A survival guide for vegetarians in Southeast Asia: Part #2

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Fresh veg on sale
Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are thoroughly meat-eating countries – but they’re also full of super-fresh fruit and veg

Following on from our recent blog post, “A survival guide for vegetarians in Southeast Asia: Part #1”, in Part #2 we’ll cover a few veggie-friendly foods to look out for in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This list is not exhaustive by any means – but it should get you started.

At the end of the post, you’ll also find a few useful veggie phrases in Vietnamese, Lao, and Khmer. Print these out and show them to your waiter or waitress while travelling and you *should* be sure of a meat-free trip – though I can’t promise a renegade prawn won’t its way into your spring roll!

N.B. The term “veggie-friendly” is used loosely here. Many of the dishes below are usually be served with meat, but can be relatively easily vegetarianised. The safest way to stay completely meat-free in Southeast Asia is to eat at Buddhist, Indian, or Western restaurants.

Some veggie-friendly foods to try…

…in Vietnam

 

Xôi – Rice is the go-to food of veggies across Southeast Asia. Xôi is sticky rice, and though it is often served with meat, you can get it with just peanuts, mung bean paste, or egg.

Bánh mì – This famous, ever-popular Vietnamese sandwich can easily be made without meat. Try asking for “bánh mì trứng” (bánh mì with egg), and keep a close eye on what goes in it!

Bún đậu – Tofu with herbs and noodles served with a dipping sauce (usually fish or shrimp sauce). You can ask for “xì dầu” (soy sauce) instead.

Nộm đu đủ không thịt – Papaya salad is a firm favourite of many pescatarians in Vietnam, topped with crushed peanuts and covered in a sweet and spicy dressing. Veggies beware: this contains fish sauce.

Phở xào không thịt – Fried pho noodles with no meat. You can order these at any place with a big black wok outside – but the usual dangers involving fish sauce apply.

Phở cuốn trứng – Phở cuốn are noodle rolls usually made with beef. In Phở cuốn trứng, the beef is replaced with egg.

Bún bò nam bộ không thịt – Noodle salad in broth with no meat. This one isn’t suited to strict vegetarians, as the broth is almost sure to be made with meat or fish.

Potato cakes – Sweet potato, green beans and coconut mashed together into a cake. Glorious!

Bánh xèo không thịt – Vietnamese-style savoury pancake filled with tofu and crunchy mung beans. Of course, these usually contain meat, but can be ordered “không thịt” (without meat). These are usually served with fish sauce, so ask for “xì dầu” (soy sauce) instead.

… in Cambodia

 

Chaa bon lie – Stir-fried vegetables. This includes a whole range of dishes, including chaa traut (aubergine), chaa tra coon (morning glory), chaa plaii Manoah nung bang bawh (pineapple and green tomato), and chaa khat nah (Chinese kale).

Guitiyo – Traditional Khmer soup, made with glass noodles and topped with coriander, spring onions, beansprouts and lettuce.

Pastries – Cambodians love their pastries, and they’re easy to find at any market.

Mee sop – Cambodian-style ramen, served with all kinds of different veggies. Be sure to check that the broth doesn’t contain meat or fish sauce.

Nam bahn chuk – Rice noodles in curry sauce with lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir lime, mint, beansprouts and more. Beware: contains fish sauce.

Mee cha – Stir-fried noodles tossed with all manner of vegetables. Usually served with meat, but easily vegetarianised.

Nom kah chai – Fried rice cakes stuffed with chives and Chinese kale, served with garlic and chilli sauce.

Bok lahong – Green papaya salad with tomatoes, chilli, carrots, beans and peanuts. Beware of possible fish-sauce-based dressing.

Jake jien – Bananas flattened, battered and fried. A heavenly snack.

Nom kruwa – Fried spring onion pancakes – another delicious snack.

Kralan – Bamboo tubes stuffed with sticky rice, red beans, grated coconut and coconut milk. Available from streetside stands.

…in Laos

 

Khao niao – Sticky rice. Eat with jaew mak khua, a dip made with aubergine, herbs and chilli.

Omelette – Available throughout Southeast Asia, you’ll be sick of these by the end of your trip – but they’re a great way to get a bit of protein.

Tofu laap/larb – The Lao national dish is essentially a meat-based salad, but look out for tofu or mushroom variations.

Noodle soup – The Lao version of pho is pretty easy to find in vegetarian form – but make sure the broth isn’t sneakily made with meat or fish.

Spring rolls – Again, usually made with meat, but there are plenty of vegetarian varieties available too.

Jeow – Essentially a plate of cooked vegetables served with a dipping sauce. Just be careful to check the sauce is meat and fish-free.

Baguettes – Like the Vietnamese bánh mì, big, filling, crusty bread sandwiches are easily available in Laos, and easily vegetarianised. It’s not exactly adventurous, but it is pretty delicious.

Streetside buffets – With a big variety of dishes on offer, all you need to do is select the meat-free dishes to build your own vegetarian meal. This is a great way to try local food without fear of being served secret meat.

Khanom krok – Coconut, sugar and rice flour dumplings cooked over hot coals and served in banana leaves. The perfect street food snack for those with a sweet tooth.

