Finding Meat at the Vegetarian Festival

By Mark Wiens 18 Comments
Vegetarian festival in Bangkok

Do you “gin jay?”

It’s vegetarian festival in Bangkok.

Once upon a time, a group of Chinese became sick when visiting Thailand.  In order to heal themselves they switched up their diet to a vegetarian code in an attempt to purify their minds and bodies.  Not only did they not eat animal products, they were also not permitted to eat a few of the most powerfully pungent vegetables like garlic, onions, and celery.

In the Thai cuisine that is oriented around garlic, herbs, and meaty sensations, this must have been a daunting task…

To this day, the vegetarian festival continues annually, but now, the chefs and their food technology have become a little more advanced in their ways and adapted to a carnivorous searching clientele.

Beyond detoxification, the festival is now a time for cooks throughout Bangkok and especially in Chinese areas (like Yaowarat) to cook food for the masses and demonstrate their abilities to create dishes without the help of animal fats or strong herbs.  Lucky for everyone, chilies are not on the forbidden list, nor are (as I discovered) things that “look” like meat!

During the vegetarian festival, Yaowarat (Bangkok’s Chinatown) is filled with wok face-offs for the hordes of hungry eaters.


This brilliant eatery was stalked with an entire market of fresh looking vegetables and in front was what I thought, the normal piles of seafood and meat…or was it meat?


On closer inspection, it was in fact not meat at all, but rather patties and lumps of “to-meat.”  Can you see the fake bacon?


The simple yet popular dish throughout Bangkok of khao man gai (chicken and rice) was frighteningly duplicated by chunks of “something” shaped into chicken breasts and hung by hooks in the normal position that real flesh carcasses would normally hang.


I’m was a little bit disturbed by that khao man gai!


Moving on, I stumbled into a stand serving gai satay (chicken satays) marinated and then dipped into a sweet greasy peanut sauce.  At first I thought they might stolen a package of chicken McNuggets straight from McDonalds (those might be vegetarian too).


A quick scorch over open coals and the vegetarian gai satay were ready to be chowed down.


The winner of the evening was a classic Thai dish known as larb, normally made from minced pork, but this time made from a substitute of unknown substance.


Are hot dogs really necessary to be duplicated at the vegetarian festival into fake creations to trick the mind into thinking they are honest to goodness meatiness.  Can’t we just forget about hot dogs for the week?


Though it was exciting to see the creativity of fake-meat, I decided to mostly steer clear of the impersonations and stick with the full vegetarian options that are done right!

I began the afternoon with a brilliant plate of stir fried rice noodles topped with water mimosa, mushrooms, and chilies (pad sen mee pak gachet)


A little bit of spicy fruit salad (som tam polomai) minus the fish sauce was excellent!


Peanut brittle and other super sweet thai khanom desserts were also among the tastiest items offered at the vegetarian festival.


“Gin Jay,” vegetarian festival is a unique and amazing time to be in Bangkok.  It’s a time to discover unique eats and to enjoy special delicacies.  Focusing on vegetables, tofu, and natural ingredients, the vegetarian festival in Bangkok is a delicious experience!

Be careful of that fake-meat!

18 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Sam

    6 years ago

    Omg, wow, all of that looks so real! At first glance, I thought it was actual meat! And very interesting about the origins of the festival. I’ve heard of the Vegetarian Festival but didn’t realize that’s how it started. I have to say I definitely would go for the mock chicken satay. That used to be one of my absolute favorite dishes and sometimes food nostalgia cravings hit hard!

  • Wendy@TheNomadicVegan

    7 years ago

    Hi Mark, this is a great piece on the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand! Although I personally would be much more disturbed by seeing “real flesh carcasses” hanging at a food stall than by plant-based meats, like you I would also lean more towards the whole-food options. Nothing wrong with plant-based meats though! They definitely fill a void for people who have grown up eating meat and love the taste but have decided that they no longer want to participate in the killing of animals.

  • Dina

    14 years ago

    Wow, that’s really interesting! Do they taste like real meat? Long time ago I went to a meat-inspired vegetarian restaurant. I ate the fried chicken drumstick, that was made of non meat material. It had very soft texture, like chicken nugget but very soft. Weird, but I guess if you are a new vegetarian and you miss eating meat, it could be an option.

  • zerodtkjoe

    14 years ago

    Thanks for the info

  • Fastport passport

    14 years ago

    Yum,This is right up my ally i am a vegetarian my self!

  • Mark Wiens

    14 years ago

    @Mary R: That’s funny about McDonald’s, I try to strictly avoid going there. I didn’t really sample much of the fake meat but stuck to the “real” vegetarian options which were scrumptious!


    14 years ago


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  • Mary R

    14 years ago

    So what was your favorite dish? Did any of the fakey meats turn you off?

    It’s funny, I heard a radio story recently about the “fakeness” of some McDonald’s meats especially the McRib sandwich with bits of fake bone and cartilage! I guess they go all out in mimicking the textures!

  • Bessie

    14 years ago

    I can’t believe you found SO much meat at the festival. We were at the one here in Chiang Mai, and while there was meet, it wasn’t nearly as copious.

    The cultural interpretation is funny because it would never fly back home!

    • Mark Wiens

      14 years ago

      Yah Bessie, even though it was all fake meat, they did a great job of making it look real! But I was a little scared of it…