Chiang Mai is already spoken of as one of the best cities in the word for vegetarian and vegan cuisine because of its large number of cheap – but high quality – restaurants catering to herbivores.
Not only do most of them have exciting interpretations of local cuisine, but also delightful takes on Western cuisine. Yet, with the arrival of the annual Vegetarian Festival, Chiang Mai quickly becomes an even more inviting culinary experience.
Having never experienced the Vegetarian Festival before, I was interested in the Facebook threads discussing the nature of the festival. And rather than at any particular venue, they seemed to assure readers that the festival would simply pop-up all over the place.
My visit to the local Tesco confirmed this unexpectedly. I had forgotten that the festival was beginning shortly and had merely gone to pick up a few supplies. But as I walked down the aisles, the signs displaying ‘vegetarian’ in Thai seemed to be everywhere.
There were vegetarian frozen meals, microwavable dinners, vegetarian and vegan mock meats…I’m sure my jaw must have dropped. Suffice it to say that I spent a lot more during that shopping trip than I had intended as I stocked up on products I don’t see nearly enough of in my local store.
After that, I was encouraged to venture out more widely and was truly delighted by what I found. On top of the already considerable provisions for veg-eaters that already exists in Chiang Mai the whole area came alive every day throughout the festival with pop-up stalls selling vegetarian versions of local foods – and everywhere I looked was the reassuring fluttering of those telling yellow and red ‘jay’ flags.
The first place I really got an in-your-face feel of how the festival changes the places that I regularly go was when I ended up at Kad Suan Kaew Mall on an expedition to get some printing done. It was clear as soon as I entered the that I’d be carrying a lot of goodies with me back home once again.
The Tops Market in the mall had an impressive display of vegetarian food out the front, and in their chiller section, I counted more than 20 different varieties of vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes like mock-meat sausages and deli slices. In the central area of the mall, stalls were set up selling lots of local cuisine in vegetarian incarnations including the popular green papaya salad and some Thai desserts that were vegan.
Sure, you can get any version of vegetarian or vegan food that you like year round from the excellent restaurants dotted over the city, but during the festival, you can get them even more readily in malls, at pop-up stalls and from street food vendors everywhere – at even lower prices. This is likely because at this time of the year the vegetarian food is mostly catering to the locals.
So, why do people go vegetarian at this time of year? Well, there seem to be a variety of takes on the celebrations, but in short they mark the celebration of the Tesagan Gin Je Festival that lasts for 9 days.
The exact dates of the festival vary from year to year, as the dates are based on the Chinese Calendar. The festival is celebrated in various capacities throughout Thailand and involves not only a change in diet but other forms of purification and even mutilation and piercing.
But for the average person, it’s really just a great opportunity to access great meat-free food. Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre – more fondly referred to as Maya Mall – put up a good array of stalls with outdoor seating. Apart from the great food, it provided an attractive outdoor space from which to sample all the stall offerings.
To have a quick look at the festival in action at Maya Mall, check out the video below:
Well, if you missed it this year, no fear, the festival is an annual event – and Chiang Mai remains an excellent spot for meat-free food all year round. In the meantime, why not check out The Best Vegetarian Restaurant on Nimmanhaemin Road.
Did you attend the Vegetarian Festival this year? Or have you been to another Vegetarian/Vegan Festival somewhere else in the world? I’d love to know about it!