Thailand is renowned for its fish and meaty dishes often served with lashings of oyster or fish sauce, so you can imagine that I had reservations about visiting this country being a vegetarian. My local Thai restaurant has vegetarian meals aplenty, but when you're in the country itself it is often harder, but not impossible to find these dishes. Before I left England, I spent hours researching about vegetarian food in Thailand and was left with mixed impressions. A lot of vegetarians said they struggled to find meals, especially in more local communities. Other vegetarians said that the Thai people had been the most accommodating people they had ever met. They only way for me to truly find out was to visit Thailand myself and thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, a few weeks ago I was given that opportunity.
The first restaurant I had the pleasure of dining at in Thailand was the Blue Spice restaurant situated in the Grande Centre Point Hotel in Bangkok. The restaurant had an 'all you can eat' pan asian and european buffet with everything from Pad Thai to Sushi, Pizza to rice. I was eased gently into the Thai cuisine by being able to sample a few authentic dishes whilst making the most of home comforts like Spinach Lasagne just in case the food wasn't up to par for the rest of the week.
My first truly authentic Thai dishes were from a restaurant in the Nan province, north of Thailand. Food plays a major role in Thai culture as it is seen as a time where families and friends can time with each other and it is very much a sharing experience, similar to the Mediterranean tapas style where several plates are ordered and everyone has a chance to try them. As I was the only vegetarian and to make sure I wasn't missing out, I was given four different dishes to try: An egg tofu soup, a mushroom soup, sweet and sour vegetables, a stir fried mushroom dish and of course the Thai food staple, Jasmine rice.
As far as vegetables go, I thought I had pretty much tried them all in almost every possible way they could be cooked, but there's something about the people of Thailand and their ability to take the most humble ingredients and give them an abundance of flavour. My mushrooms weren't ordinary mushrooms, they were spicy, moorish and delicate on the palate, whilst the egg tofu in the egg tofu soup simply melted in my mouth. The broth added a subtle vegetable flavour to the dish whilst replenishing my taste buds and allowing me to delve into the sweet and sour dish which packed a punch.
One of the things I had noticed throughout my trip in Thailand was that although the vegetarian dishes were predominantly the same ingredients (tofu, mushrooms and vegetables), each region had their very own take on how to cook them. For example Nan food was richer with a pinch of spice, whilst the food in Phrae another district I visited had a lot more heat. It was all part of their traditions, signature dishes and the recipes that had been passed down through the families.
In this dish served at a restaurant in Phrae you can pretty much see the chili seeds. This food was fiery hot, but still not enough to ruin the flavour. The use of mouth watering tomatoes in this dish helped tame the heat and my side of steamed vegetables were the perfect accompaniment for adding further texture and little breaks from the other spicy dish. The great thing about food in Thailand is that if you don't really like the taste of one particular dish, there's always a few others to try from and if the food is spicy and you cannot tolerate it as much as other people, there's always other things for you to nibble at before returning for attempt.
If you know someone who has visited or even lived in Thailand, I'm pretty sure you will have heard of sticky rice. Sticky rice is often served as a midday treat or dessert and is amongst the top 10 dishes for tourists visiting the country. The sticky rice is often soaked in coconut and served with Banana leaves giving it the most wonderful taste. Sticky rice is a ball full of gooey, sticky, yummy fun and something I became quite addicted to during my trip. There are so many variations like this one above soaked with thai blue flowers to give it the blue, tropical colour to the one below served with mango, pineapple and apple.
I was lucky enough on my trip to have a translator that made ordering vegetarian food a lot easier, but even then there were times that I did have to fend for myself. If you're a vegetarian in Thailand and you're struggling to order, the word 'Jay' pretty much states that you are vegan and will not eat anything from an animal. I used this word several times and had no problems ordering food.
My foodie adventure in Thailand has made me appreciate Thai food now more than ever before. From the way the cook the most simple ingredients to give them intense flavour, to the way they serve food for families and friends bringing them closer together. Food is a way of life for the people in Thailand and appreciated far more greatly than us in Western Culture. It was a foodie adventure I will never forget.
*This trip was hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. This review was an honest representation of my time spent in the country.