Pink House Garden

Pink House Garden sign advertising Gluten Free cake, vegetarian food, coffee & cake and opening time
Pink House Garden Sign

Pink House Garden, Chiang Mai:

  • Tempeh Laab + Salad with Peanut Sauce
  • Price: 95b + 70b
  • Score: 6/10
  • November 26th, 2016

Pink House Garden is a relatively new, undiscovered veggie restaurant in Chiang Mai. Although I think it will soon become a popular spot thanks to its beautiful setting.

I visited Pink House Garden on a saturday afternoon with a friend. She happens to live nearby and didn’t even know it existed. Going light on the rice dishes that day we chose two salad style dishes.

Plate of Tempeh Laab with a plate of Salad and bowl of Peanut sauce with Cinnamon Iced Tea
Tempeh Laab, Salad with Peanut Sauce and Cinnamon Tea

The first was spicy minced tempeh salad. This is a vegetarian version of the traditional Thai Laab dish. Laab is usually made with minced pork but has strong flavours of mint and chili.

Laab is actually one of my favourite dishes in Thailand but I don’t often find a veggie alternative. I’ve had mushroom laab before but this tempeh dish was something new, and I loved it. It was flavoursome and the minced tempeh texture was great. It was definitely my favourite of the two dishes. It had minced tempeh, mint, red onion, carrot, and just a little bit of chili. 

The second was Salad with Peanut Sauce. The Salad was a little bland. Mostly lettuce with a little bit of sweet potato, carrot and bell pepper sprinkled on top. But the peanut sauce was really good. It was pretty thick but incredibly tasty. If the salad had just a little more variety to it this would have been a great choice. But as it is I would only recommend it as a side dish and not a main.

We were also given a constant refill of cinnamon tea, (complementary), as we chatted for a few hours.

I was excited to try their vegan cakes as I’d heard excellent things about them. When we went they only had a gluten-free (not vegan) chocolate cake or an avocado-lemon cake. We had the avocado cake and it was pretty good but it didn’t blow my mind. Maybe I’d built it up too much in my head! That being said, I have heard great things from a few friends and seen some good looking pictures so maybe I’ll give it another try.

A slice of gluten free chocolate cake and vegan avocado-lemon drizzle cake with a glass of herbal tea
Amazing Vegan and Gluten Free cakes

The food we had isn’t the best in Chiang Mai. It’s more so the setting and the atmosphere at Pink House Garden that makes it worth a visit. A lovely open garden area with tables and chairs, or cushions and low tables to sit around. My friend and I were the only two people there when we went so it was quiet and relaxing too.


Pink House is also open late (10pm) and I imagine it would be a lovely place to enjoy an evening with some friends. 

Stepping stones leading up to a low table with pillows and curtains surrounding
Beautiful seating area inside Pink House Garden
Image of trees and garden with tables and seats in the background
Pink House Garden

    

ImmAim Vegetarian Bike Cafe

Image of sign reading ImmAim Vegetarian Cafe @ santitham
ImmAim Vegetarian Cafe

ImmAim Vegetarian Cafe, Chiang Mai:

  • Fresh Herbal Spring Rolls + Broccoli Ginger Stir Fry
  • Price: 65 baht +  60 baht
  • Score: 7/10
  • November 10th, 2016

ImmAim is a welcoming little cafe in the heart of Santitham neighbourhood (Northwest of the old city). Their menu is all vegetarian with many vegan options and most, if not all, can be adapted for vegans.

I live nearby so I work and eat there very often. Today I went for the Fresh Herbal Spring Rolls with a Pumpkin Dressing. This is sort of a light dish, great for sharing, or nice to order with another light meal as I did. So on top of that I also ordered the Broccoli and Ginger stir-fry as I was craving greens.

Image of herbal spring rolls on a plate with pumpkin dressing
Ok, so I dived right in and ate one before I remembered to take a picture – there are 8 rolls usually
Image of broccoli ginger stir-fry
Broccoli ginger stir-fry

 

The Herbal Spring Rolls are amazing. They are minty and fresh and the pumpkin dressing is really good. But it didn’t fill me up at all. I’ve never had the broccoli stir fry before so I thought I’d give it a try. I have to say that I thought it was a little light on broccoli and a little heavy on the ginger and pepper. But, I guess it’s intended as a healthy dish and so the taste reflects that. I’m not sure what sort of sauce it was in but it was pretty watery.

