Where to Find Authentic Vegan Thai Food
Being a vegan in Thailand is hard. Animal products, especially meat, just sit there glistening in all their sad deceased glory everywhere you look. Every food stall, restaurant, practically every dish seems like it has meat in it! And if it’s not obvious meat, it’s secret meat - in the broth, the seasoning, the sauce.
Of course there are always going to be restaurants that cater to Western travelers and have a vegetarian section on their menu (or maybe your'e in a super cool town with a 100% vegan/veg restaurant -- yay!). These places are great, and there you will most likely find a delicious meal. (It may not be authentic, but screw authenticity, you're vegan -- vegan is the new authentic!) You'll also pay extra for that cruelty-free guarantee, but such is life as a vegan.
But recently, I experienced a completely different kind of vegan restaurant. On google maps it goes by Ranahat Je Vegan Restaurant, and on Happy Cow it’s called Jay Vegetarian Restaurant. It's in Ayutthaya, a great day excursion from Bangkok, worth a visit for it's peaceful temple ruins and well-marked bike-lanes.
When you are in front of the restaurant, there are no signs in English, so you have to know where you are going.
This was very authentic Thai, right down to the food. The elderly Thai woman behind the counter shells out a serving of rice for you and then waits for you to point at whatever dishes you’d like to top it with. Some of the options include stir-fried veggies with little chunks of textured soy protein mixed in, deep fried textured soy protein, huge pots of curries, and spiced stir-fried textured soy protein. So yes, it was very Thai style in that it was still very meat-centric, only instead of actual meat, it is textured soy protein. It was also very Thai style in that it was extremely flavorful and delicious.
Though at home I try not to consume this type of processed food, I’m in Thailand! And of course I am going to support a real-life Thai vegan! Her food was hearty, tasty, and dirt cheap. My traveling companions and I each paid 35 baht for a large portion of food. We went twice, and each time there were several choices, and they weren’t always the same choices. So if you are spending a day or two cycling around the glorious temples and ruins of Ayutthaya, definitely give this place a visit.
In Krabi Town and back with Franklin, desperately hungry, a very similar restaurant came to our rescue: Hong Ming Vegetarian Food. (On Happy Cow it says that it is closed, but it is most definitely not.) Thai vegetarians cooking for Thai vegetarians...it’s a beautiful -- and delicious -- thing. And it was the same deal I experienced before, rice, topped with whatever curries/vegetables/soups you point at. The tofu Tom Yum soup was the best I have ever tasted, and the meat-like protein mixed in with my vegetables was very pork-tasting. We payed 100 baht for two hearty dishes, soup, and a soda. And the matron gives you complimentary fresh-cut vegetables, along with a very concerned look, if you order the really spicy dishes.
These types of restaurants are sprinkled throughout towns across Thailand. Sure, from the outside, they may look unappealing. They aren’t decorated with cute little potted-plants or trinkets, the walls haven't had a good scrub in a few years, there’s no air-conditioning and no attempt to advertise what they’ve got. But if you get over these minor surface details, these hole-in-the-wall restaurants could be your favorite eating experiences in Thailand.
So seek them out, and if you find them, post a comment about them below so the rest of us can give them a try!