Being a vegetarian or vegan traveler has got increasingly easier in recent years. Most cities, both in Asia and the West, have been adapting to the needs of 21st-century globetrotters, to the point you can find plant-based options (or gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free …you name it) pretty much in any fairly known destination catering to international tourists. Whether that’s a good or bad thing it’s for another post.
For now, we’ve simply put together a round-up of the best spots in Asia to get your veggie fix. Yes, you’ll probably still have to be wary of added ingredients like fish sauce, ghee and shrimp paste in your greens and ask the kitchen to leave them out, but the cuisines of these places are vibrant and varied – perfect to satisfy all your vegetarian cravings.
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Arguably one of Asia’s foodie capitals, Georgetown, on the lush Malaysian island of Penang, is a vegan and veggie traveller’s heaven. Strong Buddhist-Chinese and Indian communities mean there are lots of plant-based options to choose from, including faux meat and fish dishes.
These are served at laidback, unpretentious places like canteen-style eatery Ee Beng; Indian favourite Woodlands (try the thali); and Chinese-leaning Zen Xin (the Taiwanese-style monkey head mushrooms are a go-to). The offerings are fresh and packed with flavour, not to mention affordable.
Craving more Westernised items? Head to Wholey Wonder for smoothies and veggie burgers, and book yourself a yoga lesson at their studio while you’re at it.
Bali is a vegan’s paradise. Literally: the boho Indonesian island has turned into somewhat of a wellness-centered/ hipster-conscious destination over the past few years, with cafes serving smoothie bowls and vegan ramen, schools doing raw cooking workshops, and more plant-based menus per capita than anywhere else in the world (ok, not quite, but you get the idea). If you’re a staunch plant-based eater (and even if you are not), you’ll find plenty of places to grab a bite, fine dining, and get your oat milk latte fix.
Start with Peloton Supershop, a treasure trove of all things plant-and-pedal-powered in Canggu serving up veggie burritos, salads and ‘cheesy’ lasagne; then make your way to Shady Shack, a shabby-chic café, also in Canggu, that has you covered for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
Essential does vegan tapas and cocktails, while Falafel Temple is, well, just that. Fancy some more local fare? Vinny’s Warung and GIVE Café dish up meat-free Indonesian classics in warung-like settings; and Manggis in Canggu plays on mixing Indo and Western ingredients, to delicious results.
On the gourmet end, try Samadi Bali, which fuses vegetarian and vegan food with Ayurvedic recipes; Kynd Communiy, Alchemy, Tanaman at Desa Potato Head and Sakti Dining Room. The latter two are especially notable for their Michelin-worthy vegan cuisine in handsome tropical surroundings.
Don’t be fooled by Taipei’s meat-centred street food culture. The Taiwanese capital might be skewed towards beef noodles soup and Hainan chicken rice, but it has also upped its plant-based game in recent seasons, both on the streets and restaurant level. Much of that is due to a plethora of fresh homegrown vegetables available on the island, an eye for experimentation and a strong Buddhist tradition.
Among the vegetarian-friendly xiao chis (small eats) you’ll find at the many night markets spread across the city are grilled king oyster mushrooms, sweet potato balls (though some might have cheese in them), peanut ice cream wrapped in rice wraps, sugar cane juice, stinky tofu for days and lots of fruit shakes. Not as extensive as the meat offerings, but a good place to start if you want to sample local flavors, and satisfy your sweet cravings for a while.
On the sit-down establishments front, things are expanding fast: Plants, a vegan-friendly café, is one of the most beloved and Instagrammable eateries around, serving fusion, veggie-based, refined sugar- and gluten-free items like Caesar salad, paella Valenciana, and rice pilaf. Hoshina, in the trendy neighbourhood of Da’an, serves up Japanese udon, soba and ramen, while Vege Creek, Taiwan’s second largest vegan restaurant chain (the first is Loving Hut) lets you build your own noodle bowl with plenty of deliciously good-for-you green ingredients.
Diners wishing for a higher-end vegan dining experience can get their fix at Mianto, an award-winning restaurant with Italian influences and one of best vegan chocolate cakes in town. Craving more noodles (we don’t blame you)? Try DeliSoy, which specialises in organic soya-based products.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Hippie and laidback Chiang Mai has built a solid reputation as a vegetarian-friendly destination in Southeast Asia. There’s a cool mix of hip cafes dishing up Insta-ready acai bowls, experimental eateries and local emporiums serving the best Thai cuisine has to offer — rigorously veggie style.
Favorites include — but are not limited to — Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant, which has a mostly vegan menu rotating weekly and an alfresco area that’s perfect for people-watching; the colourful Free Bird Cafe, one of the the longest standing vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai, whose offerings span Thai, Burmese and Western dishes; Goodsouls, for basically everything (including its leafy and oh-so pretty setting); and Amrita Garden, which does Japanese-inspired and Western macrobiotic dishes using fresh organic ingredients.
The list could go on. Morning Glory offers Thai specialties done the vegan way, and cooking classes to boot; while Juicy4U is a backpackers’ hotspot, with hearty tofu burgers and wholesome wraps and salads, made with veggies from the owner’s organic farm.
With this much variety, even the most persnickety of carnivores will be converted.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
From Buddha bowls to meat-free pho, Ho Chi Minh City is fast adapting to cater to vegetarian and vegan diners. Plant-based establishments have been mushrooming across its hippest districts, playing with fusion cuisines, ingredients and flavors.
As of last year, there’s even a wholly vegan artisanal cheese shop in D2, Kashew Cheese, which makes addictive nut cheese made with locally grown cashews. Have it with a freshly baked baguette (which you can buy in-store), and you have a vegan version of the quintessentially Vietnamese banh mi.
Vegan-friendly options include plenty of local establishments: Ngoc Tho, a casual eatery serving up classic Vietnamese dishes made with plant-based mock meats (try their “roasted pork”), as well as Mexican-inspired food and international fare; Bong Sung with a decidedly healthy (and vegan) spin on traditional items like pat with baguette and stuffed tofu; and Sen Quan Chay, whose multiple locations across town whip up noodles, stir-fries and soups.
And then there are the new kids on the block: Herbivore, for plant-based fast food; L’Herbanyste, located in a chic renovated pool villa where you can taste goodies like quinoa Ayurvedic Buddha bowls with falafel, cauliflower chickpea burgers, and deconstructed benedict with truffles; and Filthy Vegan which, as the name suggests does not so wholesome (but oh-so-delicious) comfort staples like fry-ups and burgers, a la veggie.