ImmAim is one of those places where I always feel like I ordered the wrong thing. They have so many good options I often see other people’s food arriving and wish I’d ordered that instead! I sort of did that today. I had a ravenous appetite. It was 4pm and I hadn’t eaten all day, yet I went for the light/healthy options. So, my feelings about both these dishes may have been different on a different day.

They can definitely deliver much better than this so I’ll be heading back there another time for sure. I would say that it’s still a little gem of a restaurant, I just picked the wrong options for me, so be careful! I did however have the banana mocha smoothie and it may possibly be the best smoothie I’ve had in a long time. That definitely hit the spot! The menu has smoothies, coffee, fresh juice and kombucha.

As a bike cafe, both the owner and the menu focuses on healthy options. They cook with little oil and even make a great healthy version of typical thai food such as Pad Thai. As it’s a little out of the old city too, I find the prices are much more reasonable and the portion sizes are good.

It’s a lovely relaxed place to sit and work or just hang out with friends. I often work there for a few hours and I see others doing the same. The owner, ‘O’ is so relaxed and welcoming. Despite my less than satisfied stomach on this particular day I do highly recommend this place. It’s well worth checking out.

 

Image of tables and chairs inside Immaim vegetarian restaurant
ImmAim seating area

Birds Nest Cafe

Image of Birds Nest restaurant sign
Birds Nest Restaurant Sign

Birds Nest Cafe, Chiang Mai:

  • Grilled Veggie Salad
  • Price: 120 baht
  • Score: 8/10
  • October 27th, 2016

I ended up eating at the Birds Nest Cafe today because the two other places along the way were closed. That’s not to say I don’t like Birds Nest, it was just further than I was hoping to walk in the heat.

I knew Birds Nest Cafe had veggie options and could probably make some vegan. As it turned out their menu is all vegetarian (but then has the option to add “free range organic chicken or pork” at an extra cost). So I guess they’re sort-of vegetarian. They also have a few vegan options.

I ordered their Grilled Veggie Salad. It doesn’t specify that it’s vegan on the menu but the ingredients listed were all vegan. I asked for no cheese just in case.

Plate with a bed of salad, red pepper, red onion, cashew nuts, tomato, green beans, grilled mushroom, and sesame seeds next to some cutlery and a glass of ginger tea
Grilled Veggie Salad at Birds Nest Cafe

The salad was a bed of leafy greens with red pepper, red onion, and grilled veggies, topped with cashew nuts and sesame seeds. The grilled vegetables are seasonal but I had tomato and green beans in mine. The veggies were actually pretty substantial. There was a lot of mushroom though and I’d have liked a few more different types of veg.

My salad came with a balsamic olive oil dressing but they also have a passion fruit dressing too. I think I poured too much oil on my salad so it was quite oily for me. But, I still really enjoyed it. I was really hot and really hungry. I wanted something light but filling and this did the trick and it tasted good.

The dish cost 120 baht which is pretty standard in Chiang Mai at the moment. It’s definitely more expensive than Thai food but Birds Nest tries to use organic vegetables as much as they can. Their food contains no preservatives, MSG or GMO and they try to support local farmers and stores. They also have a focus on homemade food (their bread, pita, bagels etc).

Birds Nest Cafe is a bit of a hippie cafe. You order and pay at the counter first. Then there are both tables and chairs to sit at, or Thai style mattresses to sit on the floor and eat at low tables. It can get a bit hot and sticky inside if it’s busy and others have claimed all the fans but usually there’s enough to go around. The wifi is pretty reliable too.

Comfortable tables and chairs in the downstairs area of Birds Nest cafe

Free Bird Cafe

Free Bird cafe sign and a large bird spray painted on the outside wall of the cafe in Chiang Mai
Free Bird Cafe Outside Wall

Free Bird Cafe, Chiang Mai:

  • Jok (rice porridge)
  • Price: 80 baht
  • Score: 9/10
  • October 24th, 2016

Free Bird Cafe is one of my go-to places to eat. I like their healthy menu and the food is always good. Their menu is vegetarian but with mostly vegan dishes.

