Vegetarien Festival in Chinatown Bangkok
Sometimes it's just a matter of chance
I had come several times in this particular district of Bangkok but each time, it was in the morning... at the time when really the stores, the boutiques, the street vendors are the most active.
While in Bangkok, I thought that a little tour on Yaowarat Road in the evening could be interesting and probably different from what I know during the day... what a surprise. I had completely forgotten that we were in the middle of a vegetarian festival... and this evening when I find myself immersed in this festive atmosphere it happens to be the first day of this festival.
As soon as I got out of the cab that brought me from my hotel, I immediately found myself in the middle of an incredible crowd. It's swarming everywhere... it takes me a few moments to realize that we are in this so special period.
For me, who usually doesn't like crowds, I have to say that here I feel good. Happy and confident that I will have a good time. I feel safe, I don't feel any anxiety, everything is for the best...
The Tesagan Gin Je
Tesagan Gin Je is a nine-day Chinese meatless festival. Better known as the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival by non-locals, the festival takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar year, so the annual dates vary. Tesagan Gin Je is also called the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods and is celebrated by Thais whether or not they have Chinese ancestors. Celebrated throughout Thailand, the largest celebrations take place in Bangkok and Phuket.
The festival involves people practicing Je by wearing white and being actively mindful of their thoughts and actions. Participants must also refrain from eating meat, or any other animal products, in order to purify their bodies. Although it is called a "vegetarian festival", this festival is strictly vegetarian.
The history of Tesagan Gin Je
Although there are many variations on the origins of this festival, the most commonly accepted one relates to a Chinese opera company that came to the area to entertain the locals in the 19th century. The story goes that the entire opera company fell ill with an unknown disease for which there seemed to be no cure. In order to combat the disease, the company turned to the nine emperor gods for prayers and began to follow a strict diet.
The opera company got better as a result, and this interested the locals. This gave rise to the festival, where people try to follow a strict diet in order to bring good luck to themselves and the community. The festival is also an opportunity to celebrate the nine emperor gods of the Taoist religion.
The rules of the Tesagan Gin Je
There is more to this festival than just what you eat. Tesagan Gin Je is a mixture of food, festivities and religious beliefs. Since the festival has a great deal of spiritual intent, the following ten rules are the ones you should follow if you want to observe the festival with respect.
During the festival, you should strive to practice cleanliness of the body.
- You must use clean cooking utensils and avoid sharing these utensils with those who are not participating in the festival.
- Participants must wear white during the festival
- Participants must behave properly, both physically and mentally
- It is forbidden to eat meat during the festival, as you should only consume food qualified as I.
- It is forbidden to have sexual relations during the festival
- Participants must not consume alcoholic beverages
- People in mourning should not attend the festival.
- If you are pregnant, you must not attend any rituals.
- If you are in your menstrual cycle, you should not attend the ritual.
- As a tourist, you can attend the processions, but if you wish to participate in the rituals, you must respect the above instructions.
The crowd is there!
Only indication: we are on Yaowarat Road, the main artery of Chinatown Bangkok
The food of Tesagan Gin Je
While it is true that the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival is actually focused on vegan food, the rules for the Je are actually a bit different. Vegetarians refuse to eat meat, but they can eat other animal products such as milk, eggs and cheese. Vegans are a little stricter, refusing to use any animal products in their diet. Tesagan Gin Je takes the practices of veganism a step further by excluding four types of pungent vegetables: garlic, onion, single bulb Chinese garlic and Chinese chives.
During Tesagan Gin Je, you won't see the traditional dishes of stir-fried shrimp, grilled pork and fried chicken or cooked with eggs, dairy products, honey, oyster sauce, shrimp paste or fish sauce. While popular dishes such as moo gata and meat or sausage kebabs are not on the menu during the festival, you will find a variety of fascinating and delicious dishes that you might not have thought to try before.
Food stalls and restaurants offer bite-sized vegetable dumplings, steaming hot noodle bowls, and luscious desserts swimming in coconut milk. Among the piles of fried spring rolls and steamed gyoza, you'll find obvious meat substitutes like mushrooms, tofu and taro, while in other dishes you'll find substitutes that taste exactly like real meat.
Beans and soy products, tofu, other beans and vegetables become the main source of protein and nutrients throughout the festival. Calcium usually comes from toasted black sesame seeds. The popular seasoning of fish sauce is replaced by soy sauce and mushroom sauce.
Thailand is the ideal country to visit for vegans and vegetarians, as they will always be able to find food to suit their lifestyle, but Tesagan Gin Je is the perfect place to enjoy a variety of vegan delights, whether you have been practising veganism or vegetarianism for years or have decided to try something new.