Find yourself in Thailand at the end of September or beginning or October and puzzled by that ubiquitous yellow and red sign outside many restaurants? Don’t be: it’s a local sign for ‘jeh’ food, which loosely translates to the concept of veganism, trading in meat, fish and dairy for an entirely plant-based menu to celebrate one of Southeast Asia’s most thrilling, annual events – the vegetarian festival!
First celebrated on Phuket in 1825, the festival takes over Thailand’s largest island along with Bangkok’s Chinatown, with many a traveller flying in for the occasion. Anytime hunger kicks in during the nine-day festivities, you’ve got hundreds of delicious, veggie foods to choose from. Here are our favourites ones!
Yentafo: pink noodle soup
Originating in Chinese Hakka cuisine, this sweet and sour dish can be found in many Thai restaurants throughout the year, but the Chinatown vendors selling it from their roadside stalls during Thailand’s annual ‘veg fest’ have come up with an especially luscious version. Meat is replaced with mushroom-packed, soft tofu chunks that float in a distinctively pink broth. Yentafo gets its colour from the sauce of the same name, made from fermented red bean curd, and it can be prepared using a variety of different vegetables, from aubergines to bitter melon. Need carbs to fill you up? Don’t worry. A proper yentafo always comes with noodles.
Shaobing: filled pastries
Shaobing are an indulgent treat of the melt-in-your-mouth kind and to make the little, flaky flatbreads even more palatable, they’re cheap as chips. Pick up a bag of shaobing in either Bangkok or Phuket (virtually every second food vendor sells them) and nibble away on the go. Although the sugary type, filled with sweet mung beans, taro root or sesame paste is usually eaten for breakfast, there’s also an increasingly popular, savoury variant, stuffed with brazed tofu and chives – though you might not get your hands on this until later during the day. Whichever kind of shaobing you go for, the ultra-satisfying yet light vegan pastry is a must!
Khanom chin: fermented noodle curry
Fermented noodles, anyone? Okay, khanom chin might sound like they’re a bit of an acquired taste, but Thailand’s white rice noodles are actually very subtle in taste. Not that you shouldn’t totally try them: practically drowning in generous servings of herbs, peanuts and dried chillies that compliment a variety of vegetables, the noodles typically form part of a bright yellow curry that can range from pretty mild to hand-me-that-iced-soya-green-tea-right-now (better make your preference known before you order!). If curry isn’t your cup of, well, curry, opt for the salad version of khanom chin. We know it’s unusual, but noodles served with coconut milk and pineapple chunks are a gastronomic revolution – just trust us on this one.
Khao mao thaawt: stuffed rice balls
Another plant-based delicacy to look out for during Thailand’s vegetarian festival is Khao mao thaawt. The snack-like, doughy balls are made by pounding unripe rice until it turns into a dense, sticky texture. Add some of Southeast Asia’s tropical fruits to the mix (or more precisely, into the centre of the balls), et voila! Khao mao thaawt are mostly filled with bananas or shredded coconut flesh, which makes them a tasty dessert for those with a sweet tooth. We’d even go so far to say these are among our favourite Thai foods in general and hardly anyone can resist their plant-based, gooey goodness – vegetarian or not!
Photography by Karen Blumberg (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]