Vegetarian, vegan and healthy food in Chiang Mai


Last edited: September 05, 2017 at 15:06:45

By Michael

For any vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic or simply healthy food lover, Chiang Mai is an absolute paradise with loads of places to try out and indulge in.

Here's a map with some of the best vegetarian and healthy food places in Chiang Mai:

VEGETARIAN MAP CHIANG MAI - MOST POPULAR AND BEST VEGETARIAN AND HEALTHY FOOD PLACES

See more vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai

There are probably few cities in Asia where you can find such an abundance of all varieties of vegetarian and conscious food. Vegetarian food existed in Thailand and Chiang Mai long before the arrival of foreigners, but the influx of many health-conscious people here has created a vibrant vegetarian scene.

Although they sometimes mix, roughly speaking, there are two categories of vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai:

  1. the 'farang'-oriented ones (F)
  2. the Thai-style restaurants (T)

The farang-oriented places typically serve Western salads or Shan / Burmese salads, perhaps some sandwich or bread (stuff that Thai don't like so much), real brown rice (or even black or purple) and sometimes have a love-and-peace and better-the-world-atmosphere, which may or may not attract you, but if you're more concerned about taste, just focus on the food.

The Thai-style places typically offer cooked foods only, and if they have salad it's a Thai-style salad (like som-tam), the rice is not always real brown rice but often a mix of white and brown or red. They are usually a bit cheaper too and sometimes associate with a more active practise of Buddism.

The Thai-style vegetarian restaurants often show this sign outside, that perhaps looks a bit like the number '17':

Vegan sign in Thai language
Thai sign for vegetarian food

Besides a difference in style (farang-oriented or more Thai-style), there are various 'grades' vegetarian food: simple vegetarian, vegan farang-style, vegan Thai-style, lacto-ovo vegetarian, macro-biotic, organic and so on.
Mind you, vegan in 'international terms' is not always the same as vegan in Thai original style, which originates from Jainism.

As for the pureness of vegetables, not all places that advertise to serve organic food really do that, some get the vegetables from the same wholesale market (Muang Mai market near the US Consulate) as most other restaurants and so expect a decent amount of pesticides in Thailand. Others get vegetables from the Royal Project, which are also pretty good.
In Thailand, it's very hard to know for sure how clean and safe the vegetables are: they may be organic as the restaurant claims, they may also not be, because no organisation really checks on that and besides that, there's no official definition here.

Vegan sign in Thai and Chinese language
Chinese and Thai sign for vegetarian food

There can be a huge difference in the freshness, taste and 'crispy-ness' of vegetables. For example, I find the salads in Dada Kafe much better and crispier than in Nice Kitchen. In some places, you may taste nothing special or even feel not so great after your meal, in other places the vegetables have more taste or feel more pure.

Vegetarian food in Thailand goes a long way in history so there are all kinds of traditions and habits. A festival that happens every year is the Vegetarian Festival.

If you crave western salads, something very plain or 'healthy', go to the farang-oriented places. I generally find that the cooked food there is less good or too plain. Thai-style places often do a better job at cooked food, but in some cases it may suffer from MSG and/or too much salt or seasoning.

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