Today for lunch I had jok. Jok is rice porridge which is a traditional dish in Thailand. It’s basically ground up, boiled rice where they leave a lot of the water in it. Kinda like creamy porridge oats. In fact, you may be familiar with Jok from the film the Hangover. If you recall the reference it’s usually somewhat bland but nutritious (like Stu).

hqdefault

It was a dreary, rainy day in CM and I wanted to eat something warm and comforting. Rainy days make me homesick for England where it’s rainy most of the time. Porridge was just what I wanted.

Jok at Free Bird Cafe is made from boiled purple rice, instead of the usual white jasmine rice. Purple rice is my favourite and also pretty healthy.

So boiled purple rice is the main ingredient, mixed with some diced veggies and topped with pickled ginger, green onion and fried garlic, with a slice of lime on the side. It tasted really good.

A bowl of vegan jok containing brown rice, lime, pickled ginger and fried onions
A bowl of Vegan Jok at Free Bird Cafe

I’m a big fan of ginger and the ginger and garlic gave it way more taste than I was expecting. There were some carrots mixed in which I didn’t really like and left to the side. Carrots aside it was a really tasty dish. It was served piping hot and was a good portion size.

The Jok cost 80 baht which is one of the cheaper options at Free Bird Café. In a regular Thai place you’d probably pay 25-50 baht and it wouldn’t be vegan – just boiled rice and chicken or some other meat.

Free Bird Café has a lovely laid back atmosphere, there are plenty of fans around the place and big windows and open doors. There are also big tables at which you’ll see many people getting some work done on their laptops. The wifi is usually pretty reliable there too and there is never a feeling of being rushed out.  The staff often disappear into the back and just pop their head out to check if anyone wants their attention every now and then. You can easily while away a few hours here.

Large table with bench and stools inside free bird cafe
Free Bird Cafe large tables to work at
Several large tables, benches and stools to sit at inside free bird cafe
Seating area at Free Bird Cafe, second hand clothes and books for sale

How to eat Vegan in Thailand

People often wonder how I could possibly ever survive here in Chiang Mai as a vegan. Considering I’ve been here well over 10 years and I still haven’t died, I think I’m doing fairly well. There is veggie food all around you, and I’m not just talking the salad shops that have sprung up in the last 2 years or. There are tons of veggie spots in town. On Suthep road alone, there are 3 lined up in a row each doing their own thing and there are 3 more down back roads within 5 minute walking distance from the first 3.

**Tip: Keep an eye out for the yellow vegetarian flags.

chinese vegetarian in thailand
Look for the yellow jeh flags.

There are 2 main types of veggie eats in Thailand and while they both avoid meat entirely, there are a some important differences.

Jeh versus Mung

มังสวิรัติ [mung sa wi rut] comes from the Sanskrit mamsa, which means “meat” and virat which means “without.” So this is essentially an acceptable translation of “vegetarian.” As with in English, some people may or may not eat eggs and/or dairy.
เจ [jeh] comes from the Chinese word 齋 (jai1/jaai1) which is also the source for the equivalent words in Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

If you happen to be reading this in October, then you are in luck, my friend. That’s the easiest time of year to eat vegan in Thailand. This is when the Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ) happens. During that time almost everybody gets on the jeh train for a bit. Some people eat jeh for the entire month, the entire 10 day festival, and most franchise restaurants (Black Canyon, MK, etc) offer at least one jeh option, but some actually have a full jeh menu during the festival. The only downside is that a lot of regular jeh restaurants don’t really do anything special during this time except get a lot more crowded than usual and in some cases raise their prices. Yay for jeh.
As far as the food goes, the main difference between Jeh and Mung is that real Jeh forbids eating food with really strong flavours and/or smells as it is believed that each one does harm to different parts of the body. This includes stuff like chives, garlic, parsley, and onions.

