It’s getting easier to find vegan products in shops and cafes in the western world, but despite this it is still not as ubiquitous as I’d like. As far as I feel like we’ve come in Australia, I still have to hunt around for restaurants which are often a decent drive away from my suburb, or I get stuck with the usual terrible quality in convenience stores, petrol stations and corner chip shops.
There are places in the world, however, where there are plant-based options around every corner, especially when global tourism collides bringing together an amassing of worldly-wise visitors demanding ethical food options.
I am in one of those places now: Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Going back a few years, CM was already rising to meet the needs of vegans even though the momentum had not yet really hit its stride in the West. Coming back now, I’m am in plant-based paradise looking at the abundance of not only 100% vegan establishments, but a general awareness in many cafes that acknowledge and allow customisation to accommodate non-meat and dairy customers. My favourite phone app (also a website), Happy Cow, shows off the glorious results of Chiang Mai’s options with so many green pins (100% vegan) but encouragingly so many others with genuine accommodating options.
By contrast, my hometown of Adelaide, Australia – while improving every year – will have restaurants/cafes that offer “veg options” (red pins) but quite often that will just mean that one main meal on the menu is veg-friendly and even that might still have cheese on it. On top of that, the majority of the listings above in Chiang Mai are restaurants open all day; in Adelaide, over 75% of all vegan or vegetarian establishments are only open at lunch.
The quality of the food in Chiang Mai varies like anywhere, but often it is at a very high standard. I have tried a variety of cuisines (lots of Thai options of course, but often Italian, American, Middle Eastern and Indian are the one that are covered well) plus exotic salad shops, street stalls and specialty places like dessert cafes. There are many places doing their own mock meats or non-dairy cheeses, etc to varying success as I suspect that finding international commercial products is not as easy or viable to keep costs down, but this also provides some great opportunities for chefs to try something different.
As competition increases, it’s easy to start pitting one vegan place against another. However, I am still gleefully just trying places, thankful for so many ethically-minded people and in a state of awe at the variety of options at my disposal. I try not to be too critical as I want this industry to succeed, and luckily much of the food equates to hardy home-cooking which will always satisfy on some level. To be fair, I am also not seeking out high-end eateries as there are so many low-to-midrange ones, so if you’re after fine dining, there might be fewer places available for you.
I have also visited Pai – about 4 hours’ drive from CM – and it too is well-endowed with vegan options given it’s tiny size. Check out this delicious mushroom-based bbq “pulled pork” roll I had plus gorgeous choco smoothie at Blossom Cafe.
The future is bright and the menus are exploding with choices!