NB: the 1560 (2017) festival was toned down in comparison to previous years due to the extended mourning of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the late king of Thailand. In 1561 (2018) the festivities were bigger and bolder than ever. 2019 is expected to be the same.
I have been attending the vegetarian festival in Thailand since 2010, and in those years have learned much about the styles of food prepared for the festival. In Phuket you will find many of the dishes you will find in Bangkok and central Thailand, but the local cuisine is a regional blend of Southern Thai cuisine and Chinese influenced Thai food. The list below is of foods I have personally seen and/or tried during the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival, including various regional styles.
And so, without further ado, here are 40 vegan foods you should eat while you're in Phuket for the Tesakan Kin Jay festival. I've included photos where I have them, but a few are missing pictures. Sorry kids.
Kuay Teow ก๋วยเตี๋ยว – Noodles
Noodles are a daily item of consumption for me when I'm in Thailand. The noodle repertoire of this country is vast, and below are just a few of those I've tried and loved in Phuket during the annual vegetarian festival. For more information on how to order vegan noodles from a non-vegan noodle soup hawker, check out my guide on how to order vegan noodles in Thailand.
1. Tom yum noodles
There’s a shop at the end of Ranong Road, by the Patiphat intersection that does the most outstanding bowl of tom yum. Please note tom yam noodles are not noodles in a bowl of tom yam soup, but rather a style of seasoning where noodles are served in a clear broth mixed with chilli powder, sugar, lime juice, crushed peanuts. You can choose the noodles you want, and some faux meats and fish balls will be chucked in.
2. Yentafo (เย็นตาโฟ)
Yentafo is not at all difficult to find along Ranong. This is a bowl of noodles served in a clear broth with a dollop of yentafo sauce, which is made using fermented red bean curd. Think funky sweet and sour sauce, only better. Noodle soup vendors tend to be located at the start of the line of stalls (just after the market and bus stop), with a few at the end by the Patiphat intersection, and most do yentafo. Some are better than others (look for sauce that isn’t flaming red but is rather pinkish orange).
3. Kanom jeen (ขนมจีน)
Popular for breakfast, kanom jeen are fermented rice noodles eaten with curry and generous lashings of herbs, vegetables, and pickles. You can spot a kanom jeen vendor by the signature coils or large basket of these thin white noodles alongside large pots (or takeaway bags) of curries. Nam ya is a red curry made with the medicinal-tasting grachai root, and is a unique flavour worth trying. Other potential curries you might see are green and nam phrik, which is a sweeter curry made with peanuts or toasted dried mung beans. It isn’t uncommon to mix nam phrik and nam ya, so don't be afraid to ask if you want to tone down the heat of the nam ya.
4. Pat mama (ผัดมาม่า)
Mama is probably Thailand’s most famous instant noodle brand, to the point that the name of the brand is now synonymous with instant noodles in general. Pad mama is a fried street food version, and you’ll find it along Ranong and elsewhere during the festival. Cabbage is a common ingredient.
Cold drinks in hot climes feel like heaven after a sweaty mill about the market stalls. Many drinks are sugar bombs that are great for balancing extremely spicy food. Beware I have seen some honey-laced teas around. The word for honey in Thai is nam pung (น้ำผึ้ง).
5. Corn milk
Corn milk has become popular in recent years, both fresh on the street (sold in plastic bottles) and in cartons in 7-11.
6. Iced milky coffee and Thai tea
These are great to turn to for a sugary caffeine hit. Your cup is delivered in a special cup baggie with handles, which will make it easier to balance all the other food you buy in your arms.
7. Smoothies and fresh juices galore
This one might seem like a bit of a cop-out because everyone, please, shut the bleeding hell up about liquidised fruit. But the difference is fruit actually tastes good in Thailand, so suck it up. Literally.
Kong Wang ของว่าง and Kanom ขนม – Between Meal Snacks and Sweets
8. Tako ตะโก้ Puddings
Tako is a double layered dessert with a sweet base and a salty coconut topping, usually sold in a banana leaf box. The base can be made with all sorts of ingredients, from tapioca pearls to starch based puddings mixed with corn, taro, pumpkin, or other complementary foods. I have seen some creative takes on Tako in the last couple of years, including a lady who set up along Thanon Krabi last year (near the intersection with Satun Road). Of these, my favourite were caramel-y with a cocoa rice crispy topping.
