Thailand is known for its many festivals and in October 2020, it is the vegetarian festival known as Tesakan Gin Jae เทศกาลกินเจ or Jae Festival. Whilst much of the celebrations will take place in Bangkok and Phuket, where they celebrate this festival with great gusto, Hua Hin and its surrounds also partake in the festivities, which begin on the 15th day of the waning of the 9th month of the Thai lunar calendar – phew!
More prominent amongst Thailand’s Chinese minority, this nationwide festival is also observed by millions of Thais sharing little or no Chinese background.
The festival is reported to have started in the mid-1800s when a Chinese opera troupe were performing in Phuket for Chinese miners.
Many of the troupe caught a serious illness and felt that they had failed to show sufficient respect to the 9 Emperor Gods in Taoist belief. These are the nine sons manifested by Father Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun and Mother of the constellation known as The Big Dipper. To appease the gods, they refrained from unclean activities and ate a strict vegetarian diet for 9 days as a way of cleansing themselves; hence why this festival is known for purity and cleansing.
In Phuket, the festival also incorporates acts of self-flagellation and self-mutilation known as Maa Song ม้าทรง. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can take part. A series of rituals are preformed to protect them for the duration of the festival. While in a trance-like state, devotees will pierce parts of their body; everything from cheeks to arms, face, legs or back. This is done using things as small as a syringe, or larger blades and even bicycle frames. There is also the slashing of limbs, chest, stomach and more often than not, the tongue, using sharp knives, swords or axes.
In Thai, Maa ม้า is the word for horse. The belief is that devotees are possessed and controlled by the Emperor Gods in much the same way as a rider is in control of a horse.
Aside from this gruesome aspect of the festival in some parts of the country, food is what it is mainly about.
Around Thailand at this time, you will recognise eateries or vendors offering vegetarian dishes or cuisine by their yellow flags with red writing.
Many Thais partake in the festival even if they don’t eat vegetarian food throughout the year. During the festival, Thai people will practice Jae by keeping their body and eating utensils clean and being mindful of their thoughts and actions. Many will wear yellow or white as much as possible and devotees may abstain from sex and alcohol.
Finding true vegetarian food in Thailand, outside of the festival, is sometimes quite difficult as many of the dishes are flavoured with sauces like fish or oyster, or may have seafood ingredients like dried shrimps. Cooking oils may also be of animal origin. In Thailand, Mang-Sà-Wí-Rát indicates vegetarian and means that dishes will not have sizeable pieces of meat, though they could include eggs, a stock made from meat or other animal products.
Jae is the term indicating a more strict vegetarian diet with no animal products at all. It also excludes pungent vegetables like garlic, onion and some herbs as it may cause people to have too much energy and perspiration. So for strict vegetarians you are best to understand a few Thai phases to help you navigate the food scene.
Below are some fabulous deep fried corn fritters, a specialty of some vendors.
To order a meal that is strict vegetarian, you would indicate Gin Jae; for food without any meat you can say Mâi Sài Néua-Sàt. To indicate you are vegetarian, say Phŏm (male) or Chăn (female) Mang-Sà-Wí-Rát. This is always good to have rehearsed, so you can repeat this to the vendor or waiter.
Here is an example of how to order a particular dish, Pàd Thai, vegetarian style:
Ao Pàd Thai Mang-Sà-Wí-Rát • “I’ll take a vegetarian Pad Thai”
Just change Pàd Thai to whatever other dish you are wanting.
The other tip for travellers is to have vegetarian or without meat written in Thai script. Copy and past the Thai script from here.
Vegetarian • Mang-Sà-Wí-Rát มังสวิรัติ
Without Meat • Mâi Sài Nʉ́ʉa-Sàt ไม่ใส่เนื้อสัตว์.
It is totally acceptable to show this, as any cook just wants to please and deliver you a great dish. If you don’t want fish sauce, then Mâi Sai Naam Bplaa is what you say.
Leigh Higgins, our GM and resident foodie, recommends doing the following 3 things when in Hua Hin if you consider yourself a vegetarian foodie.
1. Get involved with the festival and explore all the food options including dishes with meat substitutes, as it’s most interesting
2. Do a vegetarian cooking class at the Thai Cooking Course Hua Hin. This is far and away the best cooking school in Hua Hin.
3. Try these three vegetarian restaurants that deliver great flavours everyday:-
38/1 Sà Sŏng Rd
(cnr Soi 75 - near where the Green Songtheaw stops at Chat Chai market)
Open Daily 6am to 3pm.
Hua Hin Vegan Café
Hua Hin Shopping Mall 100 Hua Hin Soi 74/2 Phetkhasem Road.
Open Daily 9:30am to 9:30pm
Lan Ah Han J Hua Hin
This one is a little tricky to find; you go around 100m up Chomsin Road (Soi 70) from Phetkhasem and turn right into a tiny alley, then it is first left. Yellow flags will let you know you've arrived.
Open Daily 06:30am until they are sold out; usually very late afternoon.