So what does all this mean for you? Real Jeh food will always be vegan. But, you need to be careful as some jeh places will have 1 or 2 Mung options which may contain egg. And even though jeh avoids really strong flavours, it can still taste pretty awesome. They often make all kinds of fake vegan meats to help ease the suffering of all those poor meat eaters who torture themselves by abstaining from me for a meal, a day or the entire vegetarian festival.

What are my choices?

  • Jeh – Technically vegan, but watch out for those handful of places that will have one or 2 dishes with egg. Jeh spots will almost always have one or more yellow flags posted both inside and out. The flag will either say เจ , the Chinese character the word is based on or both. They often use a Chinese-y font so sometimes the word เจ looks a bit like the number “17”.
  • Mung(sawirat) – Vegetarian w/eggs. As far as things eaten with rice, dairy is pretty rare, but pastries and other sweets sold at Mung places may contain butter, cream and/or milk.

What do I do if I can’t find a jeh place?

Some regular restaurants may attempt to accommodate you or at least make you think they are doing so.

Watch out for:

Vegetable dishes at regular spots will always contain oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is dark, oily and gummy. And it comes from oysters! If you don’t want it in there, you gotta say so. You’ll know if it’s not in there, because they will probably only have used soy sauce and vegetable oil. So it may be bland, but vegan.
Solution: ไม่ ใส่ น้ำมันหอย (mai sai nam-man-hoi) – Don’t put in oyster sauce.

Fish sauce is another standard ingredient in a lot of (almost all!) Thai dishes.
Solution: ไม่ ใส่ น้ำปลา (mai sai nam-plaa)
Soup broth – At non-jeh places, even if they say there isn’t any meat in it, it will still have meat stock so skip the soup.

Dishes that usually Contain Egg:
ข้าวผัด – fried rice (khaao pad)
ผัดไทย – pad thai
ผัดซีอิ๊ว – pad see-yu
*ผัด (pad) = stir-fried/sauteed
Solution: ไม่ ใส่ ไข่ (mai sai kai)

Even if you ask for something jeh, they don’t always really know what that means so you are better off making it as clear as possible.

Full Sentence: เอา ข้าวผัด เจ ไม่ใส่ไข่ (ow kaaw pad jeh mai sai kai) – I’d like friend rice (jeh) without egg.

First thing you want to do is find out if they are willing to try to make you something jeh/mung. And just because they tell you they can, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to forget and give you something wish oyster sauce or fish sauce. Aside from being a tonal language, Thai also contains a whole lot more vowel sounds than English and when you say the vowels wrong, people probably won’t understand you. Be patient with them as you are the one who needs something from them and may not be able to
speak their language.

I remember this one time, a buddy of mine ordered a bottle of water and got a coconut, so watch out friends, watch out.

Just follow the yellow flag folks.  The word เจ in Thai when written in the Chinese-y font below kinda looks like a 17.

chinese vegetarian in thailand
Look for the yellow jeh flags.

Vegan Food in Bacolod: A Vegetable Wasteland

Finding vegan food in Bacolod (or anywhere in the Philippines) is tough.  No really, it’s a nightmare.  Happy Cow says there are 3 places in Bacolod.  I’ve been to 2 so far and they leave a lot to be desired.  Like taste and vegetables.

The supermarket had entire aisles devoted to different types of treats: Wafers, puffs, chocolate drinks, etc.  It was horrible.

Chocolate drink aisle at supermarket in Bacolod.
An aisle for chocolate drinks, an aisle for puffs. Where are the vegetables?

Veggie Bites 

  • Location: Bacolod, Philippines (3rd floor food court at Robinson’s Mall)
  • Date: Sunday, Oct 23rd, 2016

Round 1:

  • Food: Budget Meal (2 scoops of goop!)
  • Cost: 75 Pesos
  • Dish Rating: 4/10

The first time I went there, it was pretty quiet and there were only 3 options to choose from.  I had the “budget meal” which comes with 2 items with rice.  None of them looked terribly appetizing.  The price was 85 pesos for everything below including the drink.  I’m not entirely sure what it was.  They called it juice.  It was a little sweet, but pretty drinkable.  I couldn’t identify it.  Somewhere between iced tea and juice, maybe.  Here’s what we’re dealing with:

Vegan meal at Veggie Bites, a vegan restaurant in Bacolod, Philippines.
The “budget meal” at Veggie Bites in Bacolod.

