On the 15th day of the waning of the 10th Lunar month many Thai people partake in the vegetarian festival of “Gin Je” (This year it was from October 5th – October 14th) In Phuket you can see the fairly gruesome spectacle of “mah song” people who believe they have been possessed by a god and as such are protected from injury or pain – they demonstrate this by piercing their body with everything from razor blades to fish hooks and perform acts such as walking across hot coals.
Hundreds of people now take part in this event and it has become quite a tourist attraction with people flocking to Phuket to watch the parades and the ever increasingly bizarre manner in which people prove their devotion through attempting to injure themselves.
In Bangkok however, things are a little tamer. People bring their shrines to the temples in Chinatown to be blessed, street stalls pop up selling all kinds of different vegetarian dishes and Chinese Operas are performed in the street. Many people I work with were celebrating the festival, and so I decided I would observe the 9 day vegetarian festival as well. I tried. I really, really tried!
What I hadn’t realized before deciding to observe the Jay practices is that it is not “vegetarian” in the Western sense of the word, rather it is Vegan. In addition to avoiding meat, no milk or eggs are permitted either.
Now, I am not a morning person and it is safe to say that my cappuccino (which is swiftly followed by a few double espressos) is the only thing that gets me through the breakfast shift at work. Don’t mention soya milk – it is just not the same!! But this is a small sacrifice to make and I was determined to do well so I persevered.
We had special vegan items available at work, from noodle dishes to vegetable stir fries and different tofu dishes which in addition to the generous salad bar made lunches pretty easy. I had to keep my eyes closed as I walked past the cheese counter but apart from that, it wasn’t too hard at all. In the evenings I had a salad or dim sum – so far so good.
On my day off I had planned to head into Chinatown but when it came to it I really didn’t fancy schlepping all the way to Yarowat road and instead found my way to an Organic restaurant called Sustaina in Phrom Phong where I had a fairly decent vegetable stir fry. I have since learned this didn’t count as it had onion inside which is also supposed to be abstained from along with garlic and other herbs/vegetables which are believed to inflame passions and lead to lustful thoughts which are also forbidden during the festival.
Oh well, at the time I felt very virtuous and it takes a bit more than some onion to make me feel lustful! I had noticed that Din Tai Fung (one of my favourite restaurants) had a special menu for those observing the festival and so this seemed like as good a spot as any for dinner although I was not excited at the thought of abstaining from my usual chilli crab and pork Xiao Long baos. I chose the mixed vegetable rice, a steamed spinach dish from the standard menu and some of the mushroom Xio long baos all of which were pretty decent and they even had a vegetarian chilli sauce (the usual one has fish sauce inside.)
Then disaster struck. After another abstemious morning of espressos and a lunch of avocado, carrot, sweet corn and beetroot salad a friend arrived unannounced from Singapore and decided we would head to Soul Food Mahanakorn for dinner. I knew immediately there was no way I was going to be able to resist the delicious Crab curry I had tried last time and so 3.5 days into the festival I broke.
We ordered Chiang Mai sausage, pomelo salad with prawns, THAT crab curry and pork larb. Even the damn cocktail I ordered had egg white in it!!! In fairness 3.5 days is pretty good for a first attempt (ok not really – who am I trying to kid?!) and I actually managed to keep the vegan lunches up for the rest of the week (although I cheated with my coffee and dinners!) I am determined that if I am still here next year I will last the whole 9 days and I will be better prepared for it! Here are some of my vegan meals, oh and my Soul Food Mahanakorn slip up!