Whether stir frying or making curry paste, sauces matter when cooking your favorite asian recipes! But what can you substitute for fish sauce and shrimp paste if you’re cooking for someone who can’t have them?
If it’s your first time here, welcome to Courageous Kitchen. In our cooking classes in Bangkok, we specialize in helping guests cook their favorite Thai dishes. One of our biggest duties is helping everyone to work around any dietary restrictions they may have. Here are a few of the questions we hear most often, but if you have more, please let us know.
Does vegan fish sauce exist?
Yes, it’s called soy sauce! Soy sauce is amazing and comes in several brands and varieties. You may need to experiment some to find the ones you enjoy best, and expect brands from different countries to vary widely.
What’s the difference between light and dark soy sauce?
Light soy sauce usually refers to the most common type of soy sauce which has a thin consistency. Dark soy sauce is darker, thicker and pretty much its own beast.
Typically dark soy sauce is cloying and has a bitter after taste. Although we refer to it as ‘soy sauce’ it is mostly made of molasses. Typically to make it thick some sort of wheat flour is added which makes finding a gluten free version tough.
Is there a soy free alternative to soy sauce?
Your best soy free alternative would be using a high quality salt.
We also see coconut aminos recommended, but haven’t found them to be widely available.
Are there gluten free soy sauce options?
We are also starting to see more gluten free version of soy sauce become available. We have spotted Megachef with gluten free packaging in the US, and even in Thailand brands like the Healthy Boy Brand. With all of these purchases, be sure to check the labels. The Megachef brand is gluten free and made from non GMO soy beans. However, the gluten free Healthy Boy Brand sauce does not include wheat flour of course, but MSG (mono sodium glutamate) is included among the ingredients.
Is there a vegan alternative to shrimp paste?
If you’re buying curry paste or making your own, you may often find shrimp paste included as an ingredient. One way to replace that salty and umami taste that shrimp paste adds is to substitute in fermented soy paste or miso.
Also we are starting to see some vegetarian shrimp paste alternatives come to the market, but have not seen them widely available.
What are the best curry pastes for people with dietary restrictions?
There are so many curry pastes available on the market, so this is difficult to make a recommendation. If you can find it, we do recommend the WorldFoods Brand of curry pastes because they’re available around the world and have more than just green and red curry options. They typically meet most dietary restrictions as well, including being MSG-free, gluten free, and certified halal. However, our best suggestion is to always check the ingredients listed on the packet you find.
Of course, making your own curry paste is always the best option if you have time. Not only can you dictate which ingredients to use, we believe you’ll find a noticeable difference in the taste from the fresh spices.
What other vegan seasoning do you recommend?
We love using liquid aminos, liquid smoke, and nutritional yeast to create the meat free variations of our favorite asian and western dishes. If you stir fry often, remember you can create a premade vegan stir fry sauce to cut down on your prep time in the kitchen.
If you cook vegan food often you also always want to have great spices on hand. This means keeping your favorite fragrant dry spices like different types of pepper, star anise, and cinnamon. You’re well served to have fresh herbs like lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and shallots as well.
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We’re hosting our very first plant based cooking class in Bangkok. The event will be a Thai language class taking place on Monday, March 23rd at 3pm. Guests who book will have the opportunity to learn how to make 5 plant based dishes. The workshop style dinner experience should be a fun time of learning and celebrating healthy eating together.
Instruction for the class will be in Thai, led by Panisha Chanwilai, a manager at Courageous Kitchen. Panisha grew up helping her mom in the kitchen, who let her assist, as she made spicy Southern Thai dishes. Panisha converted from the hectic office lifestyle and diet, to become a food and nutrition enthusiast. Today she is a plant based eating devotee and trainer, endlessly experimenting with new ingredients. She will share about her journey, and why she believes plant based eating may be more simple than you believe.
The workshop and dinner is aimed at busy Thais who may not have time to do recipe research or spend hours cooking. Panisha has done her best to simplify a few of her favorite dishes, and is excited to share them with an open minded group. She hopes all of the participants walk away more confident in their ability to create healthy, nutritious meals at home.
The dishes include:
1. Spicy Smoked Eggplant Dip, Nam Prik Ma Kua Yao น้ำพริกมะเขือยาว
2. Spicy Mushroom Salad, Yum Hed Ruam ยำเห็ดรวม
3. Stir Fried Red Curry with Tempeh, Tempeh Pad Prik Kaeng เทมเป้ผัดพริกแกง
4. Essential Veggie Soup, Kaeng Jued แกงจืดหมูก้อนวีแกน
5. Coconut Snowballs, Kanom Tom ขนมต้ม
The cost to participate in this inaugural plant based cooking class is 1000 baht per person. The dinner is limited to 15 participants and takes place in Panisha’s home in Sukhumvit 101/1. Book your seat by sending your bank transfer receipt to line id panisha_p. Detailed directions will be sent to all confirmed guests.
