Aside from appealing to families and anyone looking to chill out on a white sand beach during the day, without thumping music and fire shows lighting up the night, Srithanu on Koh Phangan also attracts yogis, people who are looking for (or have found) personal and spiritual awareness, and vegans. It’s a quaint little town, with a sleepy beach and shallow turquoise waters, an abundance of yoga and health retreats, and a cluster of veggie and vegan restaurants.
On previous two week holidays in Thailand we couldn’t understand how anyone could eat anything other than Thai food while there. But when you’ve adoringly gobbled it up for two months and know you’re still going to get lots more, the prospect of western purposely made vegan food is Night Before Christmas exciting. So, after consulting Happy Cow, we decided that Srithanu was the perfect place to base ourselves for our two week trip to Koh Phangan. While we weren’t introspecting much more than considering what we felt like eating, meaning we weren’t aligned with a lot of other (yogi, healer or healed) restaurant patrons, here’s a food lover’s summation of the vegan eating spots we filled up at:
1. Orion Cafe
We started our journey to vegan Mecca at the Orion outpost. Having eaten so many stir-fries, curries and spicy papaya salads since being in Thailand, we couldn’t look much past the word “burger” on the menu, without our eyes glazing over. So we immediately opted to share a falafel burger and a mushroom burger. We weren’t disappointed – they were delicious, and we felt joyous and lucky while chomping on burgers, looking out across the bay. The side salads didn’t go down as well – one because it was packed with parsley, which neither of us can stomach, and the other because it had the course texture of shredded lime leaves, without much taste. The dressings were creamy and yummy, but we couldn’t get far past the other bits, so couldn’t through them all.
Also, we’re vegans for compassionate reasons, and not yoga / health reasons – we feel good about eating a burger that tastes amazing (without causing any animal suffering), and also happens not to have the associated heart, diabetes and cancer risks that it’s meaty and cheesy counterparts do, but we do enjoy a side of fries, which are, of course, missing from a menu at a yoga retreat.
Our little tot sampled the falafels, but gave them a One Bite rating – they weren’t the kebab shop falafels she’s used to from London. (In a burger they worked well though as they weren’t dry and, with the salad and sauces, they tasted great.)
On a separate day we picked up a take-away wrap, which had some kidney beans, salad, guacamole (which I didn’t manage to detect) and a great creamy sauce. It was nice, bordering on meh, and not something I’d order again. The burgers were much better.
2. Karma Kafe
One scorching hot day, when we didn’t have the energy to walk very far for lunch, we stopped in at Karma Kafe and it offered a great retreat from the heat, with 3 open sides, and some little water ponds. However, (non-vegans roll your eyes now) I was disappointed that a restaurant would write “cruelty free” as a selling point on its menu, yet have fish in tiny ponds; not very cruelty free from the point of view of the fish who’re designed to swim much further than they can in these concrete prisons. Just having the water and plants would have given just as good – or better for those of us who noticed the fishes’ predicament – feeling of tranquility.
With my back to the fish, I absolutely loved our meal. They managed to make healthy taste indulgent. We started with quesadillas stuffed with cashew cheese, peppers and aubergines that were rich and creamy, and left you reminiscing about them as soon as you left. We also had pumpkin, sweet potato and black bean burritos, with a side salad. This dish got the “more” stamp of approval from our little tot, who merrily tucked into forkfuls of pumpkin and beans. It was tasty and super satisfying, and a big enough portion that we all got to “mmmm” over a good few bites before it ended. The last item in our feast was ‘tacos’ consisting of beetroot falafels and salad in red cabbage cups, with a coconut cream sauce. Aside from the falafels being a little dry and crumbly, I loved it as there was loads of the slightly sweet sauce, offset by the crisp, slightly peppery cabbage, but my hubby wasn’t a fan of the coconut sauce because of its sweetness.
One thing we discovered with lots of these modern hippyish restaurants in Srithanu is how great it is, with a toddler in tow, to sit on cushions on the floor at low tables, giving the tot freedom to venture out and explore in between bites. And it’s also easier to make friends, when everyone’s at toddler eye level – she tootled off, with her crayons and pad, to a table where 2 boys were sitting with their mum, and a 3-way drawing session ensued. And this was a momentous occasion as they happened to be her first vegan friends, not to mention South African, which is a very rare combination! Needless to say, we were very excited parents who nattered on about her First Vegan Friends all the way home, and she still points out the joint artwork in her pad, calling it “Vegan Drawing”! 😊
The quesadillas were too good to keep us away, so we went back to Karma Cafe again and couldn’t stop ourselves from re-ordering both those and the burrito. And we loved them both as much second time round.
