Finding Vegan Food In Thai Night Markets
Thailand would not be Thailand without its night markets. If this is your first time in the country and have never been to a night market before, you may feel there’s just too much to look at. And trust us, that feeling never gets old, especially in a city like Bangkok, where new night markets are popping up all over the city -and others are closing down, but that’s better left for another blog post.
For vegans who are not familiar with the night market scene or with Thai food, visiting a night market can be a bit overwhelming. What exactly is that? Is it edible? Is it vegan? How do you even eat it? In this post we tell you a few important things you need to know about Bangkok’s night markets, and we list 10 vegan goodies you can often find at these places.
Three Types Of Night Markets You Need To Know About
Generally speaking, there are three types of night markets in Bangkok. First you have the ones that have made the city famous among travellers: big weekend events like Ratchada Train Market or the Friday night edition of Chatuchak. Vendors usually start setting up at 5-6 p.m., and the show goes on until past midnight. People come here to shop for clothes and knick knacks, watch people and be watched by people, and of course eat. Many of these markets also have a dedicated “bar section” that can get a bit loud as the night goes on.
Then you have local neighbourhood night markets, which are open daily as this is where many Thai people get their dinner from. They’re not big affairs, as they usually take up a small alley near public transport stations. These markets also open at around 5-6 p.m., but by 9 p.m. most of the action is over. Although local neighbourhood markets focus on food, they are also a good place to grab anything from second-hand clothing to Thai herbal remedies.
The third type are pop-up markets, which only take place on specific dates. This is a relatively new concept and so far we’ve only seen them in Bangkok. Some examples include ArtBox Bangkok and Stripped. Usually, the setting is a bit more elaborate and the focus is on showcasing the work of Thai artists, although food is always there. Speaking of which, what foods can you eat as a vegan in Bangkok night markets?
Ten Vegan Food Items You Can Find In Thai Night Markets
An important thing to keep in mind is that some of the bigger weekend markets focus on seafood. Our advice is not to go there expecting to get a full sit-down meal, but you can always find a few snacks and sweet treats that are vegan.
The exact type of food available varies from region to region, but in Bangkok you should be able to find one or more of the following at pretty much any night market:
1. Guichai, or Chinese chive hotcakes / ขนมกุยช่าย
Guichai are an addictive Thai snack. They’re made with a rice flour batter mixed with Chinese chives, and then shaped into small hotcakes that can be pan fried or deep fried to give them a crispy texture (yes), or steamed (well, ok). They’re served with a thick soy sauce and / or a chili sauce, and the vendor will often cut them up so you can eat them easily.
Thai dumplings are usually stuffed with pork or seafood, but lately we’ve seen quite a few markets offering mushroom or seaweed-filled dumplings and others with sweet fillings, like pumpkin or even banana.
3. Sushi / ซูชิ
Starting a 5 baht a piece, you can find vegan sushi in many Bangkok night markets. Common ingredients are rice, wasabi, seaweed, cucumber, carrot, and avocado.
4. Stir fried noodles / ผัดก๋วยเตี๋ยว
In many night markets you’ll come across a stall with mountains of stir fried noodles piled up high. This is one of the cheapest and most filling treats you can find in Thai night markets, often starting at 20 baht / box (cheaper in the provinces). The noodles are either instant ramen-style noodles, or rice noodles in different widths, and in most cases they’re stir fried with veggies and soy sauce only, so they’re suitable for vegans.
5. Potato or sweet potato balls / ขนมไข่นกกระทา
Another cheap and filling deep fried treat that can be addictive when you find a vendor that gets them right: slightly crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. If you can read Thai, don’t be put off by the Thai name, which literally translates as quail’s eggs. The name refers to their shape, but they’re always vegan.
6. Khanom krok / ขนมครก
Moving onto the sweet treats you can find at Thai night markets, we really have to start with khanom krok. These little coconut custard treats are one of those traditional Thai desserts that are always vegan – and thank Buddha for that. You can recognise the vendors by their cast iron pans, which look like takoyaki pans. The outer layer is slightly crispy and works as a little “cup” for the batter, made of coconut cream and rice flour. The whole thing is topped with sweetcorn, green onion, pumpkin, taro, and other vegetable toppings.
Fruit smoothies are quite common in Thai night markets, where there are usually vendors who sell smoothies and only smoothies. Some of the menus are quite extensive and the fruit combinations can get very creative.
7. Mango sticky rice / ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง
Thailand’s most famous dessert (which is almost a meal in itself) is a common sight in night markets. Sometimes, the sticky rice will be purple or blue, which is achieved by adding butterfly peas to the rice while it’s cooking.
8. Coconut ice cream / ไอศครีมมะพร้าว
Well, there’s no need to explain what this is. Just delicious, even more so when it comes with vegan toppings like agar jelly, candied fruit, or peanuts.
10. Fresh tropical fruit
Fruit is never boring in Thailand, no matter the season. Juicy sweet pineapples, perfectly ripe mangoes, crunchy guavas, subtly fragrant mangosteen, thirst-quenching rose apples, weird-looking dragon fruit … they’re cheap, plentiful, and full of flavour. Fresh fruit is served cut up and ready to eat at night markets, and is sold either in trays or plastic cups.
We hope this post is useful to you when spending an evening at a Thai night market. Don’t forget to check out our Vegan Guide to Thai Food to get familiar with the goodies on offer at these markets, and take a look at our Night Markets section too on the main website. Happy travels!