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‘You’re a Vegetarian but you spend so much time travelling South East Asia, isn’t that really hard??’
I vividly remember saying this to a girl I had just met whilst in Australia, she replied that it wasn’t that hard, and we carried on chatting about other things. Little did I know that a few years later I would have travelled South East Asia over a year in total all as a Vegetarian and guess what? It really isn’t that hard being a Vegetarian in South East Asia and if you are worried about this too, here are my reasons why it’s easy being a vegetarian in South East Asia!
Vegetarian in South East Asia
South-East Asia is the home of tofu so it’s pretty much on every menu in the region and even if it’s not it’s likely they will still serve it. I’ve found that restaurants are often good at switching say a Green Curry with Chicken which is mentioned on the menu to a Green Curry with Tofu even if this wasn’t suggested on the original menu.
Tofu is a great meat substitute to help bulk out your meal and provide you with that daily protein. I eat a lot of tofu at home anyway and really like it but I know some people aren’t a fan. However, give the locals a chance at cooking it up for you because it’s likely they’ll cook it better than you’ve ever had before! I found Vietnam especially good for cooking tofu!
2. Understanding of Vegetarians
When I travelled to South America I got questioned a lot by locals as to why I was Vegetarian and got some very strange looks when I said I was one because it’s not big in their culture. Whereas in South East Asia as most of the Countries are very Buddhist Countries, and although not all Buddhists are Vegetarian, the first Precept of Buddhism is ‘do not kill’ therefore there are many Buddhists who follow Vegetarianism.
I met a man who had studied as a monk for several years and whilst he was doing it he said he was Vegetarian and I believe it is very common for practising monks to not eat meat, therefore when you explain that you don’t want meat in your meal because you don’t eat it, most of the locals will understand and recognise this making it so much easier than other places in the world!
3. Being a Vegetarian in Southeast Asia is Common with Travellers
A lot of people turn Vegetarian in South East Asia, even if they aren’t Veggie at home I found!
Often what puts a lot of visitors off eating meat in Asian countries is seeing it beforehand. Market’s and street food carts are often filled with big chunks of meat which will be used that day (and perhaps the next??) and it really does look very unhygienic compared to our Western standards and the first thing you’ll probably think of is how well your stomach will handle meat that’s sat out in the heat for a few hours.
This helps because it’s not often that you’ll be the ‘awkward Vegetarian’ in the group as a few other people will be too.
Personally I’ve not felt that me not eating meat has lessened the number of times I’ve felt ill in South East Asia compared to friends that I’ve been travelling with who have eaten meat, however it certainly hasn’t increased my potential to get ill from food!!
4. It’s Cheaper
There’s one thing a backpacker travelling around South East Asia likes and that’s to save money and being Vegetarian will actually save you money in South East Asia! My food bills were very often less than my friends because I had tofu over meat or stuck to just veggies!
5. The abundance of Vegetarian Cafes and Restaurants
Another way it’s super easy to be Vegetarian is because there are a lot of purely Vegetarian restaurants and cafes about! HappyCow is a great app which seems to have a lot of Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants on it even in the smallest of towns.
When I was in Bagan in Myanmar myself and my friends were looking for somewhere to have lunch and rode past a sign saying there was a Vegetarian cafe down the road, we stopped off and long story short, we ended up eating lunch and Dinner in there 2 days in a row because it was so good. It’s mentioned in the Lonely planet too even non-vegetarians go there!
I would always suggest researching Vegetarian and Vegan restaurants when you arrive in a new place because I’ve found that the food is extra good and they often have a great vibe!
So all in all, if you plan to travel around South East Asia as a Vegetarian, trust me when I say that it really isn’t as hard as you may think and you’ll still have plenty of delicious food choices and options!
You may need to search a little harder in some places depending on how off the beaten track it is and when you book a tour you will have to let the bookers know you are Vegetarian as often the meals are meat-based however I’ve always found locals in South East Asia to be accommodating of this diet.
As I said, they understand it and more than likely won’t question it so make sure this is not a reason to put you off going to South East Asia and instead propels you to want to go and eat amazing, meat-free food like this!!
Side note- Although I don’t eat any meat including fish I’m not that strict when it comes to meat broth, soy sauce etc. I can imagine that a lot of the Pho I ate in Vietnam and any other soups would have been cooked in a meat broth and to be honest it would make it very difficult to avoid this!
I’ve been to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia and the only Country I did struggle in was the Philippines and I believe this is because it’s a Christian country so Vegetarianism is not part of their culture, so it’s not as well accommodated for in their local dishes.
I ate a lot of Western food in the Philippines which was a little annoying but I certainly didn’t starve!
- Posts from my South East Asia Trips that you might like are:
- 5 Places in the Philippines You NEED to Visit & How to Get to Them All!
- 5 Awesome Places Not to Miss When Visiting Vietnam!
- Getting a Bamboo Tattoo on Phi Phi Island in Thailand!!
- One Month Itinerary for Thailand if you want to Party!