As far as ingredients, it was mostly fake meat.  I think the white one on top right was textured protein while the bottom one looked like tofu, but tasted more like a mushroom-based fake meats in a sweet and sour sauce.  There were a few bits of vegetables, but that’s it.  It was cold, so-so as far as flavour goes, but I devoured it quickly as it was the first vegan safe thing I found.  

Round 2:

I ended up back at Veggie Bites again the next day in the hopes that there would be more choices on a weekday.  Yesterday was a Sunday and I wondered if maybe that’s why there were only 3 choices.  Today was slightly better.  The staff again steered me towards the budget meal.  I’m not sure if the wall menu is a total lie, but I don’t think they will cook you anything fresh.  There were 5 different types of goop today and some spring rolls.

The budget meal was 85 + 16 for the 2 spring rolls.  

  • Food: Budget Meal + 2 Spring rolls
  • Total Cost: 101
  • Dish Rating: 4/10
Vegan meal at Veggie Bites, a vegan restaurant in Bacolod, Philippines.
The 2nd round of a “budget meal” at Veggie Bites with spring rolls in Bacolod.

The spring rolls were cold, but tasted fine.  I’m not entirely sure what was in them as I ate them in like 3 seconds, but I think there may have been some bits of potato.  They did warm up the plate a bit this time.  

I ended up with the same sweet and sour goop as yesterday as well as a green curry.  They called it curry, but I think peanut sauce would be more accurate.  The fake meat in that dish was definitely textured protein.  There were some long beans in it, but still light on the veggies.  It was edible, and it went down easy.  You gotta take what you can get when travelling in the islands of meatopia.  

Round 3: I’m back again!

  • Food: Budget Meal + 2 Spring rolls
  • Total Cost: 101
  • Dish Rating: 7.5/10

I finally scored this time.  There was like 10 options including some massive eggplant-y things that were cut to look like fish.

Vegan food in Bacolod.
I finally hit the veggie jackpot and will survive another day.

This was by far the best meal I’ve had in Bacolod.  The top left item was tofu with mouse-ear mushrooms in a very mild red sauce.  It was kinda like sweet and sour, but much milder flavour than the other times I had a similar sauce.  The middle one was mainly beansprouts and it was super good.  The tofu-y looking stuff on the right was tiny tofu cubes mixed in with some other type of veggie protein.  All 3 were really good.

Here’s the cost break-down:

 

Receipt for vegan mean at Veggie Bites, Bacolod.
No budget meal here folks.

Veggielicious

  • Location: Bacolod, Philippines (888 Chinatown Square mall)
  • Date: Tuesday, Oct 25th, 2016
  • Food: Budget Meal (2 items + rice)
  • Cost: 75 Pesos
  • Dish Rating: 5/10

This one was a bit tricky to find.  The 888 mall is split so that it lays on 2 sides of a street.  The stall is on the east side which is the older building.  If you go up to the 2nd floor and head straight back and to the the right, you’ll find it.  This place is actually vegetarian so if something might normally have dairy or egg in it, it’s best to ask to be sure.

They also had a “budget meal” which was 75 pesos for 2 items with rice.  One of the items was pretty goopy and had some bitter gourd in it along with some textured protein.  The other was a very Chinese-y stir-fry made up of almost entirely vegetables!  It had Chinese celery, a tiny bit of bean sprouts and a lone piece of tofu seemed to have slipped in there as well.

Meal at vegetarian food stall - Veggielicious in Bacolod, Philippines.
A budget meal with some extras at Veggielicious.

The rice looks weird because it was red rice and pretty dried out.  It tasted fine though.  The Chinese celery based dish was pretty good, the goopy bitter gourd stuff was less so. The roll thing was really more of a tiny wrap.  It wasn’t fried and it was full of vegetables.  The only downside was that it was super sweet which I’m not a fan of.