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How to survive as a vegetarian in South East Asia

South East Asia is probably the easiest continent to travel as a vegetarian. It is however important to know a few things before you go. Whilst most of our small group tours through South East Asia and India provide lavish food feasts and can cater for vegetarians sometimes you will find your self hunting down some delicious eats alone.

Here are our top 5 tips on how to be a Vegetarian in Asia!

1.Learn basic words concerning food in the local language

We strongly recommend you learn some words to be able to have a basic conversation with the locals anyway, but as a vegetarian you’ll need to do some extra effort to make sure not to accidentally eat meat or other ‘forbidden’ products. Don’t just learn the word for ‘vegetarian’ though, also learn how to say ‘no meat’, ‘no fish’, ‘vegetables’, ‘eggs’, etc. as different countries and cultures might not really use the word ‘vegetarian’ or have a whole other definition for it.

Don’t just try to pronounce these words yourself, make sure you have a written list to avoid being misunderstood because you were using the wrong accent or pronunciation.

2.Be careful with ingredients like fish sauce, broth, …

In most South East Asian countries, a dish is considered vegetarian as long as you don’t actually eat the meat or fish. For this reason, ingredients like broth or fish sauce are usually considered to be vegetarian, while you probably don’t want to consume them. Add these words to your list of ‘words to learn in the local language’, and make sure to ask every time.

More generally we recommend taking a minute to analyze every dish you’re ready to order, never assume the local definition of the word ‘vegetarian’ will be identical to yours, and ask questions whenever you’re in doubt.

3.Be creative and dare to ask

Even if you don’t find any vegetarian dishes on the menu, chances are things are freshly prepared (think noodle or rice dishes, eg.) and the chef can simply leave out the meat and fish if you ask. Another tip is don’t limit yourself to the main dishes. Have a look at starters, and maybe order 2 of those instead of 1 main dish if there’s any vegetarian options.

4.Be easy and don’t expect too much

Of course, in some places as a vegetarian you’ll be able to find the finest food and choose between different options from the menu. In other places you won’t, unless you decide to pay more and often miss out on the authentic local experience. In general in most South East Asian countries you won’t have that much trouble finding some vegetarian food, but you might have to accept eating similar dishes more or less every day.

Decide for yourself how far you’re willing to go – and how much money you’re willing to pay – and how important food is for your overall experience, and try to realize that eg. in small villages in the countryside they simply don’t have anything else.

5.Always carry some backup food

Stock up on healthy vegetarian food like nuts, granola bars, dried and even some fresh fruits when you’re in a bigger city – it’s usually very easy to find there. This way when you don’t get a full meal you always have something to complete it with and to avoid being hungry.

Have we got your mouth watering yet? If you can’t wait to explore the flavours of India, Cambodia or Vietnam take a look at our full range of volunteer tours here.