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Eating Vegan, Vegetarian, & Jain in Thailand

bangkok emquartier vegan vegetarian nam dtok sticky rice issan food
Vegan nam dok with sticky rice from Sook Sathorn

It’s very easy to think that it’s impossible to be plant-based while traveling within Thailand, but it’s actually pretty easy! There are options everywhere if you know where to look and what to say.

In this Thai Language multi-article series, we explore the basics of Muay Thai and what you need to get around and get what you need while in the country! Welcome to Thai Language – Part 4c.

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-Don’t forget to add ka or khrap at the end of all questions and statements to sound polite!
-Refer to Thai Language – Part 1: Basic Rules & FAQ’s for a refresher course for Thai language basics
-Refer to Thai Language – Part 4a: Food for food vocabulary
-Refer to this general guide to Basic Practices when you have a dietary restriction

Vegetarian & Vegan

Vegetarian and vegan are put together because they can be one and (almost) the same OR completely different from each other in Thailand. There are three words you should be familiar with:

mangsawirat (มังสวิรัติ)
jay (เจ)
wigan (วีแกน​)

Mangsawirat means “vegetarian” but this is often a very loose form of it. This is often interpreted as someone who doesn’t eat visible pieces of meat, but is still okay with seasonings (like fish sauce) and other animal products in their food (examples: soup broth made from pork bones, vegetables stir-fried in animal fat). Eggs and dairy are assumed to be okay by someone who eats mangsawirat.

Vegan tantanmian with egg from Mensho Tokyo

Jay is a term that also means “vegetarian“. It comes from Chinese Buddhist influences (斋). There is tesagan gin jay which is called “Vegetarian food festival” every year in Thailand. For nine days, those who participate (usually Thais with Chinese ancestry) will eat no animal products (no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no byproducts of any of the aforementioned foods), no garlic/onions/shallots, no drugs or alcohol, and no sex. The most popular areas in Thailand for this festival are in areas where there are lots of ethnic-Chinese Thais living – in Bangkok, it is Yaowarat Road and in Phuket it is at the Chinese temples in Phuket town.

jay vegetarian vegan yaowarat bangkok chinatown chinese thailand noodles
A cook preparing food on Yaowarat Road during the jay festival

Jay is basically a vegan diet with several other “catches”. This is meant to cleanse the body and the mind, and observing the jay festival every year will supposedly contribute to a long and healthy life. This term and use of “vegetarian” is clearly much more strict than mangsawirat.

Almost every food court in Bangkok has a jay food stall marked by the yellow and red flag.

Wigan is the Thai version of the word “vegan“. This is a relatively new term as there had to be a term in between mangsawirat and jay that didn’t have religious contexts and included garlic, onion, and shallots. This word is still not well known in the Thai language, so some explaining might be needed. The chances of someone cooking your food knowing very clearly what jay means is not very high, and the chances of them knowing what wigan means is much, much lower. Because of such, it may be easier if you were just to use jay in most cases.

noodles mala vegetables
EnglishRomanizationThai
Does this contain ___ ?sai _ maiใส่ _ ไหม
Don’t add ___mai sai ___ไม่ใส่ ___
I don’t eat ___chan/pom mai gin ___ฉัน/ผม ไม่กิน ___
I eat vegetarianchan/pom gin mangsawiratฉัน/ผม กินมังสวิรัติ
I eat veganchan/pom gin jayฉัน/ผม กินเจ
I can eat ___chan/pom gin ___ daiฉัน/ผม กิน ___ ได้
meatneua satเนื้อสัตว์
fishbplahปลา
seafoodaa-haan ta-layอาหารทะเล
eggkaiไข่
milknomนม
onionhoo-a hawmหัวหอม
garlicgra-tiamกระเทียม

Jain

People who follow Jain vegetarianism will be more than pleased to know that virtually every single Indian restaurant will offer Jain options.

Image from TripAdvisor

Those who wish to dine in other establishments will need to use some phrases to make sure the ingredients use adhere to Jain guidelines of no animal products and no root vegetables. Use the follow vocabulary and phrases to get what you need.

EnglishRomanizationThai
Does this contain ___ ?sai _ maiใส่ _ ไหม
Don’t add ___mai sai ___ไม่ใส่ ___
I don’t eat ___chan/pom mai gin ___ฉัน/ผม ไม่กิน ___
I eat Jain.chan/pom gin chainฉัน/ผม กินเชน
meatneua satเนื้อสัตว์
eggkaiไข่
milknomนม
root vegetablespak raakผักราก

Special tip! When looking for places while out and about, refer to the Happy Cow application for your mobile phone. It works around the world and can point you to the nearest vegan and vegetarian food options near you. It sometimes even will say if it has Jain options in the description.

HappyCow - Find vegan restaurants worldwide – Apps on Google Play

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Currently training and fighting full time in Bangkok. Originally from NYC. instagram.com/angelasitan

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