Living and Eating the Vegan Dream
In the spirit of living the vegan dream, we signed up for a whole month of island living on the beautiful island of Koh Bulon Lae in the South of Thailand…A month on this island may not be for everyone as there is very little to do here plus the prices reflect the fact that everything has to be brought in by boat meaning that some budget travellers might find the costs spiralling after a while. But for us, it’s paradise – a clear warm turquoise sea, a coral reef that you can swim to just offshore, white sand, lush jungle and enough friendly people to fill both your day and night idly chatting about the weather or what the tide or the moon is up to. Life is simple and simple is good.
The food on the island is also particularly good and there are so many opportunities to eat great vegan food that it feels fraudulent to suggest there has been any kind of ‘quest’. People here are used to westerners and seem happy to adapt anything on the menu for a travelling vegan with a few small Thai phrases.
The multiple Vegan Food Quest Successes have in the large part resulted from the exceptional care and attention of the staff at Pansand Resort, which has been Vegan Food Quest HQ for the month of February. I’d highly recommend this place, and for anyone who has any kind of dietary requirement the staff in the kitchen always seemed very happy to answer questions about the food and can tell you about different (not on the menu) foods in Thailand that you should try. As a food enthusiast and the resident greedyguts here at the Vegan Food Quest, I found it really interesting talking with them about local foods and how they are produced and of course eating each delicious thing they cooked for me.
A few of the Lovely staff at Pansand Resort
Some of my favourite dishes at Pansand Resort which made vegan island living easy and joyful were:
Vegetable Green Curry with Tofu
The Vegetable Tofu Green Curry at Pansand Resort has quickly replaced Khanom Krok as my latest food addiction (partly because their are no Khanom Krok vendors on the island and partly because it’s so tasty). This vegan version of one of Thailand’s most famous dishes is not usually on the menu but the staff here are so helpful that they order tofu in from the mainland meaning I get to have a regular tofu fix (which makes me very happy indeed). It’s hard to describe how good this curry is, fragrant with Thai basil leaves, spicy hot with chilli, creamy smooth with coconut milk. I like nothing more than to eat all the veg and tofu with my rice then finish off the leftover curry like a soup. I keep thinking I will get sick of eating it but it never disappoints so I keep ordering it and eating it over and over like a blissful circle of green curry indulgence.
Thick Curry with Vegetables & Tofu
I’m not sure of the Thai name for this but I’ve seen it described like this on a few menus in Thailand. The Pansand Resort ‘Thick Curry’, veganised by replacing the seafood with tofu, really is divine. The sauce is rich with coconut milk, it’s spicy and fragrant with lime leaves which are scattered over the top and I can’t believe that after many previous visits to Thailand I’ve never spotted this dish (so you’ll understand that I had a lot of catching up to do and had to eat a lot of this amazing curry), plus as I’ve been reading a lot about the health benefits of coconut I’m even happier to be eating another curry packed full of creamy coconut goodness.
After our experience of ‘award winning Pad Thai’ in Bangkok, other Pad Thais have their work cut out for them, but Pansand Resort ‘vegetable tofu pad Thai no egg’ (as I have named it) claims an easy victory as my favourite noodle dish on the island. Tasty noodles, that miraculously don’t stick together but aren’t dripping with oil, generous chunks of stir fried tofu and crunchy fresh vegetables (usually carrot, spring onion, white cabbage, often cauliflower) and a subtle sweet flavouring that should in my opinion always be added to by a squeeze of lime (which you should find on the side of your plate). I also now have the chance to tell you about my new found love of the pickled chilli. On previous visits to Thailand I have always been too scared to delve into the condiments that always come with a Pad Thai, a little carousel of sugar (of course, apparently there is always room for more sugar here), flaked dried chilli, some kind of fish sauce concoction (obviously not vegan so avoided) and pickled red chillies in white vinegar. Thai food can be exceptionally hot and I’d never normally dream of adding extra chilli to a dish, but these pickled chillies aren’t hot at all and so can be liberally sprinkled over your noodles meaning that every now and again the gorgeous sweetness of a pad Thai is complemented by a slightly zingy pickled chilli. They are seriously addictive and should definitely be tried at every opportunity (a rule which I strictly adhered to meaning that I ate a significant number of these little delights during our month on Bulone).
Living on a tropical island does tend to have the affect of slowing down activity to an almost standstill. When you have a hammock to laze in, an ocean to gaze at, waves to listen to or a beach to wander along, it can be hard to muster the energy to move but Bulone is a beautiful little island with a village and a few other resorts so there is a sense of life out there beyond the hammock.
When we did muster the energy to move, it’s easy to discover that elsewhere on the island, there are other restaurants that also cater pretty well for a wandering and hungry vegan. My favourite discoveries:
Laab Tofu at Bulone Resort
Not the most peaceful of places at mealtimes on account of the hoards of people coming in from time on the beach with the kids, a visit Bulone Resort to try their Tofu Laab Salad is however essential for any vegan (or vegetarian or tofu loving human being for that matter). Fried tofu is cubed or diced then tossed in fresh herbs such as coriander and mint, with juicy sliced shallots, crushed fresh cloves of garlic, lime juice, sliced and whole chillies (consumption of these is only for the brave) and tiny pieces of coarsely ground roasted rice that give this dish it’s distinctive texture. This is normally a meat based dish and to find a veganised version on the menu is a real treat (they are used to westerners here).
Vegetable Pad Phet at Chao Ley restaurant
This restaurant in the village does a really good selection of veggie and vegan dishes and the Vegetable Pad Phet is a favourite of the regulars there as well as now being a Vegan Food Quest favourite with TravelMush and I. It’s a mild coconut based yellow curry, fragrant with lime leaves and not really very spicy. Made with a great assortment of vegetables that leave you feeling full up as well as healthy at the end of eating, it’s one of those dishes that feels comforting and nourishing at the same time.
Som Tam, or Green Papaya Salad, is my go to dish when I’m feeling like something light and healthy. It certainly wakes you up with the fresh chilli pounded into the dressing being one of those addictive experiences where you just have to keep eating before the spiciness consumes you. Some may say it would be wise to ask for it with no chilli but then you wouldn’t really get the whole Som Tam experience which often leaves me speechless (much to Travel Mush’s delight). Crunchy from the shredded green papaya and the roasted peanuts with a sweet, spicy, lime and crushed garlic dressing, my love affair with this salad will never tire and Bulone Resort do make a very good vegan one (if not slightly stingy as far as size goes).
Our month on Bulone flew by, full of eating and laughter and sunshine. I miss lazing in my hammock already and wandering along the beautiful beach bumping into friends and catching up on the island gossip. I miss the staff at Pansand Resort who made our stay so enjoyable and kept me full of food… A way to this vegans heart if definitely through my stomach and so I’ll been going back again I’m sure.