Each of the three places we visited in Thailand was so different. In contrast to the touristy development of Phuket and the relaxed pace of Chiang Mai, Bangkok was enormous and full of everything. We had four days in the city and barely had time to scratch its surface, really. Here are my vegan food suggestions, mainly around the Chinatown area:
Again, get a Nancy Chandler map
As in Chiang Mai, our Nancy Chandler map helped to guide our exploration and saved our hungry vegetarian selves more than once. Bangkok is huge and sprawling in contrast to the compact, walkable old city of Chiang Mai, but Nancy Chandler’s map concentrates on some of the areas that are most commonly of interest to farang visitors and expats. She also publishes a more detailed map of the Old City and Khao San. I regretted not buying it when we were walking around the Old City, where street signs are limited and networks of alleyways weren’t detailed on our whole-city map. A few places that Nancy Chandler’s map helped us to find were:
Hoon Kuang in Yaowarat. On our first morning in the city, we went for a walk around Chinatown, ducking down alleys and wandering in whatever direction seemed most interesting. We found urban cats, vintage stationary, unlikely traffic: many amazing things, but all the street food seemed to be made of animals. There was a V for vegetarian on Nancy Chandler’s map of Chinatown, a couple of blocks down Yaowarat from our hotel. Hoon Kuang serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. We ordered greasy, hot spring rolls to share, and I had a tofu vegetable stirfry on rice.
Koko in Siam Square, near the megamalls where we found new cellphones. We stopped for a cup of tea at Sweet Cake in Siam Center, but couldn’t find much to eat in the mall beyond Western-style fast food and beautiful, but non-vegan cupcakes. Nancy Chandler to the rescue: the map showed a place marked with a V a couple of blocks away.
Koko made us fresh, interesting Thai food that probably was the best sit-down restaurant meal we had on our trip, including the mushroom salad pictured above and a plate of fried noodles.
Vegetarian food in the Old City. Our map didn’t show all the alleys and small streets in the Old City (there’s a more detailed map you can buy). A couple of vegetarian places were marked V on the page, but without actual addresses it was proving tricky to find them. A man in a café with perfect English but less exemplary map reading skills pointed us in the wrong direction. It started raining, and didn’t stop.
Hungry, we stomped through puddles and back, and couldn’t find the first place. The second place was marked on a street corner. We found the intersection of the two streets, and there was a restaurant at it. Hopeful, we asked the woman at the door, “jae?” & she pointed at the place next door. And there, we found a Thai vegetarian buffet. I had a plate of spicy fake meats on brown rice.
I’m not sure where my Nancy Chandler map is right now to check, but I think this was Jay Kee. It’s on Thanon Tanao, and marked with yellow and red jae/ vegetarian signs. As well as serving food, it also sells vegetarian groceries.
Snack at Chatuchak, but save your appetite for Chamlong’s
Chatuchak Weekend Market is a tourist draw: the biggest market in Southeast Asia, it has over 8000 stalls of souvenirs, clothes, kitchenware, antiques, musical instruments and miniature vegetables made out of modelling clay. So much to look at; here are some things we ate:
Coconut icecream – made with creamy coconut milk, and served in a half-coconut with peanuts on top. We bought a bowl to share, and loved it so much that we later came back for seconds. They also gave us tiny cups of coconut water to drink.
Fresh mango – sliced in front of us, and served in a plastic bag with wooden skewers as cutlery. Every mango I ate in Thailand was sweet, fresh and perfect.
Real espresso – at Meedé café in the middle of the market. Post-it note testimonials from visitors from around the world lined the espresso machine.
Roasted peanuts – from a street seller on the edge of the market. Freshly cooked and crunchy.
This place was recommended by Nancy Chandler as well. The map suggested we should follow the yellow signs down the first alley we came across to the Vegetarian Market. We followed what we assumed were the right yellow signs, climbed through an unlikely-looking entrance, and found ourselves in a Thai vegetarian foodcourt, with a vegetarian supermarket next door. Happy Cow has its own set of unlikely-sounding directions to help you find this place.
