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Every year for 10 days in September / October people across Thailand switch their eating habits as the participate in the annual Vegetarian Festival. This is celebrated across Thailand but specifically with big festivals in Bangkok and Phuket.
The 2020 “Tesagan Gin Je” (pronounced “Jay”) festival is happening this year from October 16-25. Sometimes known as the Vegetarian festival it is technically more of a vegan festival (see below for definition of “Je”).
This year some activities are a bit last minute as people have delayed announcements in the wake of COVID-19. However, it comes at a time when vegan and plant based foods are becoming a bit of a trend, so we expect the festival to be as normal.
In this article, we share all you need to know about experiencing festival across Thailand and specifically the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival. You can also find out what special events we are hosting for the festival.
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 prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods. To everyone’s amazement they all 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 and sometimes known as the Emperor Gods Festival.
While the Phuket Vegetarian Festival may be the largest festival 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 temples and shrines 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!
One of the most famous places to go is Bangkok’s Chinatown where they set up food stalls along Yaowarat for the occasion. There are also a lot of activities going on around the Wat Mangkon Kamalawat.
However, the real heart of the festivities in Bangkok is on the edge of Chinatown where the Talat Noi community comes alive during the Je Festival with vegetarian food galore, nightly Chinese Opera, and several other activities. Special activities from the Talat Noi community include. The following schedule is 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.
This year we will be hosting the following special Vegetarian festival events:
Bangkok Vegetarian Festival – Walking Tour
We will be running a special tour on multiple nights (Oct 17, 18, 22, 23, 24) during the festival. You can find more details here
Vegan Cooking Class – October 17
We will be hosting a very special cooking class at The Market Experience. Details coming soon. You can find more details here
Plant based foods are a current trend across the world and there is a big movement growing in Thailand.
Root The Future is one of the organisations driving this movement and will be hosting a special festival to celebrate plant based foods on Oct 17-18. In the build up to this they will also be announcing the winners of the Thailand’s first plant based food awards,
A little word of warning for those who are hoping for a vegan paradise. While there is definitely a lot of options for vegan food during this period, traditionally the food served at the festival is Chinese-Thai style vegan food. It is often deep fried and vegan protein disguised as meat features a lot.
That said, in recent years many restaurants around Bangkok have used the festival as an excuse to launch their own vegan menus, so there is definitely a lot more choice than normal, and across many budgets and cuisines. This great article from Bangkok Foodies lists popular restaurants in Bangkok offering vegan menus (some permanently, but many specially for October).
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 and more popping up all the time.
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.
“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?
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