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Best vegetarian-friendly Thai and Chinese places?

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shivohum Apr 6, 2007 10:02 AM

Anyone have recommendations for Thai and Chinese restaurants that are vegetarian-friendly, in that they understand "no fish sauce" or "no chicken broth" or "no oyster sauce" yet don't just replace the entire sauce with a soy sauce instead? That's what happened to me at The Similans yesterday. Their food is delicious otherwise; it's really too bad that they pre-make everything in a non-vegetarian way. I don't think I will ever eat there again.

I don't need purely vegetarian restaurants unless they are exceptionally delicious too. Anyhow, I know Tamarind House in Cambridge is very accommodating this way, and I like their food, too. Any other recommendations?

Thanks.

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    tuesniteout RE: shivohum Apr 6, 2007 11:53 AM

    There is a restaurant in Brookline on Harvard Street named, Buddha's Delight. I am not a vegetarian myself but went there once with a friend who is and the food was really great!

    3 Replies
    1. re: tuesniteout
      Joanie RE: tuesniteout Apr 6, 2007 05:36 PM

      Buddha's has closed.

      1. re: Joanie
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        cmd RE: Joanie Apr 7, 2007 08:52 AM

        We drove by earlier today, and it looks like there is another vegetarian place there (or right near where it was)... I want to say it was called "My Thai" or something like that, but "vegetarian" was definitely on the sign.

        1. re: cmd
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          hooper RE: cmd Apr 7, 2007 03:23 PM

          Yes, Buddha's is now "My Thai Cafe and Bubble Tea Bistro". It's nearly identical in terms of pricing and the enormous amount of dishes they offer. All dishes contain "meat" and there is no actual meat available, just like Buddha's. Even my meat eating friends like to go there for "beef" or "chicken". I love the "chicken" but don't really like the rubbery tasting "shrimp". The ambience isn't great but the food is a deal and is very tasty.

    2. Sgt Snackers RE: shivohum Apr 7, 2007 08:24 AM

      It is very difficult to make authentic Thai food in a pure vegetarian way. Ingredients like fish sauce, shrimp paste, etc. are core to the cuisine and work their way into many of the base sauces, curries, etc. I don't think it's reasonable to expect a Thai restaurant (even one like the Similans) to be able to make an arbitrary dish vegetarian any more than one would expect to walk into a BBQ place and demand "vegetarian ribs".

      It is my understanding that the Similans has a number of specifically vegetarian dishes on their menu and presumably those are made from scratch *as* vegetarian dishes. On the other hand a "vegetarian curry" or "vegetarian pad thai" involves a more thorough reworking of the dish beyond just substituting tofu for the meat. What do you propose they use as a vegetarian alternative to fish sauce or shrimp paste?

      3 Replies
      1. re: Sgt Snackers
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        shivohum RE: Sgt Snackers Apr 7, 2007 09:28 AM

        From what I saw, even the seemingly vegetarian dishes on the list mostly had fish sauce in them, and the only one I could find out about that didn't -- the chili basil dishes -- the waiter I spoke to himself admitted "had no flavor." Indeed, when I got that dish, it was extremely bland -- I can't tell if it was because they had taken out any fish sauce or shrimp paste that would have normally been in the dish because of my concerns.

        Anyhow, you may be right that Thai cuisine is hard to prepare authentically in an vegetarian way. But I'm not so concerned with absolute authenticity -- how about just some great taste? That calls for some creativity -- which Tamarind House (and other Thai restaurants in other cities I've been to) seems to be able to muster. If The Similans can't, I bear it no ill will; I'm simply not going to go back...

        1. re: shivohum
          Sgt Snackers RE: shivohum Apr 7, 2007 12:23 PM

          Ah, I confused "Tamarind House" with "Tamarind Bay". I tried Tamarind House lately and was really not impressed ... though I didn't order anything vegetarian :-)

          Are you sure the "veg" dishes at Similans really have fish sauce? I looked at the online menu - ONE of them says oyster sauce (real vegetarian - hah!) but a couple of the others - tofu laap, tamarind tofu - look like they could be done without.

          Have you tried Brown Sugar Cafe? Dok Bua? Rod Dee? These are pretty highly regarded but I can't vouch for veggie dishes there.

          1. re: Sgt Snackers
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            shivohum RE: Sgt Snackers Apr 7, 2007 03:34 PM

            Agreed that TH isn't extraordinary taste-wise but they are certainly very accommodating, fast, and reasonably priced. Brown Sugar is owned by the same people that own the Similans, I think. Dok Bua is quite good, and accommodated me, too. I'll have to try Rod Dee. Thanks for the rec...

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        baffledthespian RE: shivohum Apr 10, 2007 07:48 AM

        You can get all sorts of wonderful stuff at Grasshopper in Allston- it's mainly Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. It's all vegan. My favorite dish is the sweet & sour tofu- I love it so much I usually order extra to take home. I always hate being limited to a few items on the menu, but the food here is all delicious and innovative. I've even managed to get my meat-eating boyfriend addicted to the place. It's also very affordable.

