A vegan lifestyle is not only beneficial for the well-being of animals and the environment but also optional for health, it is especially so when travelling. Vegan diets minimize the chance of getting food poisoning, travellers diarrhoea and other stomach upsets due to the elimination of meats and dairy.
Recently there has been a significant acknowledgement of the vegan diet and associated health benefits. This has fueled a large range of commercial food products produced specifically for those avoiding animal products. Great!
Although, what you purchase from the supermarket (all those tasty vegan chocolates, snack bars, staple ingredients) and make at home are not always available when travelling. Especially when abroad.
In many cases, you likely won’t even have cooking facilities readily available. Who actually wants to cook while travelling abroad?! If you follow a raw food diet based predominately around fresh fruit then you are in luck. Asia has a huge range of fresh tropical fruit, in plentiful supply and extremely affordable. You can read about the weird and wonderful tropical fruits in Asia here.
Asia is extremely popular for holidaymakers and long term travellers, due to its warm weather and affordability. But what about all that super affordable, fresh and delicious smelling street food you walk past. Is that vegan you wonder? Does the vendor understand you when you ask if the dish contains milk or egg?
Here is my Vegan food guide to Asia – It’s Inexpensive, Healthy & Delicious.
Fresh Rice Paper Rolls
Fresh rice paper wraps filled with delicious colourful vegetables and tofu. A perfect midday snack for those very hot summer days when you are on the go exploring all the attractions.
Fried Spring Rolls
Rice paper rolls with a mix of cabbage, vegetables and glass noodles. (These are extremely popular at street food stalls as well as all restaurants).
Mango Sticky Rice (Khao Niaow Ma Muang)
This sticky rice with mangoes (and sometimes coconut) is sold everywhere you turn. Including supermarkets, side street stalls and restaurants. Made with Thai sweet rice, mangoes, Asian palm sugar and coconut milk. It is served in a sticky sweet pudding-like consistency. A favourite with locals and foreigners alike.
Coconut Ice Cream
This ice cream is often found at markets (Chatuchak, Khao San road, and many other night markets). Primarily made from coconut milk and sugar. It is a delicious, refreshing and affordable treat (around 30 TB) and at the top of the list of my favourite Thai foods.
Well from the name this is exactly what they are. Bananas barbecued. These sweet warm snacks are perfect when you are on the go between attractions and are sold at many side street stalls.
Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
This delicious green papaya salad is mixed with an array of vegetables including tomato, green beans and bean sprouts. It has a hot and quite intense flavour to it, due to the added garlic, chilly, onion and lime juice added. Topped with peanuts it is delicious, light and refreshing. *ensure they don’t top yours with dried shrimp (which is done so traditionally).
Khmer Curries (yellow, green, red)
A coconut milk based curries, with tofu and vegetables, served with rice. An affordable and healthy meal served up at many open-air restaurants and side alley stalls (cost around $2-3).
Fresh Rice Paper Rolls
You may make these at home but the Vietnamese rice paper rolls are surely worth trying. (You will end up having these countless times they are that scrumptious). Fresh rice paper wraps filled with an array of colourful vegetables and tofu makes for the perfect midday snack or meal.
*Just ensure that they understand you mean ‘rice noodles’ and not ‘white noodles’ or “yellow noodles” when ordering from a street stall (this isn’t confused as much in Vietnam as it is in Cambodia – as some noodles are made with eggs).
In major cities in Malaysia and Singapore, you are spoilt for choice at the large chain supermarkets (such as Cold Storage and I Setan) with many familiar products imported from Australia, the UK or the US.
Great items to grab when you travel are vegan cereals (great if your hotel or hostel doesn’t provide breakfast), crackers and biscuits, chips and snack bars. Not ideal health-wise but a great option if you are on the go or want some snacks to bring on a day trip, or travelling on a long bus or train trip.
Little India is the area to go if you are looking for Indian. There is a Little India in both Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, as well as one in Singapore. As mentioned in the India section (just below in this post), you can find a huge range of vegan traditional Indian meals and snacks at incredibly affordable prices.
These rice pockets filled with vegetables (although it is very common that they are most commonly filled with pork. Double check to make sure you have ordered vegetable only ones. Most popularly consumed steamed or fried although boiled ones are available and all are delicious.
Barbecued Sweet Corn
This corn is delicious and can be purchased without any flavourings added, or cooked with a barbecue or sweet chilli sauce added. It is the perfect food for eating on the go and can be found at all the street markets (local and tourist markets) in the major cities.
Purchased from all the Family Mart stores (there’s one on every street!). These warm bundles of sweetness are perfect for a substantial healthy snack on the go.
In a previous article, I highlighted the huge range of vegan street foods available in Taipei – you can read it here.
A traditional and extremely popular casserole like dish. It is made up of eggplant, saffron, rice and other vegetables.
This is a healthy, delicious and very filling dish made with pureed lentils and yellow split peas. In some restaurants, without it mentioned in the menu, it will be ‘dolloped’ with curd (yogurt). Let the staff know you do not want any curd (just in case they were going to pop some on the top for presentation sake).
This is an all-time favourite of mine (who am I kidding, every Indian dish is my favourite). Primarily made from potatoes, cauliflower and spices.
These crispy sides, usually made from chickpea and rice flour, are probably the most popular traditional food in India. Order with a coconut vegetable curry or vegetable rice dish as a wonderful accompaniment.
These fried snacks are super tasty. Basically, a vegetable fritter made with lentil flour. If ordered at a side stall they are served in a paper bag (or newspaper) and are the perfect, easy to eat choice when you explore.
This side dish is more like a crepe than traditional Indian bread, and makes for a great accompaniment.
* Ensure that food purchased is hot so as to minimize the chances of becoming unwell (During my time in India I did not become unwell or have any stomach upsets eating non-dairy and non-meat street foods daily).
A steamed vegetable platter with tempeh and a peanut dipping sauce. This is often served with a boiled egg on top and shrimp crackers on the side – just request to not have these served with yours.
Sweet Sago Rolls with Palm Sugar Syrup (ongol-Ongol)
Made primarily of sago flour and palm sugar. These small sweet dessert type rolls make a tasty after dinner treat. (They are vegan and made with natural ingredients but don’t eat too many of these – they are super sweet).
Juices and fresh fruits
There is a huge range of fresh vegetable and fruit juices and smoothies available from almost all restaurants and street food stall hawker areas and markets throughout Asia. Not to forget about the super fresh and very sweet tropical fruits that can be purchased already cut up ready to eat on the go.
Both juices and fresh fruit is very inexpensive and a great option for those looking for a refreshing, healthy, hydrating treat. I have written a previous article about all the weird and wonderful tropical fruit you can try in Asia.
I hope this Vegan Food Guide to Asia has been helpful for those who are vegan and are planning a trip to Asia. This article is based on my experiences in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, China, India and Taiwan.
If you are going to Nepal, the traditional Nepali cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine. Traditionally rice and vegetable or meat-based dishes/thalis). There are heaps of vegan options. There are also a huge number of Indian restaurants in the larger cities.
The widespread availability, affordable prices and freshness of fruits do not apply to Japan and Korea. For an interesting video on fruit prices in Korea check out the guys at Eat Your Kimchi (an expat couple living in Seoul).
For further information specific to vegan lifestyles check out these awesome websites and Facebook pages