“Thatalo?” she said, confused with my pronunciation. “Oh, Thataló! Yes, yes.” pointing to several stainless steel trays on a makeshift wooden stall. Minutes later, with the table full of small plates filled with colourful veggies and stews, Mrs Sa Swe scooped spoonfuls of fluffy white rice on our plates. The spread at Lashio Lay restaurant, in Mandalay, was not only scrumptious and cheap, it was also completely vegan.
Travelling with dietary restrictions is a pain. It requires a great deal of planning and some flexibility. Yet, Southeast Asia boasts and amazing and rich cuisine, suitable to a plant-based lifestyle. This is in part attributed to Buddhism, making it common for vegetarian cuisine (a term that includes vegans) to be called “monk food”.
Starting with Myanmar we will be sharing our favourite places around Southeast Asia to get amazing plant-based food.
Mandalay • 65 23rd Street • £
Serving Shan cuisine, Lashio Lay offers and authentic dining experience. The buffet, where you pick and choose small dishes, is on display in a wooden stall. Three to four dishes are enough for two people since a complimentary salad and sour soup will be brought to the table. Scoop fluffy white rice from the stainless steel bowl and enjoy the feast.
Because there’s no menu, ask for “Thataló” (Vegan in Burmese) and the lady will tell you which trays you can choose from.
Mandalay • 27th Street (at between 74th and 75 St) • £
An established name in the veggie scene of Mandalay, with an array of Myanmar, Thai and Western dishes. Because the clientele is mainly foreigner the prices are not as cheap as other restaurants. Tea leaf salad and the aubergine dip are excellent.
Bagan • Old Bagan • ££
Just off the old main road near Ananda Temple, The Moon is probably the most famous restaurant in Bagan. The open-air eatery serves vegetarian and vegan options and has a rotating specials menu as well as a-la-carte dishes. Soups, salads, curries are a hit and the fresh fruit juices are great to cool off after temple hopping.
Inle Lake • War Taw Village, Nyaung Shwe • ££
A hidden gem near the shores of Inle Lake, Bamboo Hut is a restaurant overlooks a dragon fruit field. They serve delicious and beautifully presented Shan curries and Burmese salads and offer veggie options.
We discovered Bamboo Hut accidentally while cycling around Inle Lake. The road will lead you from the main asphalt road onto a dirt path, through fields and people’s houses. Just keep following the signs.
Soe Pyi Swak Vegetarian
Yangon • 50, 13th St (Middle), Ianmadaw Township • £
Between Anawratha Rd and Maha Bandula Rd, this Chinese eatery offers an array of mock meat dishes as well as veggies and noodles. The 100% vegan menu is in English, although the staff can speak some and are extremely nice.
The portions are very generous and can be shared between two. We got complementary slices of watermelon on the four occasions we went there.
999 Shan Noodle Shop
Yangon • 130 B 34th St, Yangon, Myanmar • £
It’s a local household name when it comes to Shan noodles in Yangon. Despite serving meat, they offer a vegetarian versions of popular noodle dishes than can be made vegan, just ask the waiter.
To avoid the tourist hour, go before noon when all the locals have their lunch break.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Myanmar curries are not like Thai or Indian versions and can be oily, especially the Shan Tofu curry, so be aware and manage your intake of those.
- Learn the local lingo. Thataló (pronounced datáló) literally translates as "lifeless". Say that to a waitress before ordering.
- Stock up on fruit and glutinous rice cakes at the markets.
- Bagan and Inle Lake are more expensive to eat than anywhere else.
- Download Happy Cow, the veggie food app/website, listing all the veggie restaurants available near you.