Banglamphu’s Avant Garden
Vegans and vegetarians have never had an easy go of it in the Land of Smiles. Apart from a period during Buddhist Lent punctuated by abstinence and meatlessness, the hungry hoi polloi crave for flesh. Whatever dishes don’t include minced pork come with copious splashes of fish sauce. Even the som tam so prevalent nationwide includes pinkish flecks of dried shrimp—often despite one’s explicit requests they be left out of it. Yet within this ravenous landscape, vegetarian Gili Back opened CHOMP, her café-gallery-community space and passion project, where meat takes a backseat to veggie pies and vegan pasta. And with food this homey, meat sure isn’t missed.
There’s a stark difference between what most people assume vegetarians eat and what vegetarians actually eat. The menu at CHOMP represents the latter. Think: big plates of vegan bangers piled on creamy mashed potatoes with gravy (B270), chilli- and lemon-laced linguine with vegan bacon (B230), and pescatarian-friendly salmon wraps incorporating goat cheese from Vivin (B190), each served in portions large enough to share—or pig out on, depending on one’s appetite. Big breakfasts are available, too, from Middle Eastern shakshuka (B150) to Scandinavian smoked salmon with cream cheese (B190), and “CHOMPwiches” come with fresh-baked bread or wraps. There’s even a menu for infants. What’s more, most dishes can be ordered with alternatives to meat or fish.
All this backs up the claim that eating well doesn’t mean self-denial, or even iceberg lettuce, but rather taking in good things in moderation. The coffee is Thai-grown. The cocktails are stiff and delicious (try the Berry Mojito or Tom Yum, for instance). Plus, there’s craft beer.
Gili isn’t shoving square beets into sausage-shaped holes, either—she’s simply building the hangout she’s always wanted to own. Each month, up-and-coming local artists display work on the second floor of the renovated teakwood building, which was abandoned during the flood of 2011. While exhibitions decorate the walls, a qualified instructor named Kaylah leads a mixed discipline yoga called KALA, writers gather for book launches, and, each Saturday, local kids flock for “Heads & Tales” storytelling and crafts activities, led by a reading teacher named Anna.
“We’re trying to get kids off screens and back into books and arts,” says the sociable South African as one such kid, a boy in yellow pyjamas, presses his nose against the first-floor window and waves to her. It seems CHOMP offers more than home-cooked meals for hearty appetites—it serves food for the soul. And this is something everyone can enjoy, not only vegetarians.
CHOMP! The Comfort Café
63-65 Samsen Rd, on the corner of Samsen Soi 1 | 0 2629 2026 | facebook.com/chompcafe | daily 9am-11pm