Among Bangkok’s street food, you might call them the ‘traffic jam’ bananas.
And if you’ve ever been to Bangkok’s old town, you likely know exactly the sweet, deep fried, and super crispy bananas we mean. In this historic part of the city it isn’t uncommon to be at a busy intersection and see vendors selling bags of fried bananas while wading out into the oncoming traffic. Often this takes advantage of traffic already at a standstill in Bangkok, but hungry motorist can also be blamed for creating a traffic jam while lining up for fried bananas as well!
But Bangkok’s most controversial street food snack isn’t too difficult to make at home. We’ve been testing our recipe in the Courageous Kitchen, making adjustments each time, to make it easy for you to follow at home. All you need to do is gather the ingredients for your batter, and find ripe bananas.
In Thailand, the task of gathering quality bananas a bit easier thanks to the biodiversity of the banana plants grown around country. Thailand is home to nearly 30 types of banana, with many of the popular ones available in local fresh markets and grocery stores. Arriving from farms all over the country, the bananas appear in different shapes and sizes, unfamiliar to people who are used to the limited options in the West. Thais instead have the luxury of choosing between ‘kluay hom’ fragrant bananas, chubby sweet ‘nam va’ banana, and creamy ‘kluay kai’ bananas, to name a few.
Don’t worry if you don’t have many choices, and remember sweet plantains can also be used. Go for whichever bananas you can find, and prep them to fry just as they begin to ripen. Act quickly, however, because if you let them get too ripe, they may become too soft and mushy. This makes the bananas more difficult to work with and you reduce your chances of a crispy end product.
Slice your bananas long and finger length to make them easy to eat. As you slice them you can drop them into the batter and they’ll be ready to fry. Fry until golden brown, and drain. You’ll have accomplished your mission if your fried bananas are still crunchy and tasty after they have cooled down.
bananas – 1 kg of bananas (1 bunch) cooking oil – 1 liter coconut milk – 2 cups rice flour – 1 cup sticky rice flour – 1/4 cup tapioca starch – 1/2 cup sugar – 2 tbsp salt – 1 tbsp shredded coconut – 1 cup baking powder – 2 tsp white sesame – 1 tsp black sesame – 1 tsp (optional to mix white and black or 2 tsp of either will work as well) powdered sugar (optional for garnish)
Fried Banana Instructions:
Heat your oil in a deep wok or pot. The oil is ready when it is over 100 degrees celsius (210F)
Mix dry ingredients, except your shredded coconut and sesame.
Add coconut milk and whisk well. The texture shouldn’t be overly watery or dry, similar to pancake batter.
Finally, add your coconut and sesame. Spread evenly, but don’t mix thoroughly, because we want these ingredients to coat the banana as you dip them and not get stuck at the bottom of your mixing bowl.
Dredge your bananas, allowing the excess batter to fall back into the bowl. Then drop into the oil.
Cook for 3-5 minutes, flipping occasionally until golden brown.
Rest to cool and allow excess oil to run off. If desired, decorate with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Note: Keep in mind the temperature may vary for different types of oil. If your bananas are taking too long, you may want to increase the temperature.
What makes Thai fried bananas so special?
The Thai fried banana may be more unique than others you have tried around the world. This is likely because of the widespread street food culture, and the availability of fresh ingredients. The best vendors in Bangkok, along with having a great selection of flavorful banana species, likely also utilize fresh shredded coconut and fresh coconut milk in their frying batter.
The ingredients add to the fragrance of the snack, and lend some stretchy density to the crust in each bite. The snack holds up, retaining it’s crunch even long after being removed from your frying pan or wok. In our cooking classes, this means guests can pair the fried banana with ice cream, or if they’re super full take them home and enjoy them later.
What if I don’t have the shredded coconut?
You can make this recipe without the coconut, but coconut lends both fragrance and texture to the snack. We used fresh shredded coconut, but understand most people may only be able to find dehydrated coconut flakes.
The bananas will cook a lot faster without the coconut in the batter. So pay attention to them while they’re in the oil, and adjust the cooking time as needed.
What can I do with the leftover batter?
We have used the same batter to fry mushrooms, chili, sweet potato, and pumpkin. If you have more veggies or fruit you want to give a whirl while your oil is hot, give it a try! However, since it’s is coconut milk based it usually does not last long, nor does it reheat well. For these reasons when there’s leftover batter, we make the most of it by frying up whatever we have in the fridge. For more savory vegetables, enjoy them with sriracha or the spicy hot sauce of your choice.
Why is this Bangkok’s most controversial street food snack?
In a city where you can find deep fried scorpions on a stick, it may be a shock to learn Bangkok’s most controversial street food is also one that’s easy to eat. However, people’s affection for the street food bananas, and how portable they are, definitely factor into all of the hype and controversy you may not have known about if you live outside of Bangkok.
