…also known as the Vegetarian Festival.
It’s an annual festival during the 9th lunar month that is celebrated in a number of South East Asian countries, including Thailand, where it means all kinds of things, but in Bangkok’s Chinatown especially a galore of veg food.
Thailand is actually a challenging country for vegetarians, not because traditional vegetarian dishes aren’t available but because unlike in some other veg-friendly Asian countries (India, Taiwan), the tradition of eating in such manner isn’t as fully developed and the ‘concept’ isn’t necessarily as well understood by the average person (particularly the ‘Western’ concept of vegetarianism). Although there are plenty of vegetable based dishes in Thai cuisine, they’ll usually include a dash of fish sauce here, a bit of meat stock there. This is because the type of Buddhism practiced in Thailand, Theravada, doesn’t per se prohibit eating meat, while the Mahayana tradition, encourages vegetarianism much more actively, which means that in the former monks are generally obliged to accept any food offered while in the latter they are expected to abstain from meat.
Although my family lived in Thailand back when I was a young child and we have visited many, many times, we somehow never made it to the Vegetarian Festival, in fact, I wasn’t really aware it existed. As luck would have it, this time I noticed an article in the Bangkok Times that mentioned the event was on from Oct 5-14, 2013 – just while we were there. So I was determined to give it a try, even if it meant missing out on a meal at Chamlong’s Asoke Food Court (an old fave of mine). We ended up going back – once myself (my return flight was a few days earlier) and several times my family, although they aren’t actually vegetarians.
There are a few things I learned thanks to this festival. Firstly, it’s not just Chinatown that serves up veg food during this week, but you’ll find it all over the city – and you’ll know, because any stall, stand or shop participating in the event will be flying red-yellow flags with one of these two symbols:
The first is the Thai word “jay” (เจ, sometimes also romanised as “je”; กินเจ/gin je being an alternative), the second is the Chinese version, meaning a person that eats no animal products whatsoever but also no garlic, onions and few other strong-tasting items that are not considered good for humans. The concept is religious, some online sources suggest it is derived from Jainism, other from Chinese Buddhism. In any case, it’s all about purifying your body and good karma, which is why many normally meat-eating Thai people (especially those from the Chinese community) participate in this week.
Other than eating a lot, the festival was also a fantastic place to take lots of photographs.
Temple goods, since this is a religious event after all:
And now all the yum, to make you hungry…
- Photologia: Austria in the Winter, Minus the Snow
- Photologia: Brick Lane Sundays (East London)
- Photologia: Bangkok, around and about
- Of Noina, Fallang and Som-o: Thailand, Revisited (Photologia)
- Photologia: A Glimpse of Islands (Greece)
- Photo Hodgepodge: Delhi – Vienna – London – Dublin
- Photologia: Around Vasant Vihar, New Delhi
- Back from Kashmir: A Bit of Travelogue with Photographs
- An Ode to Film Photography