Curry – Curry is pretty widely available in Laos, and tends to resemble Thai curry most of all. Though most contain meat (of course), there are some vegetarian versions available.

Fresh papaya salad
Fresh papaya salad

Some useful phrases…

Top tip: Print out whichever of these phrases is most relevant to you and show it to your waiter/waitress before you eat to ensure that your meals contain no nasty surprises!

…in Vietnamese

For vegetarians:

Do you serve vegetarian food?
Nhà hàng của bạn có phục vụ món chay không?

I do not eat meat, fish, shellfish, shrimp, or fish sauce. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients. Thank you.
Tôi không dùng được thịt, cá, hải sản và nước mắm. Vui lòng đảm bảo rằng các món ăn của tôi sẽ không có những thành phần đó. Xin cảm ơn.

For pescatarians:

I do not eat meat. Please ensure that my food does not contain any meat or meat-based products. Thank you.
Tôi không dùng được các loại thịt động vật. Vui lòng đảm bảo rằng các món ăn của tôi sẽ không bao gồm thịt hoặc những sản phẩm làm từ thịt. Xin cảm ơn.

For vegans:

I do not eat meat, dairy products, fish, shellfish, shrimp, or fish sauce. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients. Thank you.
Tôi không dùng được thịt, các sản phẩm từ sữa, cá, hải sản và nước mắm. Vui lòng đảm bảo rằng các món ăn của tôi sẽ không có những thành phần đó. Xin cảm ơn.

Noodle soup
Noodle soup

…in Khmer

For vegetarians:

Do you serve vegetarian food? តើអ្នកមានអាហារបួសដែរឬទេ?

I do not eat meat, fish, shellfish, shrimp, or fish sauce. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients. Thank you.

ខ្ញុំមិនហូបសាច់, ត្រី, ខ្យង, បង្គាបង្គង ឬក៏ទឹកត្រីទេ។ សូមឲ្យប្រាកដថានៅក្នុងអាហាររបស់ខ្ញុំមិនមានប្រភេទសាច់ដូចដែលរៀបរាប់ខាងលើទេ។ សូមអរគុណ

For pescatarians:

I do not eat meat. Please ensure that my food does not contain any meat or meat-based products. Thank you.

ខ្ញុំមិនហូបសាច់ទេ។
សូមឲ្យប្រាកដថានៅក្នុងអាហាររបស់ខ្ញុំមិនមានសាច់ឬក៏ផលិតផលធ្វើពីសាច់ដូចជាប្រហិត -ល- ។ សូមអរគុណ

For vegans:

I do not eat meat, dairy products, fish, shellfish, shrimp, or fish sauce. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients. Thank you.

ខ្ញុំមិនហូបសាច់, ទឹកដោះគោ, ត្រី, ខ្យង, បង្គាបង្គង ឬក៏ទឹកត្រីទេ។ សូមឲ្យប្រាកដថានៅក្នុងអាហាររបស់ខ្ញុំមិនមានប្រភេទសាច់ដូចដែលរៀបរាប់ខាងលើទេ។ សូមអរគុណ

Stir-fried morning glory
Stir-fried morning glory

 

…in Lao

 

For vegetarians:

Do you serve vegetarian food?

ທ່ານບໍລິການອາຫານເຈບໍ?

I do not eat meat, fish, shellfish, shrimp, or fish sauce. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients. Thank you.

ຂ້ອຍບໍ່ກິນຊີ້ນເຊັ່ນ: ປາ, ຫອຍ, ກຸ້ງ, ຫຼື ນໍ້າປາ. ກະລຸນາກວດສອບໃຫ້ແນ່ໃຈວ່າສະບຽງອາຫານຂອງຂ້າພະເຈົ້າບໍ່ັ້ັ້ັັັັັັ້໋ຶ້ໄດ້ບັນຈຸສ່ວນປະກອບເຫຼົ່ານີ້. ຂອບໃຈ.

For pescatarians:

I do not eat meat. Please ensure that my food does not contain any meat or meat-based products. Thank you.

ຂ້າພະເຈົ້າບໍ່ກິນຊີ້ນ. ກະລຸນາກວດສອບໃຫ້ແນ່ໃຈວ່າສະບຽງອາຫານຂອງຂ້າພະເຈົ້າບໍ່ັ້ັ້ັັັັັັ້໋ຶ້ໄດ້ບັນຈຸປະເພດຊີ້ນ ຫຼື ຜະລິດຕະຜັນຊີ້ນມໃດ. ຂອບໃຈ.

For vegans

I do not eat meat, dairy products, fish, shellfish, shrimp, or fish sauce. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients. Thank you.

ຂ້ອຍບໍ່ກິນຊີ້ນ, ຜະລິດຕະພັນປະຈຳວັນເຊັ່ນ: ປາ, ຫອຍ, ກຸ້ງ, ຫຼື ນໍ້າປາ. ກະລຸນາກວດສອບໃຫ້ແນ່ໃຈວ່າສະບຽງອາຫານຂອງຂ້າພະເຈົ້້າບໍ່ັ້ັ້ັັັັັັ້໋ຶ້ໄດ້ບັນຈຸສ່ວນປະກອບເຫຼົ່ານີ້. ຂອບໃຈ.

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