For years the local city municipalities have tried to end the practice of walking into traffic to sell the bananas. This happens at big intersections in old town, and at the traffic light in front of Bangkok’s Nung Lerng Market.
For the most part, in the public eye and even with authorities like the Thai Royal Police who are tasked with enforcing rules against such vending, opposition to the sales have been mixed. Police have been known to feign enforcement, only to work out a separate deal with the vendors themselves (with a few free bags of fried bananas thrown in we’re sure).
However, the tide may finally be turning as street food everywhere in Bangkok has taken a hit since government crackdowns began in 2018. More enforcement from the government means fewer spaces to vend, and more intense competition with nearby competitors, displacing some vendors and eventually driving others out of business. Like all vendors around the city, even those who could be considered the most menacing are facing an uncertain future over the next few years.
This month don’t miss, Ladakh – Land in the Clouds, a special photography exhibition in Bangkok. The exhibition is by David Simon, an expat living in Bangkok who leads adventurous motorcycle tours when he’s not teaching at a local international school. As with David’s tours, the photographs also attempt to take viewers on an adventurous journey through the stunning Indian countryside.
The focus of the photographs is the province of Ladkh, India. David considers the area one of the most beautiful on earth. Unfortunately, despite the raw natural beauty of the surroundings, few people know about Ladakh, because conflict in the region has also made it one of the world’s most disputed areas.
The exhibition launch will be held March 14th, from 4pm until 6pm. The prints will be on display throughout Cajutan Swedish Restaurant, and cost 2,500 each to purchase. Following the launch event, guests are invited to enjoy a sunset drink on the Cajutan rooftop.
Proceeds from the sale of prints will go to benefit Courageous Kitchen’s work with marginalized communities in Bangkok. The support is particularly timely as the impact of the coronavirus has crippled the organization’s social enterprise offering Thai cooking classes to tourists.
We’re excited to share with you an upcoming promotion we’re having with an Indian brunch restaurant in Bangkok called Cuppachai. The colorful, newly opened spot is catching the attention of Bangkokians with their unique spin on Indian favorites. This Valentine’s Day the restaurant is kicking off a special afternoon tea called “High Chai” which will benefit Courageous Kitchen.
Cuppachai is interesting if you’re a foodie. The restaurant is located in central Bangkok at the base of El Patio Condominium (Sukhumvit 31) which is a part of town with an abundance of food choices. Cuppachai’s menu is funky and features Chef Vishvesh Nadkarni’s versions of favorites from around India. For example, Calcutta favorite Indori poha made with flattened rice, a vegetarian beetroot sandwich from Mumbai’s Iranian shops, and Goan pulao fused with local tastes by subbing in Chiang Mai sausage.
Cuppachai’s latest special, however, brings Indian flavors to the British high tea tradition. During High Chai you can enjoy a special tea set for two, from 12pm-5pm with all of the following:
Earl grey and date scones with clotted cream and Courageous Kitchen roselle jam
Kachumber and raita sandwich, akuri tofu sandwich, and two classic Mumbai samosas
Halwa macaroons, fruit puff pastries, coconut-chocolate ladoos, and gulab jamun cheesecake
Housemade masala chai, or the tea of your choice
That’s right, we’ve contributed to the sweet and savory set platter with our own homemade cinnamon and roselle jam. We make a variety of jams, especially in the low season when there are fewer customers for our Thai cooking class, but one of our favorites is made from the gelatinous petals of the rosella hibiscus. We sweeten and slightly spice the petals to make a jam that is reminiscent of a cranberry jam, but lighter and never bitter. In the future we’ll contribute other flavors depending on what fruit is in season.
However, the food is not the full story in this case. The owners of the restaurant have also volunteered with Courageous Kitchen in the past to teach English, take children to the hospital, and to have fun in the kitchen with our students too. On one memorable occasion, they taught a group of students popular Indian street food snacks like vada pav and pani puris. The students had a blast getting their hands messy making the puris and always appreciate a chance to taste something new. Needless to say, there weren’t any leftovers!
We’re honored to participate in this collaboration. A portion of the proceeds from people ordering the tea sets will be donated back toward our charity work, and we hope to collaborate more with Cuppachai in the future as well. Of course, you don’t have to have afternoon tea to support Courageous Kitchen. Join us in an upcoming cooking class or make a donation in support of our work with marginalized children.
Happy eating and don’t forget to share this article with a friend visiting Bangkok!
Traveling with kids is difficult enough, don’t let meal times be any more stressful than necessary. To help you, we’ve taken the feedback from guests visiting our kids cooking class in Bangkok, to create a free menu to make ordering food for your kids easier on your next trip to Thailand.
