Tired of tofu? Treat yourself to a culinary vacation in Bangkok where you can eat, treat and cheat guilt-free on some of Asia’s most standout dishes, veganized.
Every Asian cuisine has its pièce de résistance. In Japan, it’s ramen (actually that’s debatable, you could also say it’s sushi). In Vietnam, it’s pho. In Thailand, it’s kao soi (or maybe it’s pad thai). And so on. One thing we can all agree on is that vegans skip past those cultural delicacies on most menus. But if there is one positive takeaway from the climate crisis, it’s that the alarm bells are ringing so damn loud that people are listening and opting for more plant-based options in their diet. With demand surging, menus are expanding, and suddenly a deep-fried soy cutlet has shown up in my katsu curry (katsu means chicken in Japanese by the way).
Enter Bangkok, no longer the street food capital of the world after the city decided to clean up its image (we’re still scratching our heads over here) but still a food mecca bar none. Michelin-starred restaurants at moderate prices are abundant, and b-kyū gurume is cheaper than McDonald’s in the US. Surprisingly, Thailand isn’t the easiest place to be a vegan, but it has somehow nailed a couple of those pièce de résistances I was talking about. And because of that, we’ve found our faith restored and deem Bangkok as a worthy culinary vacation for vegans. Or flexitarians. Or for anyone. Who says vegan food is just for vegans? Full disclosure: I’m not vegan. But I have an insatiable appetite for food, and sometimes that happens to be for vegan ramen. This is what I’m eating:
DO NOT KNOCK IT TILL YOU TRY IT! This game-changing vegan ramen at Mensho Tokyo will turn even the most hardcore tonkatsu lovers vegan (well, for one meal at least). The soup is as rich as any other ramen you’ve ever had but leaves you feeling a little lighter when you get home. The broth is made from premium Japanese soy cream and coconut milk, and with the help of some nuts, it’s altogether super creamy, a little spicy, just a touch salty, and with a hint of smokiness. The soup is generously topped with soybeans, dried seaweed, and mushrooms. This vegan variant is also making headlines all over the world, and although Mensho hails from Tokyo, it has a branch in San Fransico that’s been giving all the west coast vegans goosebumps for years. And now you can try it in Bangkok for a fraction of the cost. You’ll find it on the menu as the Tantanmen for 350THB.
I had my first bowl of pho after a drunken night out in my teens (that was about 20 years ago), and I’ve been a hardcore addict ever since. Then a few months ago I did something I would usually NEVER do, I went for vegan pho. In Thailand, you’ll only find it at Broccoli Revolution, Bangkok’s super hip and socially-conscious plant-based mecca, alongside several veganized versions of quintessential Asian plates. The vegan spin on Vietnam’s soul-soothing soup is made with brown rice and chia seed noodles with toppings like beefy shiitake mushrooms, baby sweetcorn, onions and carrots all done al dente. It also comes with all the usual fixings, sriracha included, and will soothe your soul better than beef (especially since it’s guilt-free).
I know what you’re thinking, how can this Northern Thai dish be made vegan? It’s pretty much synonymous with a chicken drumstick falling off the bone. But Vistro has done it, and it’s damn delicious. Made with spicy yellow curry soup, “egg” noodles, red onion, coriander, edamame, and chill oil, this plant-based variant gives your grandmother’s khao soi a run for its money. The soul bowl is called Khun Yai’s Kao Soi and will cost you 260THB.
Dumplings are easily offered vegetarian but until now, vegan options in Bangkok were limited to Din Tai Fung (ain’t nothing wrong with that though). But suddenly our dreams have danced over to the little mouth bombs at Vistro, which are made with burnt chilly oil, crispy nutri, and a house-made gyoza sauce that they concoct out of their own kombucha vinegar. They’re called Vistro Dumplings on the menu and will run you 220THB.
What is easily one of Bangkok’s staple joints for vegan epicures, May Veggie Home does a meatless katsu curry and now all your vegan hangover dreams can come true. Just a reminder, katsu means chicken in Japanese so this is a bold statement, but the dish delivers. We know that the “katsu” is deep-fried (as it should be) soy meat, but as for the rest of the ingredients, those are a secret. You needn’t worry about the secrecy, however. May feels that many Japanese restaurants doing vegetarian dishes buy a ready-made soup base, which often contains fish bones. And so she doesn’t trust that they truly live up to their claim and set out to make her own secret recipe. Look for the Tonkatsu Fried Vegetarian Chicken with Tonkatsu Sauce on the menu, which comes is served with rice and miso soup for 149THB.
There is so much more to Thai food than pad thai, but because every tourist that goes to Thailand plans an itinerary based around eating it, it’s going in. The plant-based pad thai is also one of the best sellers on the menu at Broccoli Revolution and is made with gluten-free black rice and chia seed noodles, which are packed with omega-3, iron, protein, antioxidants, and fibre. So if you’re going to eat pad thai, let this be the one.
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