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Apr 6, 2007 10:02 AM

Best vegetarian-friendly Thai and Chinese places?

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?


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  1. 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: Joanie

        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

          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.

    1. 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

        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

          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

            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...

      2. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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

              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

                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

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