Eating vegetarian is becoming more and more popular each year as people are focus on healthy eating or reducing the number of animal that will be killed to be our food. ” However, every year for 9 days in September / October people across Thailand take this to a whole different level!
The 2017 “Tesagan Gin Je” (pronounced “Jay”) festival is happening this week from October 19 to October 28 (Oct 28 is just in the morning). Sometimes known as the Vegetarian festival it is technically more of a vegan festival (see below for definition of “Je”). This year however, the festival is not as prominent as it usually is as it coincides with the funeral of the late King Bhumibol of Thailand.
There are a few variations of the origins but the most commonly accepted is from the 19th century when a Chinese opera company travelled to Phuket to entertain the community of Chinese miners working in the area. As the story is told, the whole opera company grew sick from an unknown illness. To combat the illness they followed strict vegetarian diet and eventually recovered. This interested the local people and as a result the festival began, during which time people keep a strict “je” diet with the aim to bring good luck to individual as well as to the community. From then on this festival was observed starting the first evening of the ninth lunar month and continuing until the ninth evening. The festival is also a celebration of the Nine Emperor (Taoist) Gods.
While the Phuket Vegetarian Festival may be the largest activity in the country, many people across Thailand and especially those of Chinese ancestry stick strictly to “Je” food for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making. Sacred rituals are performed at various Chinese shrines and temples and predominantly in Phuket aesthetic displays such as walking barefooted over hot coals, tongue slashing and other ritualized mutilations are performed by entranced devotees known as “Ma Song”.
During this period you will see many yellow flags all around Thailand and that means the vendors are selling “Je” food. In Bangkok you can get “Je” food in most areas and even 7-11 have special selection for the festival! However, one of the most famous places to go is Chinatown where they have a special street food festival in Yaowarat for the occasion (not happening in 2017). There are also a lot of activities going on around the Wat Mangkon Kamalawat.
However, the real heart of the festvities in Bangkok are on the edge of China Town where the Talat Noi community comes alive during Je Festival with vegetarian food galore, nightly Chinese Opera and several other activities. Special activities from the Talat Noi community include. The following is the usual schedule but is to be confirmed:
Most of these are religious celebrations so if you do go please respect the local culture. Timings may vary.
Apart from the official celebrations it’s fun to walk around to see the “Je” dishes made from ingredients that look like squid, shrimp, meat ball with pig intestine or even sea cucumber. These imitation meats are actually are made from proteins and nutrients from soy beans, tofu, soy products, other beans and vegetables. The main source of calcium is roasted black sesame seeds. Fish sauce that is a popular seasoning in Thai dishes is replaced with soy sauce and mushroom sauce.
It is very easy to find restaurants that are participating. Another popular place where a lot of vegetarian places pop up is on Silom Soi 20 opposite the Hindu temple. One of our favourite places to go and eat is 40 Year Rad Na restaurant on Thanon Tanao where they switch from their speciality Rad Na to become a vegan (Je) Khao Gaeng place that is open 24 hours a day.
The festival is celebrated all over Thailand and within a short ride from Bangkok official festivities are going on in places such as Samut Sakorn, Nakorn Sawan and Pattaya.
Rules for following properly
“Je” festival is not just about what you eat. For those who want to observe the festival there are 10 rules to follow:
1. Cleanliness of bodies during the festival
2. Clean kitchen utensils and to use them separately from other who do not join the festival
3. Wear white during the festival
4. Behave physically and mentally
5. No meat eating (see exact food rules below)
6. No sex
7. No alcoholic drinks
8. People at mourning period should not attend the festival
9. Pregnant ladies should not watch any ritual
10. Ladies with period should not attend the ritual
So are you going to stick to these 10 rules?
Difference between Je, Vegan and Vegetarian
What often confuses people is the exact definition of “Je” food. Here is a quick definition and comparisons between Je, Vegetarian and Vegan.
Je: Je actually comes from “Jain”. They don’t consume meat, poultry, seafood, or any animal products (eggs, milk…). Furthermore, jay food excludes 4 kinds of pungent vegetables; including garlic, onion, Chinese single-bulbed garlic and Chinese chive.
Vegetarians: Refuse to eat meat but often may consume other animal products such as milk, eggs and cheese. In Thai people often call this “Mung sa-wi-rat”
Vegan: impose stricter rules onto themselves and refrain from eating animal produces like milk, butter and eggs and they will avoid any other use of animal products.
Finally, for those who want to eat vegetarian food all year around check out our post on our favorite vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok – there are plenty to chose from.