Vegetarian's Survival Guide to Thailand

Vegetarian Dining...Bangkok

Vegetarian Shoppers Guide...Bangkok

The origins of "Jey" food

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Contrary to what many may have you believe it is possible to travel and live in Thailand quite happy as a vegetarian but it does take a bit of effort.

Living as a vegetarian anywhere can be a challenge and in Thailand you have the added difficulties of language and communication to grapple with, but you will find that with a few key words and phrases your dining experience will be greatly improved. 

The majority of Thais are respectful towards vegetarians and will be quite willing to accomodate you at most places if you are friendly and polite and know how to order correctly.

Thailand has some of the best veggie food the world has to offer, you just need to know where to go and how to order ! 



Understanding Thai Vegetarian food

In Thailand there are two terms used to describe vegetarian food. "A-harn Jey" and "A-harn mung-sow-ee-rat".

  • A-harn means food
  • Jey is vegetarian food of Chinese origin which roughly translates as vegan in that it excludes all meat and animal products. Jey is distinctive for it's use of mock meat subsitutes made from mushroom, tofu and wheat gluten.
  •  Mang-sow-ee-rat is a Thai word that means food with no meat but can include eggs and dairy.


Most places in the south and central regions of Thailand will recognise jey or kin jey ( I eat jey ) as a generic term for a strict vegetarian or vegan diet as we understand it.  As it is a Chinese term and orignates from Chinese immigrants in the south of Thailand if you travel to some remote areas in the north or northeast of Thailand it may not be recognised. In this case you can use the term mang sa wee rat.




How to survive.....

JIf you want to get off the beaten track but don't want to starve, learning some basic Thai phrases can really help you out. To the right of this page  is a list of vocabulary and useful phrases.

Don't be daunted ! You won't learn it all in one day. It takes a while to get your head around Thai especially as it it is a tonal language which is very alien to a western ear and tongue.  Don't lose heart if at first you can't be understood. It's helpful if you can make     friends with a local and ask them to help you with pronunciation.



Getting started....

There are many great vegetarian restaurants in Thailand but if you want to get away to some  remote  places or you are somewhere where they don't cater specifically for vegetarians it's useful to be able to know how to order some basic dishes.

As an example of how to order food in ordinary, non vege restaurants I will use  fried rice or "Khaow pad " as a sample dish. You can apply the same phrasing to any other dishes you order and it is a good staple survival dish you can get any where.

 As mentioned,  most places in Thailand will recognise the term jey  as a generic term for vegetarianism so when you are ordering food you can just add "jey" on to the end of the name of the dish.

For example:

"kor khaow pad jey kha / krup"

( Can I have vegetarian fried rice please )


* Kha is used at the end of a request or statement for females

* Krup is used at the end of a statement for males


If you are somewhere remote where perhaps the locals don't understand jey, you can use the same phrase but substitute "jey" with "mang sa we rat."

For example:

"kor khaow pad  mang sa we rat "



 Keeping it pure......

The majority of Thai dishes contain fish sauce or "nam plah" for a salty flavour. For vegetarians this can be substituted with  "see iu"  (  soya sauce ).

Most people will not use  fish sauce if you ask for jey but sometimes they will slip it in thinking that you won't know the difference. If you want to ensure they do not use it you can say......

"Kor khaow pad jey, mai sai nam plah kha / krup"


"Kor khaow pad mang-sow-ee-rot, mai sai nam plah kha / krup"

( Can I have vegetarian fried rice, but no fish sauce )

( Most places will have soya sauce on hand to use in place of fish sauce )

The same goes for egg....

"Kor khaow pad jey, mai sai kai kha / krup"


"Kor khaow pad mang-sow-ee-rat, mai sai kai kha / krup"

( Can I have vegetarian fried rice, but no egg )



 Explaining that you are are vegetarian....

To let people know you are a vegetarian for example if someone offers you a meat dish you can say :

"De chun kin jey kha"( female )

"Pom kin jey krup" ( male )

( I eat vegetarian / I am vegetarian )

This will be understood by most and the majority of Thai's will accept and respect this. Alternatively you can say :

"De chun kin mang -sa- we-rat." ( female )

"Pom kin mang-sow-ee-rat." ( male )

*Note that pure jey actually means you don't drink alcohol so some people might be surprised when you order beer with your jey food !



