This time last year I wrote a similar post on the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival… in not so great words. To sum up I figured that “if Scrooge and the Grinch collaborated on a festival it would be the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival. Scrooge with the vegetarian theme and The Grinch backing it with 10 long long days”. So I don’t like the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival but, as every year, it has arrived, and on this occasion I will try me best to embrace it. With forced enthusiasm we start the festival early sampling something simple from the new 7/11 vegetarian range, Japanese Gyoza. If anything was easily doable it was Gyoza. Not so different to any other vegetarian dumpling, spring roll, pao, momo… etc. It felt almost too easy, yet they failed miserably. They were horrible, very horrible, even when soaked in rice vinegar we still couldn’t salvage them. So this for me sums up the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival. It takes happy day-to-day foods and makes them horrible. So maybe the 7/11 snack selection isn’t the best example so to give the festival a fair chance I (reluctantly) join my p’sao (big sister) to explore the heart of the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival in Chinatown.
I Don’t Hate Vegetarian Food…
Again I must stress, I don’t hate vegetarian food, I only hate the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival food. There are even some veggie options I love. Vietnamese spring rolls (Goi Cuon) would be one of my all time favourite foods. They are vegetarian. I could live happily as a vegetarian in many countries around the world. Dam it, in India I could live as a vegan. Aloo (potatoes), channa (chickpeas), dahl (lentils). Then paneer wins over tofu any day. So don’t get me wrong, I would love to be excited about the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival, but there’s just so little to be excited about. “I can’t wait to get me some….. complete blank”. I now aim to fill this blank in Chinatown. My journey starts with delicious Indian foods running through my head thinking “this is what it could look like…” Dum Aloo (spiced potato curry), Mutter Paneer (pea and cottage cheese curry), Vegetarian Momos (fried dumplings). Fingers crossed.
Arriving to Chinatown we find a never-ending stretch of street food which on a normal day would have me giddy like a school kid… but today I fail to feign interest. The majority of foods look to be sweets and desserts which is no doubt cheating, as pretty much all desserts are vegetarian. The next common example was the deep fried snacks which again feel like cheating. Everything deep fried is delicious. So I was here to sample the famous vegetarian meals of the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival. We find a couple of empty chairs at a less busy hawker stall and take a place round a metal tin table. I leave P’sao to do the ordering. So within minutes five meals have arrived to the table, the equivalent of a Thai snack. I proceed to tentatively taste each dish. Success. One of them was nice. Four of them horrible, but one of them was nice. A veg soup, of sorts, with a pinch of pepper and coriander. I quickly steal it, along with the ginger dessert, then sit back sniggering as P’sao force feeds herself fake, rubbery prawns and other unappetizing weirdness.
The Silver Lining
With a tummy still grumbling we call next to one of Chinatown’s Better Restaurants hoping to find a more enticing selection of vegetarian foods. Again I was feeling positive for tasty food… and this time I wasn’t wrong. So the restaurant offers both the normal menu, along with a 2 page spread of ‘Kin Jay’ vegetarian foods. Again I leave the ordering to my P’sao “Just order something tasty?” Five steaming trays of Dim Sum arrive quickly to the table. “These don’t look vegetarian?”, “they’re not you told me to order something tasty…”. “I meant order something tasty from the vegetarian menu”. “There is nothing tasty on the vegetarian menu”. I find it hard to argue. Our visit to the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival wasn’t an overall success but I did get to eat something tasty. Five steaming baskets filled with tasty. “Aren’t you eating with me p’sao?” “No, I’m only eating vegetarian….” I refrain to ask why. So, bar the complete lack of tasty food at the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival in Chinatown, the journey is well worth it. Chinatown is alive, decorated in lights and banners, the sound of crashing symbols and dance of Chinese dragons. Definitely worth the visit.