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          ylt RE: shivohum Apr 10, 2007 07:10 PM

          Elephant Walk has a vegan section -- the menu there is a mix of French and Cambodian. The Cambodian dishes run somewhat pricier than other places but the food is good.

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            GrillNextDoor RE: shivohum Apr 11, 2007 10:58 AM

            Spice in Harvard Square is the only Thai place I eat at. When I said "no fish sauce, no oyster sauce" they said "okay" and then came back to ask if eggs were okay. It's an allergy for me, not a preference, so I know (from not getting sick) that there was no fish sauce and from their response (eggs okay?) that they were thinking about it.

            3 Replies
            1. re: GrillNextDoor
              Sgt Snackers RE: GrillNextDoor Apr 13, 2007 03:37 PM

              Wow - that must be the first Thai place that has substituted eggs for fish sauce in a recipe. I wonder what they do with the eggs.

              1. re: Sgt Snackers
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                micah RE: Sgt Snackers Apr 16, 2007 06:02 AM

                I'm guessing that they weren't substituting eggs for fish sauce. They were probably asking if GrillNextDoor was vegan or vegetarian, since there were probably eggs in whatever was ordered. I've been asked that, too, in some Asian restaurants.

                1. re: micah
                  Sgt Snackers RE: micah May 26, 2007 06:21 AM

                  No kidding! I guess it was not clear that my comment was a joke.

            2. cee RE: shivohum May 13, 2007 09:11 PM

              I live in Thailand, and study Thai cooking on an almost-daily basis. I have also eaten vegetarian for over 10 years. I can tell you for sure that it's actually not very difficult to adapt Thai food for a vegetarian diet. A heck of a lot easier than Chinese. That aside, I'd like to explain a few things first.

              The concept of vegetarianism to Thais is a bit different than what ours is. Thai people understand eating what's called "Jae", which is a Chinese cultural import. Chinese vegetarians do so for religion. They don't eat meat, fish, fish sauce and eggs. They also don't eat garlic, shallots, chilies, and other 'strong' flavors. But, somewhere in their religious texts it allows for the eating of oysters, hence the use of oyster sauce in 'vegetarian dishes'.

              There is another word, a Thai word, to describe vegetarianism in which we are more familiar. It's 'mangsawirat'. (mahng-saa-wee-rat). It means, no fish,meat,etc, but strong flavors are OK. Most Thais, however, confuse the two, so you have to be really careful to explain that you want it spicy, with garlic etc. Hence why the dishes you get frequently are bland. They have no idea what kind of vegetarian you are. :)

              Like I said, most Thai dishes are easy to adapt. Fish sauce can be substituted for light-soy sauce (not low-sodium, but a thin Thai style soy sauce), or salt, depending on the recipe. I throw in salt to my homemade curry pastes and they taste fine. I use salt in yum (thai salad), and I use soy sauce in fried noodle dishes, soups, etc. The best way to deal with it is to understand how a dish is made, and ask specifically to replace the ingredient which you don't want.

              Also, be careful of a 'curry' showing up on a vegetarian menu in a regular restaurant. Make sure it doesn't have 'gapi' (shrimp paste) in the curry paste. Most restaurants use pre-made, almost all of which have gapi already added. They just don't think about it.

              For the most part, Thais will adapt, if they understand. With Chinese, it's going to be a lot harder. Best to try to find a dish which is easy to make vegetarian, (ie, not a soup), and ask them to leave out the oyster sauce. When I eat at a Chinese restaurant, I usually get some green vegetable stir fried with garlic & salt (a common dish). I wish I spoke Chinese, I'm sure it would be easier to explain. Also note that there is a vegetarian type of oyster sauce made from mushrooms available at any Chinese market in Chinatown. It's quite good. I bet if you brought it in with you and gave it to the server, they'd use it.

              When I'm in Boston I eat at Buddha's Delight in Chinatown. They have decent veggie Pho. They also have a really yummy rice-soup. Taiwan cafe (also in Chinatown) makes steamed veggie dumplings which are vegetarian.

              Good luck!

              3 Replies
              1. re: cee
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                shivohum RE: cee May 15, 2007 11:09 PM

                This was really informative -- thanks!

                1. re: cee
                  Sgt Snackers RE: cee May 26, 2007 06:22 AM

                  That is helpful. It has always been my impression that gapi is hard to avoid, especially in curries. And it sounds like the OP complaining about replacing the sauce with soy sauce is exactly what was expected in this situation - right?

                  1. re: Sgt Snackers
                    cee RE: Sgt Snackers May 30, 2007 07:20 PM

                    I find that (in Thailand anyway) saying the word vegetarian (jae) is like the kiss of death flavor-wise. Instead I just guide them through what I want. I find the best way to deal with it is to just say "I want this dish, no fish sauce, no meat, yes garlic". The results are much tastier.

                2. limster RE: shivohum May 30, 2007 08:26 PM

                  Try Shanghainese food - vegetarian mock meats (typically gluten or bean curds) are standards in the cuisine. Shanghai Gate, New Shanghai and Wing's Kitchen are good places.

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