When your children enjoy the food in the country you’re visiting, it can change the entire dynamic of your trip. This is especially true for Thailand, where many of the travelers come specifically to enjoy all of the spicy and full-flavored Thai dishes. However, for those new to Thai cuisine or traveling with small children, figuring out what to order can be daunting.
How to Order Thai Food Kids Enjoy
If you’re planning your trip to Bangkok, you may already be thinking about what to order your kids. One of the common issues is ordering food that isn’t going to set flame to the tastebuds of your little ones. There is plenty of delicious Thai food that isn’t spicy, but you may come up with only a short list reading travel blogs and tips from writers who don’t stay in the country long.
You also need to understand spice in Thailand isn’t a novelty like in other countries. There are seldom chili eating competitions nor much bravado associated with your ability to eat spicy food. That’s because spicy food is the norm in Thailand, and not the exception.
Remember the crisis in Thailand when members of a youth football team were trapped deep in a cave? When they asked the trapped students (many of them from marginalized people groups like the ones Courageous Kitchen serves) what they most wanted to eat, they responded, ‘pad krapao’. This well-loved Thai dish can appear on the menu simply as ‘stir fried basil with pork’. However, some English menus may neglect to mention this dish is usually made with a healthy heaping of chili, where even the mildest versions can be a shock to those unaccustomed to spicy food!
Now that may sound delicious to you, but unless your kids are Thai, they may not be craving a face full of chili as soon as they get off the plane. This means knowing a few milder dishes to order can be extremely helpful. Instead of ordering the aforementioned spicy pad krapao, you can simply order a plate of ‘pad see ew‘ (wok-fried rice nooodles with egg and chicken) instead. Since the dish isn’t spicy by nature, it makes it a much better choice and delicious for both parents and adults.
Knowing some Thai dishes is helpful, and any knowledge of Thai language comes in handy too. For instance, no guidebook or travel guide is complete without teaching you the phrase ‘mai ped‘, meaning ‘not spicy’ in Thai. Flip those words around and change the tones slightly, and you can ask ‘ped mai‘ or ‘is this spicy?‘ to people in restaurants or at street food stalls.
Already confused? Don’t worry, this isn’t a Thai lesson. However, we do hope parents understand before arriving, that communicating the needs of your children in local restaurants can be a monumental task. Although Thailand is a major destination for vacationers around the world, limited English ability by Thais can add miscommunication to the growing list of obstacles keeping you from feeding hangry kids.
Free English to Thai Menu for Parents
Kids Travel Menu for Thailand
Don’t struggle to order food for your kids in Thailand any more!
The kids menu isn’t only helpful for people with kids, but useful for anyone with food allergies, aversions to spicy food, and limited knowledge of Thai language.
To help ease communication issues parents are having, we’ve created a special one page kids menu that you can download. The menu is created using dishes common in restaurants around Thailand, that are also friendly for kids because they’re not overly spicy. Some dishes may even be similar to food options you have in your home country.
Of course, not every restaurant will have all of the dishes we’ve listed. However, our hope is that with a little assistance communicating you’ll find that even restaurants who don’t, will often willingly do their best to make something tasty for your kids.
In addition, with each food item we’ve included a brief English description and the corresponding Thai characters, as well as an abbreviated phonetic spelling for assistance pronouncing the words on your own.
Food Allergies in Thailand
Ordering in Thai restaurants takes another leap in difficulty if you’re also working around your child’s allergy. This may mean, for example, trying to prevent peanuts from being added to a dish like pad thai where they are commonly used to garnish the popular noodle dish. For this reason we’ve added a section to the menu download, specifically for making special requests including common food allergies translated into Thai.
Thailand is becoming friendlier for vegan and vegetarian travelers too. Much of this is due to the growth of local businesses offering solely meat free options, or existing restaurants hoping to attract new customers with more accommodating menu items. This is great news if you’re visiting the big cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. However, when exploring out of the city centers, you should be ready to communicate your dietary restrictions to street food vendors and restaurants you visit.
This is because often Thai food includes what we refer to as ‘sneaky meat’. To get the umami flavors that make the food stand out, cooks are often using meat based sauces and stocks to season food. For example, dishes you may already love such as pad thai and pad see ew are both commonly made with fish sauce. A noodle dish may appear to be meat free, but you can’t assume it is, just because there isn’t any meat cooked in the dish that you can identify easily. Instead, using the right terminology when you order can prevent these problems!
Finally, we know this won’t solve every problem with ordering. You still don’t want to leave home without a smartphone with translation apps and internet access. You can also never underestimate the value of having a local friend. While this simple menu won’t replace your Thai friends, it may make you a little more adventurous on days when you’re not with a guide or friend to give you a hand.
Happy travels to all the parents reading, we hope the entire family enjoys your time in Thailand. If you found this information helpful, please consider making a donation to help us feed and educate those in need.