This restaurant is a little way out of the main village of Srithanu – no problem if you have wheels, but if on foot and carrying a tot, you might want to save the walk for a cooler day. The set-up was welcoming and chilled, with nicely spaced outside tables at different heights. They have a vegetarian menu, with the vegan items clearly marked up.
We ate a shashuka, which was effectively a long rectangular pie, filled with spiced mushrooms and onions, with a tomato-chilli sauce on the side that was very scrummy. Hubby loved it; I liked it. We also had a falafel plate, which came with a pita, falafels, tahini and salad. The first thing I did was open the pita up and stuff everything in, and I stole a bit of the sauce from the other dish. While our falafel loving tot gave these ones a Single Bite and Refusal to Eat Any More rating, once they were all packed up in the pita with the salad and sauces I really enjoyed the meal. I did miss a bit of juicy hot sauce but, being a falafel fiend who has craved food like this for a while, it hit the spot.
When faced with all the other vegan restaurant options, whilst also still not being able to forego Thai food, we didn’t go back. If we’d been there longer though I’m sure we would have at some point.
4. Green Gallery
This is also a little further out of town, so easier to walk to in the evening, but it’s a great walk along a slightly junglish road. It’s a big space, with options to sit inside, against the backdrop of a poignant “As above, so below” tree and roots muriel, or dotted around the huge garden area. You can feel the vision and love that created this restaurant. That and the most amazing shish kebab you’ll ever eat got us going back 3 times – and we ordered the kebab each time! Unfortunately, while this dish was beyond epic, in flavour, feel and likeness to a slightly fatty lamb kebab (something my hubby lusts after since going from full-on meat eater to compassionate vegan a couple of years ago), and we wanted to love everything about this restaurant, not all the dishes were at the same level.
We also sampled the mushroom snitzel on potato and sweet potato mash and were in dreamland the first time we had it, with crumbed small mushrooms, but it wasn’t quite as good when we had it as it was intended, with a crumbed Portobello mushroom – maybe the mushroom just wasn’t as tasty; maybe we’d just eaten loads more non-Thai vegan food in between the two times we ate it. It was still a yummy dish, just not a jump up and down dish. As was the case with the tofu nuggets, potato croquettes, and Israeli salad we had across our three visits.
Unfortunately though the Pie-Shroom dish we had was awful – not sure how it could share a menu with the shish kebab! (We in fact didn’t eat it as it didn’t taste right or fresh and were given 50% off of it when it came to pay.)
That didn’t put us off going back though. When it came to our last night in Koh Phangan we needed to have that shish kebab one more time. And even eating it for a third time in close succession, it did not disappoint. It’s the dish those of us who enjoyed meat, before our eyes were opened and we simply could no longer eat it, dream of! I’m still drooling over the memory of it!
5. Eat Co
Now I’ve already gone on and on about a similar meal, but the kebab at Eat Co is also one of my all-time favourite vegan meals. Despite sharing the same name and idea, they’re both very different and as special and memorable. I have no idea how they get mushroom to emulate meat so perfectly, but the texture is spot on, and the barbecue flavouring they use is immense! It’s also effortless to eat and could just as easily fall into your mouth, as they chop the pita up into bite size bits and slather them with the scrummiest ‘meat’ you’ll ever eat, and loads of dreamy creamy sauces, so each forkful is balanced and scrumptious, without the usual obligation with a pita to munch a few fillingless bites to make your way to the juicy prize bites, or being left with a dry sauceless bite at the end. It’s epic!!
We also had the beetroot burger – not so much a burger as its served in a pita rather than a roll, but a hefty, hearty patty nonetheless. My only criticism is that it’s rather deconstructed (which isn’t my game when I have the idea of a burger in my head) with just a patty inside a pita (and some beautiful melted cheese for 40 Baht extra), and then the salad and sauce separate, but once you shovel the delicious chive cashew sauce and loads of crunchy salad in, you’ve got a party heading for your mouth. It’s also a very generous portion and so doesn’t finish too quickly and gives you time to marvel over every juicy bite.
So to conclude
If you’re after healthy food, interesting and tasty food, or a break from Thai food, and whether you’re just there for sun, sea and slurping up good food, spiritual and personal healing, or any other reason, give each of these restaurants a try, and do not leave Srithanu without treating yourself to both the shish kebab from Green Gallery and the kebab from Eat Co!