Vegetarian travel: 5 must-try dishes from South-East Asia and Japan

Jenni Shaw

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To celebrate National Vegetarian Week, Flash Pack events director and seasoned globe-trotter Jenni Shaw chooses her favourite meat-free dishes from south-east Asia and Japan

At Flash Pack HQ there is always much excitement when a new trip is launched. We huddle around our funky reclaimed boardroom table, tasty snacks at the ready, whilst the product manager in charge proudly unveils yet another awesome itinerary.

vegetarian travel
Jenni learns to make tempeh in Bali

As the presentation comes to an end, we are all chomping at the bit to ask our questions and it’s at this point that I jump in with my “broken record” request – “Is this one suitable for veggies?”

As a long-time vegetarian foodie, I make it my mission to explore the meat-free scene on offer in places all over the world. Here – in reverse order – are the top five veggie dishes I relish from South-East Asia and Japan:

5. Phở chay, Vietnam

vegetarian travel

Coming in at number five, we have a simple yet oh-so delicious dish from Vietnam in the form of traditional phở (rice noodle soup).  You have to be careful when ordering in Vietnam, as they can often think that using beef broth but just removing the actual chunks of meat makes the dish vegetarian. If you ask for phở chay, though, you are usually good and will get a hearty bowl of perfectly al dente noodles with a fiery chilli kick and lots of green veggies. If you’re lucky there may also be some cheeky slithers of tofu or tempeh in there.

4. Chaa kay nah, Cambodia

vegetarian travel

Number four on my list is from just across the border; a Cambodian delicacy known as chaa kay nah (or Chinese kale, for those us not yet fluent in Cambodian).  Perhaps best placed as a side dish, this is just kale flash-fried in the wok with some sesame oil. It’s served crunchy, often with some added chill and a few cashew nuts for texture.  It’s a simple one but super-delicious.

3. Gado-gado, Indonesia

Vegetarian travel

Next up, we’re hopping over to Indonesia for some gado-gado.  Simply translated, this means “mix-mix” and is a mixture of vegetables and brown rice served with the most delectable peanut sauce.  Both sweet and salty at the same time, this sauce is enough to elevate even the plainest of vegetables and is ridiculously moreish. Gado-gado became a daily staple during my time in Indonesia.

2. Miso aubergine, Japan

vegetarian travel

My second favourite global veggie dish is fast becoming a staple on many menus across London, and around the world. I am cheating a little as I haven’t actually been to its country of origin. But having sampled it in many a Japanese eatery, I felt like I could include it in this list.  I am, of course, talking about the humble miso aubergine.

Miso (a fermented soy bean paste) is mixed with soy sauce and smothered over an aubergine before slowly baking to let the gorgeous umami flavours sink in. I have spent many a Sunday afternoon attempting to recreate this deliciousness, and I believe I now have the perfect method (scroll down to see my recipe, below).

1. Sweet tempeh, Indonesia

vegetarian travel

Finally, we get to the top dog; the vegetarian dish to beat all others,  I am not exaggerating when I say that this Indonesian speciality has entered my dreams on a weekly (if not nightly) basis since I discovered it on my recent Flash Pack recce trip to Bali.  A clear front-runner for me as the ultimate veggie meal, it’s sweet tempeh; or tempeh goreng.

Oh my goodness, I cannot tell you how amazingly yummy and satisfying tempeh is.  We made it on our cookery experience and I am pleased to say that it is super-easy to recreate at home.  Tempeh, if you’re not familiar with it, is made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans which are then formed in to a patty; similar in some ways to a firm tofu.  It is then chopped up and deep-fried to make it a bit crispy before being stir-fried in a sweet soy and chilli sauce.  The sweet, sticky and spicy flavours dance on your tongue and make you want more and more of this delicious delight (yes, I’m a bit obsessed!)  If you are yet to try this then I urge you to give the below recipe a whirl and let me know your thoughts.

Two  brilliant world veggie recipes

So you’ve seen my top five veggie dishes from around the world; now here’s my tried-and-tested recipes for my two favourites…

Miso aubergine

vegetarian travel

You will need…

  • 1 x medium aubergine
  • 2tsp white miso paste
  • 1tsp runny honey
  • 1tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tsp sesame oil
  • 1tsp grated ginger
  • 2 chopped spring onions
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds


  • Slice the aubergine in half and score the flesh in a diamond pattern, then lay on a baking sheet, flesh side up
  • Mix the miso, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and garlic with two tablespoons of water to make a paste
  • Brush over the aubergine flesh
  • Roast for 25 mins until golden brown
  • Sprinkle with spring onions and sesame seeds and serve immediately

Sweet tempeh

vegetarian travel

You will need…

  • 100g tempeh
  • 50ml coconut oil
  • ½ small red or green chilli (chopped into small pieces and seeds removed)
  • 2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
  • ½ tsp fresh grated ginger
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • pinch of salt


  • Cut the tempeh in to thin slices
  • Heat the coconut oil
  • Once the oil is hot enough to deep fry, add the tempeh slices until brown and crunchy
  • Remove from the oil and drain on to some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil
  • Add the ginger, sugar, 1tsp of the leftover oil, soy sauce, chilli and salt to a pan
  • Add the tempeh and mix together until it’s well-combined and each piece of tempeh is covered in the sticky sauce
  • Serve immediately

Images: Jenni Shaw and Shutterstock




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