Chamlong’s food court ran on a pre-bought coupons system: we bought coupons, traded them for food and sold our unused coupons back to the cashier afterwards. Our whole meal (including a takeaway snack of tofu-skin rolls) cost 90 baht for the two of us: about $3.50 NZ. We ate:
Fresh spring rolls with fresh green herb sauce.
Spring rolls – part of a complete Thai meal.
Fried noodles – in the style of sweet pad thai.
A steamed bun – several different fillings were available.
Get mango sticky rice from the dessert market at Old Siam Plaza
The ground level of Old Siam Plaza has a courtyard full of stalls serving traditional Thai desserts. Erin tried Khanon Luk Chub, which would most likely have been vegan, it seems from reading more about them online.
I had mango sticky rice, khao nieow ma muang, which quickly became my favourite new dessert on this trip. It’s quite simple: just a sliced fresh mango on sweet sticky rice with coconut milk sauce, but the combination is quite satisfying.
Walk down Yaowarat in the evening and find street dinner
After dark, all kinds of food stalls set up along the sides of Yaowarat and other Chinatown streets. On our second night in the city, we went for a walk and bought a two-course meal and snacks:
Pad thai – ordered ‘jae’ and cooked fresh from a small cart across the street from our hotel.
Mango sticky rice – though the woman who made this charged what seemed an exhorbitant amount (100 baht! Definitely tourist tax – serves us right for not checking before ordering), it was the best example of this dessert we found anywhere, and she gave piled on an extra half mango.
Fresh lime juice – this was a bit sweeter than I wanted it to be, but also sour and fresh.
Chestnuts – roasted in giant woks with what looked like coffee beans. We sampled a few of these while walking along the street.
One thing I didn’t see, but now that I’ve read about I’d seek out next visit, was ginger soup with black sesame filled dumplings.
Visit Prahurat for Indian food
Prahurat is Bangkok’s Little India. As well as a giant fabric market, there’s a Sikh temple and a cluster of Indian businesses and food stalls. We ate:
Cashew sweets from Punjab Sweets – the Soi ATM outlet near the temple. Was this a differently shaped kaju burfi? I’m not knowledgable about Indian sweets and the internet isn’t helping me out here. Regardless, it was delicious and dairy-free.
Support AIDS prevention by eating at Cabbages & Condoms
Cabbages & Condoms is a restaurant in the Sukhimvit area run by the Population and Community Development Association, a nonprofit organisation that works in AIDS prevention, family planning, rural microfinance and other areas. The restaurant “was conceptualized in part to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities”. The name comes from the idea that condoms should be as available and acceptable as cabbages in the marketplace.
We visited for my birthday dinner. As well as serving food, the restaurant displays historic safe-sex posters, condom packaging from around the world and various mannequin characters and decorations made from condoms.
The food was probably the most predictable part of the experience: classic Thai dishes that were tasty, but not amazing. My favourite part was dessert, another helping of mango sticky rice:
Explore street food
Other snacks we found while walking around Chinatown and the Old City included:
Pineapple – freshly sliced, in a plastic bag.
Espresso – from a street coffee bar in the Old City.
Grilled baby banana – along Sampeng Lane in Chinatown, source of many wonders.
Popcorn – freshly popped, near Prahurat.
Fresh pomegranate juice – this one was on Yaowarat, but we saw similar stalls set up in a few places.
On the way home
If you’re heading out from Suvarnabhumi Airport, a good place to spend your last few baht is Eat.tion. They had a whole vegetarian menu, from which I ordered orange juice, pad thai and one last plate of mango sticky rice:
Do more research than I did
I ate well, but would have found more things to try if I’d read up beforehand on vegetarian Thai food. A few resources useful for finding vegan food in Bangkok:
- Happy Cow listings
- Travelfish recommendations for vegetarian food in Bangkok.
- EatingThaiFood.com suggestions from the month they ate only vegetarian food.
- Thai dessert resource with photos & pronunciation.