 Making yourself clear

If you want to be specific about things you don't want to eat you can use this phrase :

Mai kin plah ( I don't eat fish )

Mai kin nam plah ( I don't eat fish sauce )

Mai kin moo ( I don't eat pork or pig )

Mai kin nua saat  ( I don't eat red meat / beef )

Mai kin gai ( I don't eat chicken )

Mai kin ped ( I don't eat duck )

Mai kin Goong ( I don't eat shrimp )

Mai kin pu ( I don't eat crab )

Mai kin kai ( I don't eat egg )

Anyway, you get the idea. Use this phrase with any kind of food you want to exclude.




If you want to eat in a restaurant and want to know if they have a vegetarian menu you can ask:

"A-harn jey mee mai kha / krup ?"


"A-harn mang-sow-ee-rat  mee mai kha / krup ? "

( Do you have vegetarian food ? )

You will get one of two answers.....

If they have something for you ( often it may just be fried vege or fried rice ) they will say

" mee"

If not they will say

"mai mee"



 Be cool !!!

Many places will be accomodating and helpful and will go out of their way to make you something to eat. However it is important to note that the response you get will have a lot to do with your manner. If you are courtious and polite, make eye contact and smile your chances of getting a decent meal will be much better. If you walk in with an arrogant demanding attitude you will not get anywhere. Thai's switch of immediately to this kind of behaviour. It's easy to get frustrated at times but the golden rule in Thailand is keep your cool !



If you want to ask if someone can prepare a dish for you you can ask:

"Khun tum eng a-harn jey dai mai kha / krup ?


"Khun tum eng a-harn mang-sow-ee-rot dai mai kha/krup

( Can you make me some vegetarian food? )

You will get one of two answers:


( yes I can )                 

Mai dai

( no I can't )





 Eating on the street

 If you follow a strict vegetarian diet your options for street food are quite limited. For example all street noodle vendors unless they are specifically vegetarian will use pork stock or chicken stock as a base for their soup. Street som tam vendors in the majority of cases will only have fish sauce and no soya sauce. If you really want to eat som tam off the street you can buy a small bottle of soya sauce and ask them to make it with that.


You can ask....

"Khun Tum eng som tam jey dai mai kha /krup ?"

 Ask this while holding up the soya sauce bottle for best results ! All the ingredients are out on display so you can just point to the things you want or don't want.


 Apart from that there a still lot's of snacky things you can have, such as....



pom a ly






Fried bananas

glu ay tod






Fried tofu

tao hu tod






Sticky rice and black beans

stuffed with banana

khaow tom maat






Coconut Hotcakes

Kanom krok





 Food to go.....

 Outside the main centres and away from "farang" friendly guesthouses it will be harder to get a decent meal but there are a few staple dishes you can get most places. It's really worth the effort to learn these dishes as in some out of the way places your options are limited


Lad na ( jey / mang-sa-we-rat )

 Fried fat rice noodles with vegetables in gravy. ( The gravy is made of soy sauce and cornflower



Pad see iu ( jey / mang-sa-we-rat )

 Fat rice noddles, vegetables and egg fried with dark soya sauce

If you don't want egg just say...

"Kor pad see iu jey, mai sai kai"




Khaow pad ( jey / mang-sa-we-rat )

Fried rice

 If you don't want egg just say..." Kor khao pad jey, mai sai kai"




Pad paak ( jey / mang-sa-we-rat )

Stir fried mixed vegetables

To make sure they don't use fish sauce just say...

" Kor pad paak jey, mai sai nam plah"




Pad Thai ( jey / mang-sa-we-rat )

Thai fried noodles with tofu, peanuts, egg and shrimp.

Some but not all places will do a vegetarian version of this dish....order by saying " Kor Pad Thai jey, mai sai kai ( without egg ), mai sai goong ( without shrimp ), mai sai nam plah  ( without fish sauce )



 Yam moon Sen ( jey / mang-sa-we-rat )

Glass noodles with a dressing made form lime, palm sugar, chilli and fish sauce or soya sauce.

