Charlotte, NC Vegans and Vegetarians really like to “Thai” one on!
And no wonder, since Thai food is notoriously vegan-friendly and Charlotte seems to have more than its fair share of Thai Restaurants, from takeout to dine in, from inexpensive to pricey, from mild, “Americanized” Thai to the stronger, richer flavors (and more intense heat) of traditional Thai.
The majority of Thai dishes are “pick your protein” and can be made with tofu and/or extra veggies.
So what do we, as vegans or vegetarians, need to watch out for?
- The #1 warning I hear is about fish or shrimp paste. I, personally, have not found this to be much of a problem in Charlotte. Usually if fish sauce is used, it’s clearly marked on the menu. If you have any doubts at all, though, tell your server you have a severe “seafood allergy”. (Ham it up if you need to – tell them the last time you “accidentally” ate seafood at a restaurant, the hostess had to give you CPR as you waited for the ambulance.) Trust me, the server will suddenly start going line-by-line through the menu with you advising on the “safest” items and what to avoid.
- Dairy is the least of your concerns at a Thai restaurant, as milk and butter are not commonly used (most Thai natives are actually lactose-intolerant).
- What I’ve found I really need to watch out for? Eggs. Especially if you’re ordering a fried rice dish, or a noodle dish like the ever-popular Pad Thai. Some Thai restaurants will automatically leave the egg out if you order your meal vegetarian; some Thai restaurants won’t. So be sure to specify “no egg” when you place your order. Also, read the menu carefully – some dishes use egg noodles. And there can be eggs in soup (they will look like little thin noodles that will break up if you stir the broth vigorously with your spoon).
- Also watch out for – spring rolls. Some Thai restaurants have two kinds – vegetarian and ones with chicken and/or shrimp. If they offer two kinds, if you order vegetarian they will usually bring you the vegetarian spring roll automatically, but it never hurts to double-check. Other Thai restaurants may only offer meat/seafood versions.
- And – soups. Usually only a danger with the lunch specials, when your server silently materializes to place a “free” bowl of soup in front of you, and then evaporates before you can ask him/her about the soup base. Often these “free” bowls are chicken-broth-based. Thai restaurants usually do have a vegan soup or two on their menu, but in my experience those aren’t the soups they usually serve as part of the lunch special. (Thai lunch specials usually include soup, entree, rice, spring roll, and tea.)
- And – tea. Usually the iced tea – complementary at lunch – is vegan friendly. Sometimes, it may be green tea or jasmine tea. But you may encounter a restaurant that serves traditional “Thai Iced Tea“ – which is about the only item you’ll encounter that’s actually made with milk! It’s nothing to stress over, though. Thai iced tea has a distinct appearance – opaque and yes, “milky,” – so chances are you’ll recognize this before you take a sip. If you are served this as part of your lunch special, simply ask for some water instead.
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