Foodies that prefer to steer clear of eating meat or fish need not miss out on Southeast Asia’s remarkable culinary flavours. Plenty of the dishes served in popular holiday destinations like Thailand or Bali can be prepared as vegetarian versions and the region also boasts a wide choice of meatless specialities.
The mouth-watering culinary treats on offer in island locations like Phuket, Koh Samui and Bali play a key role in attracting visitors year after year and recent trends towards renting private villas in these destination means guests often now include a personalised taste adventure as part of their holiday.
But what happens if your personal beliefs or preferences mean local favourites like pork satay or chicken curry is off the menu? What if you prefer to savour the delights of Thailand’s renowned Tom Yam Soup, but without the prawns? Luckily for vegetarian visitors, the non-meat options available on Southeast Asia’s islands are just as delectable as the meat dishes, and often a lot healthier too.
An authentic sprinkling of chilli, a drizzle of coconut milk or the crisp, zesty flavour of lemongrass will definitely leave you craving vegetarian dishes long after you return home.
We asked our villa chefs to suggest 5 appetising favourites.
Taste your Pick
The frustration of staring at a menu and trying desperately to choose between several scrumptious looking dishes is a burden many travellers must bear. However, foodies that opt for Bali’s vegetarian Nasi Campur
can enjoy the delicious combination of nutty flavours and creamy textures that characterize several delightful Indonesian dishes. Served in the manner of a Balinese tapas feast, this local favourite comprises curried tempe, crisp Balinese vegetables, crunchy potato and corn fritters, peanuts and a generous hunk of tofu. All these delights are served over a fluffy heap of white rice before being sprinkled with dried spring onions. Vegetarian or not, Nasi Campur
is a feast that will leave you satisfied, yet also yearning for more.
Soup up your Tastebuds
In Thailand, soups like spicy Tom Yam Gung
or creamy Tom Kha Gai
contain king prawns and chicken and although they can be made without meat, what remains can taste as if something is a little lacking. A steaming bowl of authentic tofu noodle soup, however, is guaranteed to keep vegetarians palates amused. This traditional Thai soup is a flavoursome mix of coconut milk and vegetable broth, and is packed with fresh green vegetables, soft linguini-esque noodles and a dazzling combination of ginger, lemongrass, basil and chillies. This dish is also widely considered a natural remedy for colds, and is even said to be an excellent mood-booster.
Back on Bali, vegetarian visitors who want to splurge on a “not so healthy” snack should indulge in a plate of Tahu Bacem
. This rich tofu dish is particularly enjoyable for those who are accustomed to the bland way in which tofu is often served in Western restaurants. Substantial slices of tofu are left to marinade for several hours in a concoction of sugar, coconut milk and spices until they absorb the distinctive spicy-sweet flavour. The tofu chunks are then deep fried just before serving, and presented piping hot on a banana leaf.
A trip to Thailand is not complete without sampling some of the appetizing street food on offer, and satay is always one of the favourites. Tofu, once again, comes to the rescue for vegetarians with satays prepared in a similar marinade to the pork or chicken equivalents you often see being barbecued at the Kingdom’s street stalls. The tofu version packs the same punch of juicy flavours, with fresh lemongrass, garlic, red onion, chilli, ginger and soy sauce just a few of the aromatic ingredients whipped into the marinade. For visitors that can’t get enough of that flavour explosion, tofu satays are best served a side of peanut sauce.
For the Muslim inhabitants of Bali, a particular steaming soup has become a popular staple dish at the end of the fasting month, Idul Fitri
. With plenty of room for interpretation, sayur lodeh is available in a rainbow of varieties, including those for vegetarians. One of the best local stew recipes features a coconut milk-based broth, with the addition of tofu, long beans, egg and chilli sauce. This delicious dish is often served over rice or rice cakes.
by MAX VEE