Travelling with dietary restrictions can be difficult. Travelling as a vegan – that is, a person who does not eat animal products of any kind (including meat, eggs, dairy and sometimes other foods like honey and animal-derived food additives) – can be nearly impossible. Vegans and vegetarians travelling in Southeast Asia often report confusing encounters where their dietary requests are lost in translation (“Oh, vegetarian. Of course! You will have the chicken then”) or fear of undetected animal products in their meals. However, with a bit of preparation and these helpful tips, you will be able to navigate your Asian vacation without compromising your dietary decisions!
Hit the blogs: Before you travel to your country of choice, get online and find out if there are practicing vegans blogging from your destination. In many countries vegan bloggers (often English-speaking ex-pats) post their favourite restaurants to get specific vegan foods, and tips for ensuring you are making yourself understood.
Learn the language: Be sure to arm yourself with a full arsenal of vegan and vegetarian lingo before heading out to eat. Try not to rely on asking if things are vegetarian, since there are varying concepts and understandings throughout Asia – although the concept of “kin jae”, meaning “eat vegetarian” is understood in Thailand. Assemble a full range of questions and terms that you can ask (or write down and point to) to make sure you fully understand what you are eating.
Temple Cuisine: Explore the Buddhist and Indian restaurant options, since many menu options are often vegetarian and sometimes vegan options are included. Again, blogs will be useful for sorting out the best places to go and the dishes that are strictly vegan.
Don’t compromise: Vegan travellers are often told to just get over it and not ask too many questions, because their food will indefinitely include animal products in Southeast Asia. It is true that soups are almost always made with beef broth and noodle dishes almost always contain fish sauce and shrimp paste. Let’s face it, vegans are committed to their life choices, and you are not going to simply give up your convictions so you can eat noodles. If you are not sure you will find a vegan option, head to a grocery store and stock up on local fresh fruit. Or see if you can find a shop that sells foreign products with ingredients listed in English.