Once a year, Thailand holds a nationwide Tessakan Kin Jay, also known as the Vegetarian Festival. This meat-free event is celebrated quite seriously by many people, all of whom refrain from eating meat as a form of merit-making—a Buddhist custom looked upon as a “good deed”.
Many restaurants will offer extra-extensive vegetarian dishes during this time, and some will switch over completely and cook only meatless dishes for the duration of the festival. Those eateries selling vegetarian food fly yellow flags outside their restaurants, printed with the word jay, which is “vegetarian” in Thai language. You may wonder if this has a political connotation—as the colour yellow is closely associated with one of the country’s main political parties—but no, in this case it has only a gastronomic significance!
Even though there are fewer street food stalls left in Bangkok after this year’s crackdown, that doesn’t stop me from my food explorations. Lately, I often take a little journey to explore the Srinakarin Road area, a neighborhood on the east side of Bangkok. There, on the ground floor of the Paradise Park Mall, I visit the food court—an indoor paradise for food lovers.
Once I step into the food court area, I am immediately surrounded by endless lanes filled with stands of goodies. It’s actually much more than a food court: vendors also sell homemade tiger balm, coconut cold press oil, and even socks. This food court is like a secret hideaway offering food from all over Thailand. There are noodles from Sukhothai, homemade steamed Chinese cakes, and my favorite stop—the vegetarian stand.
Located near the end of the food court hall is Reungthip Mungsavirat, and they offer vegetarian food all year round. At first glance, however, I can’t tell that this food is vegetarian because it looks as exciting as other normal Thai curries and dishes. The food is full of colours and full of tastes, and there are many dishes to choose from.
Reungthip Mungsavirat is run by Khun Reungthip and Mim, her daughter. Their little kitchen—with three stoves—is tucked behind the counter, and every dish will be cooked every morning right there. The mother will go to the fresh market around 3am and bring back all the ingredients, starting to cook as soon as she returns from the market.
Each day she will cook about 10 dishes, and by the time Paradise Park’s gates open, her food is ready. She prepares her food in giant pots and on trays. Every day will be a different menu, perhaps a gentle soup, a spicy coconut curry, a spicy salad, or a simple but tasty stir-fry vegetable dish. On my latest visit, she had prepared Kaeng Tepho (tamarind sour-base curry with morning glory), Kaeng Som (mixed vegetables in spicy and sour orange soup), Kaeng Khi Lek (cassia-leaf curry), Kaeng Laing (peppery herbal mixed vegetable soup), and Pad Hedhom (fried aromatic shitake mushroom).
I chose the combination of textures and tastes from Kaeng Liang, which was powerful and aromatic with herbs and spices—including chili mixed with fried shitake mushroom, which gave it a chewy crunchy texture. I usually have my meal in the food court, but I buy more to take away. It’s not hard at all to find vegetarian dishes in Bangkok, but I do like the food here a lot because it has an intensity—in flavour and texture—more like you’d find in non-vegetarian curries and other dishes.
Address: Reungthip Mungsavirat is on the ground floor of the Paradise Park Building, Srinakarin Road. Open from 9am till 7pm (or until they run out of food).