The mandatory inclusion of seafood-related treats such as fish sauce, oyster sauce, and shrimp paste often make eating in Southeast Asia a little difficult for a veggie (to say the least). And it's not something worth trying to trick yourself into believing you can get around, either. Here is an example conversation a vegetarian might have with restaurant waitstaff:
"...but I'm vegetarian. I can't have oyster sauce."
"...it's not meat, it's oyster sauce! It's vegetarian!"
and so forth. You learn to simply find vegetarian establishments, basically, and there are a fair few in the major cities. The word "vegetarian" seems to have annexed so many different meanings that it's hard to know what's up from down, so I don't take anyone's word for it anymore when I'm in this region.
Instead I just feel sorry for myself while on holiday, and save up all my annoyances to come home and make veggie versions of the dishes I gave a miss while away. Next time I won't be so defeatist about it.
Vegan Thai Penang Curry
- First, prepare your eyes for the death they will experience from coming within 200 metres of cut shallots. Once you have got past this first hurdle, feel free to make a paste out of the first ingredients in the list. My preference is in hiring a slave to do this part of the job, but a blending utensil of some sort is also acceptable. Pestle and mortar is for brave souls only. I warned you.
- Heat a wok with a relatively liberal amount of oil (at least a couple of tablespoons) and fry up the fake chicken pieces or tofu until nice and brown. Shove over to one side of the wok and in the other half of the wok fry the paste, in some more oil if necessary.
- After a couple of minutes mix the fake chicken and paste together. Add the vegetable stock (a homemade stock is recommended). Stir until all ingredients are mixed and then add the coconut milk. Add salt, to taste.
- Chop your greens up and chuck 'em in with the rest of the lot to simmer for about ten minutes. Serve warm, over rice.