Thai Food Blues

By Jane Mountain | March 26, 2014

11,830 km so far.

Sometimes being a vegetarian on the road is a pain in the ass. There, I said it. Not everything about not eating meat is wonderful and sunshiny all the time (almost everything though).

Lately, we’ve been finding it hard to find vegan food in Thailand.

Hotel breakfast of fruit, salad, and weird donut blobs.

Hotel breakfast of fruit, salad, and weird donut blobs.

Before I tell you more about Thai food though, I must interrupt this post to show you the bizarre furniture at our hotel. As you can see from the lobby, this place is pretty swish.

Swish hotel lobby at The Aramis in Nakhon Sawan.

Swish hotel lobby at The Aramis in Nakhon Sawan.

So when we saw our room, we wondered what the heck was going on.

child's twin bed

One of our twin beds. Felt like we were on the set of Peter Pan.

I thought perhaps they had a children’s room, and gave it to us because the other rooms were full. But nope. When we peeked into the other rooms on our floor, they were all the same.

Very odd. And a little creepy.

Thai Town, CA

OK, back to the food.

Having trouble with Thai food is the opposite of what we expected.

Back in LA, there are 8 million (approx.) vegan Thai restaurants scattered around the city. Pop into any strip mall and you have a good chance of finding one. The meat-serving Thai restaurants almost all have a tasty selection of veggie food, too, if you can stomach a little fish sauce in your dinner.

Enter the real Thailand. We didn’t really expect to have hot and cold running vegan curries wherever we went, but we sort of expected to be able to grab a veggie Pad Thai or Thai green curry on just about every corner.

Alas, we have been sorely disappointed.

Where Has All The Pad Thai Gone?

Pad Thai is basically the national dish here, right? It should be as ubiquitous as pierogies in Poland or Starbucks in America. Every corner should have a little stand making Pad Thai that will wow the taste buds.

We both figured that even if Pad Thai was the only thing to eat most days, we’d be happy to down a plateful at least twice a day for 30 days. It’s almost the perfect food; a well balanced one-disher with carbs, proteins, veggies, and a killer flavour.

Well, we’ve been in Thailand for more than two weeks and we’ve had exactly one serving of Pad Thai that I would call memorable.

The rest have been a shadow of what I think the dish should be. Most are just a handful of fried noodles with a few bean sprouts thrown on top. The tamarind base is flavourless. There are no peanuts, no eggs, and no tofu. If you’re really lucky you might get a quarter of a lime to squeeze on top.

And that’s only when we can find someone who’ll make it.

Drowning In Noodle Soup

There’s no shortage of food to be found in Thailand. There are eateries dotted all along our routes, but almost all of them serve one thing: noodle soup. The soup comes from a huge pot filled with broth, inside which floats the entire leg of a pig, or a water buffalo knee, or whatever other bones they can find. Chickens, puppies, kittens… we don’t know.

We’ve had our share of soups made this way, and we can stomach it as long as we’re really hungry and we don’t look too closely. Lately though, we haven’t been able to look away.

The other option for roadside eating tends to be anything you can barbecue. If you’re lucky, it’s skewers of real meat chunks or entire chickens or fish being roasted. If not, there are hot dogs and fish balls to be had. Even if I did eat meat, I’d probably avoid this stuff, so unappetising does it look. And, you know, processed meat equals cancer.

barbecued bananas thailand

The only BBQ we can eat: grilled bananas. They’re not so good.

Even for meat eaters, this insane lack of variety must get disheartening.

Where is all the delicious Thai food we know and love from home? Where are all the veggies? We see them in the markets. Who is buying and cooking them?

What Is This, Dinner For Ants?

Even if the dish is tasty, the portions are invariably tiny. They are small even for sedentary couch-potato types. For cycle tourists, it’s like we’ve been served the trial size, or a kiddie portion. We’d be happy to order seconds, but more often than not, the food isn’t good enough to bother.

One night, Stephen ordered from the English-speaking owner of a small restaurant. He pointed out four or five veggies we wanted, asked for them to be stir-fried with noodles, and he also ordered rice. He told the guy we were extra hungry and to make the food big.

This is what we got.

Five bites of eggplant does not a dinner make.

Five bites of eggplant does not a dinner make.

The picture shows my half of all of the veggies we got, which were served floating in a small bowl of spicy broth.

Today In Chai Nat

Our search for food in Chai Nat has been rather disappointing. There are actually two vegan Buddhist restaurants in town, but last night, both were closed at dinner time. We guessed this meant they only did lunch trade, but guess what was closed today again for lunch? We wandered around the area our hotel was in for a while, but found only one place serving lunch: big bowls of meaty noodle soup. Um, it’s 487 degrees outside, who wants hot meaty soup?

(I guess Thai people do. The place was pretty busy.)

Finally, we ended up at Tesco. In Hungary, Tesco was a mecca of all things tasty. Lovely pastries, breads, tofu, hummus, cheese… yum. Here, Tesco seems to be the place you go to buy things for twice as much as you can get them in every other convenience store. Still, we managed to cobble together some sandwiches from loaves of chewy French bread, gooey American cheese slices, and some lettuce.

Who knows what we’ll do for food tonight.

Rotting Sweet Tooths

If you have a sweet tooth, Thailand will not disappoint. For every place selling real food, there seem to be about 10 places selling some sugary delight.

Of course we had to try it. Not the BEST, but pretty good.

Of course we had to try it. Not the BEST, but pretty good.

Wherever we go there are carts selling: taro jelly with coconut milk; hot soy milk with tiny lumps of fried dough; drinks made of powdered flavouring, ice, and condensed milk; ice cream in cones, bars, and boxes; iced coffee topped with whipped cream; tiny crepes filled with fluffy coconut cream; and cakes and donuts.

We are not ashamed to say we have sampled almost all of these.

We've had our share of these, too.

We’ve had our share of these, too.

There are also hundreds of trendy coffee shops, which would fit right in in Vancouver or LA.

Sadly, after dinner tonight, which was another tiny meal of stir-fried veggies and rice, all of the hip ice cream places we’d checked out earlier in the day were already closed.

At least they have a variety of veggies in Thailand, when you can find them.

At least they have a variety of veggies in Thailand, when you can find them.

Damn, Thailand, are you trying to starve us?  

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