A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

Jay 2008

Posted date:  September 30, 2008

 Praying at Wat Mangkorn, Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

Jay is the Chinese/Thai word for vegetarian, and from now until October 9th is the annual Ngaan Jay, Vegetarian Festival. To be honest though, it is quite possibly the most innacurately-named festival around. Although everything for sale in Thailand’s various Chinese districts during this period is entirely meat free, you’ll actually find very few, if any, actual vegetables. Just about everything is either some form of starch (noodles, rice, potatoes) or protein (soy).

In addition to a lack of vegetables, virtually everything is fried:

Buying meat-free food to take home during the annual Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

Another odd aspect of the festival is that Bangkok’s entire Chinese community seems to collectively decide that it’s not capable of cooking at home during the 10 days, and instead buys every meal ‘to go’ from a truly remarkable number of street stalls:

Buying meat-free food to take home during the annual Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

Nonetheless, if you’re willing to brave the potentially detrimental health risks of the Vegetarian Festival, it’s heaps of fun, and in Chinatown, everybody is involved. In Talat Mai, the main market alley, vendors who normally sell meat instead sell soy-based meat substitutes:Buying meat-free..meat during the annual Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

If you look closely, you’ll see veggie ground pork, veggie scallops, and even veggie pork stomach and intestines!

Across the way, even Nay Uan, normally one of the meatiest stalls around, goes jay, serving up tofu, soy protein and mushrooms in place of pork offal:

Nay Lek Uan serving veggie kuay jap, Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

Just next door, OK Phat Thai has ditched the epynomous dish and makes a variety of meat-free noodle stir-fries and vegtarian hoy jor:

Frying up vegetarian noodles on Thanon Yaowarat during the annual Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

But my favourite Vegetarian Festival dish is fried yellow wheat noodles, phat mee leuang:

Frying up vegetarian noodles on Thanon Yaowarat during the annual Vegetarian Festival, Bangkok

Fried yes, but also one of the only dishes that actually includes vegetables.

3 Comments for Jay 2008

There’s really nothing ‘odd’ about the takeaway food aspect of the Vegetarian Festival – it *is* a festival after all, which implies communal interaction. How can one participate in a festival if one is cooking and eating in solitude at home? Takeaway food stalls/outlets characterize the vegetarian festival in Penang as well …. and other festivals/celebrations around the world such as Ramadan in most Muslim countries, and Deepvali in India and Malaysia, and Chinese New Year in Malaysia at least, and Christmas in the Philippines. Also, as you know, temple celebrations in Thailand involve lots of takeaway food. For most cultures the sharing food is intertwined with the act of celebration. Nothing unusual about that.

The veggie festival stalls (quite a lot of them) in Siam Paragon Food Court feature lots and lots of vegetable dishes. I assembled an all-vegetable dinner there the other night with no problem.

I’m still not quite sure how one woman buying a bag of deep-fried taro to eat at home implies a great degree of ‘communal interaction’… Yes, temple celebrations in Thailand involve take home food, as well as stalls and snacks, but I was blown away by the number of people at this particular festival who appeared to have forgone cooking altogether and bought their meals from vendors to eat at home. I was told that perhaps people aren’t always sure what ingredients can or can’t be used under the strict guidelines of the ‘jay’ diet, so they just buy their food from the experts.

If you’re in town, I’d really suggest going to Talat Noi, it’s the most atmospheric area to take in the Vegetarian Festival.


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