mang sa wee rat”) or I don’t eat meat, fish, etc. You will be taken more seriously using gin jae since it is a form of Buddhism and they will be much less likely to sneak a little fish sauce in your meal.
Also be on the look out for the Jae symbol. The symbol looks like a 17 and is always written in red on a yellow background. This symbol really comes in handy when you are trying to buy something like soy milk and everything is written in Thai. Many of the soy milks in Thailand actually have whey in them so they are not vegan. But as long as you find the Jae symbol you can rest assured that it is vegan. In fact, one of my favorite chocolate soy milks in Thailand is Jae. It’s the Vitamilk Double Choco Shake and is easy to gulp down in a matter of seconds, it’s that yummy. Along with finding the Jae symbol on certain food items, you will also find the Jae symbol on certain food stalls and at some restaurants.
Ultimately, eating vegan in Thailand doesn't have to be difficult. Chiang Mai is revered as a vegan food paradise and Bangkok and many of the Thai islands have a lot of great options too. Being mindful of correct Thai words and phrases when ordering food will ensure you have a great time in the land of smiles.