Thais are typically Theravada Buddhists, which while the religion frowns on harming of animals does not involve the strict practise of vegetarianism. Many older Chinese Thais on the other hand are either Mahayana Buddhists or the more recent Santi Asoke sect Buddhists.
For the Asoke movement vegetarianism is one of the most important practices, so much so that they operate not for profit restaurants staffed by volunteer workers in Bangkok and other provincial capitals around Thailand as a way of making merit and promoting their values.
How to Find the The Bangkok Vegetarian Society (ชมรมมังสรวิรัติแห่งประเทศไทย)
I must confess, we got lost a few times trying to find The Vegetarian Society, Google maps wasn’t a help putting it a few kilometres away from Chatuchuck market in what was obviously the wrong location (something that is all to common in Thailand, and Laos I’ve found due to incorrect romanisation of their language). It seems that most of the online guides, well aren’t that clear in their descriptions of how to find the place, although the Eating Thai Food blog eventually pointed us into what was close to the right direction (The post was written in 2011, and theres been a lot of development in the area recently, so some of the directions won’t make as much sense anymore!).
Take a bus, taxi or MRT to Chatuchuck Market, go to the Kampheng Phet Station across the road by the Market and next to the new InDesign mall.
Find Exit #1 facing the Marketing Organisation for Farmers “Or Tor Kor” Market and turn to your right (do not cross the road and go to the market like some guides say, if you do this you’ve gone too far – although it is a great market to be covered in a future blog post).
You should see a bunch of antique stores along the road, and a large garden centre will be across the road from you. Keep going along the road until you come to a side soi that is unmarked by any road signs.
On one side will be a pet store, and the other side will be a (now closed down) antiques store that is referred to in other posts – Roy Antiques.
Walk down a very sketchy looking soi that looks like its full of slums, demolished buildings and workers huts. There should be a couple of Thai style night clubs on the left and the rear parking lot of the new Index Living Mall on the right. Turn the corner at the end of the soi and…
… you’ll spot a small two story building with shops out the front, the odd female buddhist monk shopping, and lots of yellow signs with Thai and Chinese script on them. Shops will all have the letter “J” on them, which sounds like the Thai word for vegan food. You’ve found the place!
Wasn’t Mike a founding member of the University of Auckland Meat Club.
Yes I was, pleased to meet you, with meat to please you..
Why on earth is he at a vegetarian restaurant?
First let me state this clearly. I’m a meat eater, I love my steaks, I love my bacon, and the whole idea of eating a vegetarian meal, let alone going to a vegan food court in Bangkok would have seemed quite unnatural to me just a few months ago. Heck, my mum used to have to fight with me to get me to even eat my greens at dinner.
So what changed? Well I met a great woman, who well, doesn’t eat meat… not for any crazy hippy reasons, but for the fact that well, it just doesn’t agree with her. Add to this the ridiculously bad hygiene when it comes to storage and sale of meat products in Bangkok, and well, I’m happy to be a temporary vegetarian unless I’m in a decent restaurant or I know where the meats come from!
I have however learned that you can cook some freaking good food without lots of meat, and I’m going to stick with quality over quantity from now on!
So, Tell Me About the Food
The first thought that came to mind was – “What the hell do you mean vegan food court, theres bloody meat right over there”… followed by “What is this sorcery?”. You see, it turns out that these crazy vegans have been practising some sort of culinary black magic.
Yes, the plate to the left looks like it has a mixture of Chinese style pork and chicken in it doesn’t it. Well, thats where you (and I) would be wrong. And while I still find it strange that the vegetarians are all against GE, yet they can condone this – its imitation meat, made of, I think soy products and something called seitan (something made of wheat husks apparently), and while not tasting like meat, I was definitely impressed.
The food court has a full range of Thai dishes, all made “Jay” that is vegan style, without any meat products, dairy or eggs. You can get everything from rice dishes, curries, salads, noodle dishes soups and more, and of course, there was always the option of mystery meat that well, isn’t meat.
The food court (like many in Thailand) runs on a voucher system, so we got 200 baht worth of vouchers to feed the two of us, upon getting our 80 Baht Refund (and finding another 10 baht voucher when we got home) we realised that we’d fed ourselves for 110 Baht which is amazing value, even in Bangkok. For this we got (free) water, spring rolls with vegan meat and bean sprouts, tom kha with vegan chicken, laab with vegan pork, samosas with vegan chicken and a plate of vegan pork, vegan chicken, tofu dumplings, something square made out of spinach and some morning glory.
Market Stalls & Vegetarian Supermarket
Sarah’s been hanging out to buy some more interesting vegetarian food, and lets face it, you don’t have a lot of options at the 7/11 or Tesco Lotus.
You can get vegan ham…
Or vegan duck…
Or vegetarian fish, for when you can’t take those silly pescetarians seriously.
All in all I think we ended up spending about 1000 baht (3 times our weekly vegetable shopping budget at the local Thewes wet market) but got our moneys worth walking home with vegan, vegetarian or organic:
- Vegan fish balls
- Vegan fish slices
- Vegan salty fish
- Vegan hot dogs
- Bottles of fresh passionfruit, aloe vera and guava juice
- Organic soaps
- Organic cooking oils
- Vegan massaman, penang and red curry pastes
- Organic Lip Balms
- Organic deodorants
- Organic washing liquids
- Some pretty cool wooden massage things
- And lots more healthy stuff that keeps Sarah happy!
Considering all the random crap, including MSG, formeldahyde and god knows what else that ends up in Thai “fresh food”, and the terrible hygiene you start to notice when you’ve been living here for a while, places like this are amazing, even for those of us who are meat eaters, or just trying to eat a bit healthier than say, pork on a stick from the side of the road.
Its not easy to find for first timers, but the food court food is amazing, and the products in the supermarket are definitely going to be interesting to try.
We are off to Tops Mart in Pinklao to track down some mustard, mayonnaise and hot dog buns for some vegetarian hot dogs tonight, wish me luck!