This dish is usually made using fish sauce and in many cases even if you ask for" yam moon sen jey" they will use fish sauce anyway so you have to say " Kor yam moon sen jey, mai sai nam plah"



 Pad Preo Waan ( jey / mang-sow-ee-rat )

 Sweet and sour vegetables

This dish is usually made not using fish sauce but if you to be sure you can say " kor pad preo waan jey, mai sai nam plah "




And Finally....

 I hope this guide will help you along your way as you travel or work in Thailand. Good luck !!

Any comments or queries please contact me by e-mail ....




Credits : The images I used for the Thai vegetarian dishes were taken from the book on the right....

"The Best of Thai Vegetarian Food" by  Sisamon Kongpan, published by  Sangdad Books.

I highly recommend this book, it  is the best vegetarian cook book I have come by in Thailand



The Basics-Eating.......

To eat 


To drink   


I'm hungry 


I'm thirsty    

hew nam

I'm full  

im lao



Not spicy          

mai pet





Everyday Vocab......


Sawadee kha (female)*

Sawadee krup (male)*

*kha and khrup are added to the end of a statement or request to make it sound polite and to show respect


Kop Khun Kha (female)

Kop Khun Krup (male)

Nevermind / it's ok / you're welcome

mai ben rai

How are you?

Sabaadi mai?

I'm fine

Sabaadi Kha / krup




a roi


sue ay

Forienger of European decent


Ordering and making requests......

I ( female )  


I ( male )          




Can I have    

kor ....

Do you want    

ao mai?

I don't want    

 mai ao

What do you want?

Ao a lai dee ?

Do you have?     

mee mai ?

I don't have

mai mee

Can you / Can I ?

dai mai ?

No you can't  /  no I can't  

 mai dai




mai sai

(eg.mai sai kai...without egg or sai kai...with egg)

I like   


I don't like  

mai chop

A little    

nid noy

A lot           






Meat & Animal Products....

( It's good to get familar with these items so you can avoid them ! )










nua saat





Fish sauce    

nam plah



Food General


a harn


nam plough

*Nam is a generic term used to describe things that are liquid. eg; nam som ( orange juice ), nam tao hu ( soya milk ), nam man ( oil  etc..)




pom a ly



Sticky rice

khaow neo


 tao hu




gar tee um






man ow

Lemon grass 

ta kai

Coconut milk  

ka ti


tua li song


man farang




glu ay


sap a rot




nam tam

Cake or dessert


Sauces and condiments

Soya sauce   

 see iu

Very hot chilli sauce     

nam prik

Sweet plum sauce

nam buay wan

Sweet and sour sauce

nam preo wan

Cooking Methods and Common Terms......

Stir fried        phad

Deep fried    tod




 Na ( neng )

Curry            Kaeng

* Yam      

*A distinctive Thai salad dressing made from lime juice, palm sugar, chilli, and soya sauce or fish sauce .


Yellow wheat or egg noodles


Fat rice noodles

Sen yai

Thin rice noodles

sen lek

Glass noodles

moon sen

Classic Thai Dishes......

Pad preo waan

Sweet and sour vegetables

Som Tam

Spicy papaya salad

Tom Yam

Hot and spicy sour  soup

Tom Ka

Same as tom yam but with coconut milk added. Not so spicy


Spicy salad usually made with minced pork but can be substituted with tofu. Made with ground chilli, parched rice, mint, lime and soya sauce

 Phad thai

Thin rice noodles fried with tofu, egg, shrimp and served with lime and bean sprouts. ( Vege version can be made without shrimp and egg )

Kaeng Keo Waan

Green curry

Massaman Curry

Mild curry from the south of Thailand, made with potato, cashew nuts and chicken or beef  which can be substituted with tofu

 Yam Moon Sen

salad made with yam dressing and glass noodles

Yam Ma Kua

Salad made with yam dressing and grilled eggplant

Phad Preo Wan

Sweet and sour

Phad Gup Paew ( tao hu )

tofu fried with chilli and basil

Maat Muang- Cow Neo

Famous Thai dessert  made from sweet mango and sticky rice covered in coconut milk