It seems that vegetarianism is getting more popular by the year and some vegetarians wonder if they’ll be able to stick to their non-meat diets while traveling in Asia. The good news is that it’s very easy to enjoy incredible food throughout much of the region as a vegetarian. You’ll want to learn a few key local words to ensure cooks understand you are a vegetarian, but once you get those down you’re set. On this episode of Talk Travel Asia, Scott and Trevor talk with Adam Platt-Hepworth about living and traveling in Asia as a vegetarian.
Trevor says he’s been a part-time vegetarian ever since moving to Asia, and that it’s for various reasons. He thinks its healthy to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and he likes to eat them. Also, he’s honestly a bit grossed out sometimes by the food industry and is occasionally morally disturbed by the thought of eating animals. Fortunately he explains, there are lots of vegetarian options in the region: there are lots of interesting fruits that you can buy literally on the street and vegetable dishes are quite common as well. Plus he adds, you’re less likely to get food poisoning eating vegetarian fare. However, he goes on to say, at least in Thailand, they put fish sauce in most dishes as a form of salt and sometimes its hard to order no-meat dishes in areas where no English is spoken: so you may have to pick around the meat or coagulated blood when you order some mystery dish, he cautions.
Scott says that he’s had a good amount of experience arranging vegetarian dishes while planning/leading tours. It’s pretty straight forward he explains, but you definitely want to learn to say the word for “vegetarian” in the areas you’re going. The more stringent you are with your eating habits though, you may run in to challenges. For example, some dishes may use animal fats in their cooking and not consider that making something not vegetarian.
Guest: Adam Platt-Hepworth, owner of Grasshopper Adventures and vegetarian
Scott introduces their guest, Adam Platt-Hepworth, who is not only a personal friend but also a former guest, joining the pair on Episode 8: Cycling Southeast Asia. After reminding everyone how long he has lived in Asia, Adam explains when and why he became a vegetarian, not as Scott and Trevor expected (after moving to Asia) but because both his parents were on macrobiotic diets. Because Adam had long been accustomed to eating a strict diet (though he explains that he does now eat fish) he talks about how being a vegetarian has changed for him while living in Asia.
Adam agrees with Trevor that eating fish is a nice benefit while living in Cambodia, where the population gets a majority of their protein from fish, but concedes that he does occasionally eat meat when the situation warrants, as language barriers, etc. can put him in situations where it’s simply easier to just go with the flow in remote corners of Asia. Adam then gives some of the pros and cons of living in Asia as a vegetarian, in particular describing the easiest and hardest countries to travel in and get reliable vegetarian fare. He also provides some advice for travelers to keep in mind while trying to eat vegetarian during their travels in Asia.
Trevor then points out that the language barrier is often a thing for travelers to contend with and says he finds it equally entertaining and painfully frustrating to watch a foreigner ask the proprietor of a Thai street food stall “Does this sauce have gluten in it?”, as if the guy knows what gluten even is. He suggests that it may be a bit easier to order something “jay” (Thai for vegetarian), but as soon as you start asking complicated questions or requests for things ‘on the side’ they aren’t going to know what you’re talking about.
Adam agrees and goes into the language barriers a bit more before talking about some of his favorite vegetarian dishes across the region. He also talks a bit about how food is handled in Asia versus back home for people who aren’t vegetarians but still might be concerned about eating meat while in the region, and he goes a bit more into the national cuisines of the region in describing some more of his favorite dishes in Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar in particular.
Scott and Trevor then wrap things up talking about eating bugs, and whether those who don’t eat meat but eat fish should consider trying these local delicacies for protein. In the end, they decide bugs might make a good future episode!
Recommended Vegetarian Restaurants:
- May Kaidee, Bangkok, Thailand
- Ethos Vegetarian Restaurant: Khao San Road area, Bangkok, Thailand
- Bombay Blues, Thong Lor 10, Bangkok, Thailand
- Govinda, Sukhumvit Soi 22, Bangkok, Thailand
- Nature’s Vegetarian, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- The GanGa, 19 Lorong Kurau
- Earth Cafe, Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia
- Kreol Kitchen, Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia
- Manik Organik, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
- Soma, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
- The Peace Cafe, Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Chamkar, Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Vitking, Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Kinyei, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- The Shop, St. 240, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Tamu, Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia
- Maharajah, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, Cambodia
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