Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok's ruthless rant on Thailand's Annual Vegetarian Festival

It's been a while since I blogged about interesting happenings in Thailand (which is supposed to be the heart and soul of this blog) especially after I got my hands full with little Noah in the house. I do not know whether this post will step on some toes, but after a quite memorable week (food-wise) in Bangkok since I came back from Singapore, I shall give my ignorant rant on Thailand's annual Vegetarian Festival, aka Tesagan Kin Je.

Food stalls selling vegetarian food will attract attention using these triangular yellow flags
Thailand has given me no shortage of food surprises from the day I set foot, mostly pleasant, but others a little peculiar. While I marvel at the locals' brilliant art of layering every other dish skilfully with at least 4 different tastes (usually sweet, sour, salty and spicy), some habits still take some getting used to, like how pizzas are drenched with ketchup before eating with rice (Thais can eat anything with rice, 3 meals a day), the unforgiving stench of Plaa Raa (a potent fermented fish sauce) which many beautiful ladies surprisingly adore, labeling of perfectly-crafted Chinese dishes as absolutely tasteless, and the saturation of nicely-seasoned savoury soup with additional spoonfulS of sugar to name a few. This Vegetarian Festival is unforgettable as well, not for many right reasons I am afraid, but again, this is only my opinion.

Tesagan Kin Je is a festival with deeply religious origins (not elaborated here as it's not the point of this post), taking place annually from the 1st to 9th days on the 9th month of the Lunar Calendar.  Aside of many staunch Buddhists applying grievous hurt to their own bodies by piercing ridiculous sharp objects through unimaginable parts of their faces, it also involves eating vegetarian food (no meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and even aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic and chives), which I believe is supposed to cleanse the minds and souls of practitioners.

However, having scrutinized and tasted the food available for the past week, I beg to differ. On the surface, the spread of Vegetarian Food on display under the many little yellow flags seems incredible given the cooks' limitations, with variety ranging from Vegan Kway Chup (pork innard soup), Vegan Fish Maw Soup (complete with mock salted egg with a glowingly artificial orange yolk), Vegan (Mock) Meat, Vegan Khao Soi (chicken/beef curry noodle soup from Northern Thailand) and a huge range of deep-fried Vegan items etc..... you get the idea, but how on earth are you supposed to achieve an elite level of cleansing and health by stuffing yourself with mock non-vegan (many exceedingly oily) stuff?

Mock meat (or whatever) is either made from gluten or soy beans, which is then of course highly processed in factories and artificially seasoned to achieve certain tastes and texture. Can you even try to compare the nutritional value of this highly processed food with say, a piece of raw chicken you buy from the market, which is made of nothing other than chicken (with possibly a cocktail of antibiotics and growth hormones nevertheless, but you could go free-range/organic)?

In my view, real vegetarian food should be a enjoyment of real fresh vegetables, fruit and lightly processed foods like tofu. I have greatly increased my vegetable intake over the years and do not completely rule out becoming some sort of a vegetarian myself in time to come, more so now that there's someone in my house appearing to genuinely enjoy healthy vegan cuisine when served.

That's how you enjoy REAL vegetarian food

It's not that there were no places for me to satisfy my perverted carnivorous cravings during the past week, but it sure did not help when my favourite Kway Chup and Khao Gaeng (equivalent to economic rice in Singapore) stalls served up comparatively-uninspiring and unhealthy vegetarian versions of their usual fare. Let's just say that I am glad the festival is finally over.

Despite all I have shared above, I have to reassure everyone that the Vegetarian Festival is not all that bad. This post could be just an unreasonable complain letter from a lonely family-deprived man sore at being also deprived of his meat. Aside of Loy Krathong, Songkran and the King's Birthday, this could be the most unique festival happening every year in the Land of Smiles, and I recommend you to come experience it for yourself, particularly if you are a vegan.

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