9. Kanom Piak Boon (ขนมเปียกปูน)
Also sold by the same family who sells the tako above (see green squares far right of photo above), this is a stirred sweet that isn't as easily found as it once was. It comes in a couple of flavours, including pandan (which is sold here) and burnt coconut (which I've only seen for sale once in Bangkok).
10. Kanom gee gooi (บนมกีโก๊ย)
This is a yellow alkaline sweet served with a dark palm sugar syrup. The alkaline water gives it an eggy flavour and yellow colour. In Malaysia it is called Tee Nya Kuih. There's usually a large table of kanom midway up Ranong and this is where you will find this treat.
11. Sao Ping (เซาปิ่ง) or Fried Kanom Pia (ขนมเปี๊ยะสดทอด)
These are light, flaky stuffed pastries that are griddle fried. Popular fillings include taro, red bean, and mung bean.
12. Khao Mao Tod ข้าวเม่าทอด
Fried pounded young rice and young coconut balls with banana inside.
13. Kanom Galorjee (กะลอจี๊)
This is a deep fried flat pancake that is cut after cooking and then coated in sugar, peanut, and sesame seeds.
14. Kanom Bajang (ขนมบะจ่าง)
These are Chinese sticky rice dumplings wrapped in dried bamboo leaves with fillings that can be either savoury or sweet. In Mandarin they are called zongzi and in Cantonese they are joong.
15. Giam goi (เกี่ยมโก้ย)
Giam goi are steamed rice cakes (often with an indentation in the centre) crowned with a spicy savoury topping and a sweet and sour dressing.
16. Kanom jee jo (ขนมจี้โจ)
You can find variations on these in many (most?) parts of the country, but in Phuket these stuffed sesame balls are called kanom jee jo (ขนมจี้โจ). Fillings include yellow bean, black bean, or peanut.
17. Tofu puddings
Not overly sweet, but make a nice refreshing snack or breakfast, these tofu puddings contain bean curd and flavoured soy milk with some added ingredients (e.g. corn, chunks of agar dessert, taro – all depends on the flavour of the pudding). Coffee and corn are wonderful, as is taro.
18. Miang kham
This is a street snack that seems to be making a resurgence. There are many kinds of miang, but this is the one I've seen most. They are single bite parcels made with coconut, peanuts, fresh lime, sticky tamarind sauce, sesame, and ginger wrapped in cha plu (lolot) leaves.
19. Gui Chai (กุยช่าย) and Gui Chai Tod (กุยช่ายทอด)
These are rice flour and tapioca or arrowroot flour dumplings chocka garlic chives. They can be fried or not fried. When they are steamed, the chive mixture is packed inside of dough, so they look different to the fried ones below.
20. Roti (โรตี) or pancake with vegan condensed milk
I didn't see these last year, but the good news is that 7-11 started selling this condensed milk too, so you can stock up and take some home.
21. Kanom Tang Taek (ขนมถังแตก)
These are thick folded pancakes stuffed with with various fillings including coconut, custard, and peanuts with sugar.
22. Kalamae (กาละแม)
Kalamae is a sticky rice caramel that comes in various flavours, including durian, coconut, and banana to name a few. I used to buy this by the tonne in Chiang Mai, so was chuffed to see it for sale in Phuket. The vendor is usually off one of the side streets close up toward Patiphat on Ranong.
23. Mixed kanom waan
Even if I could eat no other Thai food, I would still make my regular trips to Thailand just to eat sweet kanom. You'll often find vendors selling a handful of specialities, much like this woman who sets up on Ranong each morning. Her stall is on the left, in the tunnel space facing the shops, if you're walking up toward Patiphat. Go before 9 or 10am and she might still be there.
24. Khao Taen – ข้าวแต๋น
Imagine rice cakes, only they taste good. These are made with sticky rice that has been packed into a patty, dried, and then fried until fluffy and crispy. They are drizzled with a syrup made from brown cane sugar.
25. Stuff on sticks
Thailand excels at skewered meats, and make no exception when it's time for the vegetarian festival. You will find many styles of sausages, faux fish balls, mushrooms, and more. They're perfect for snacking on while walking around looking for your next snack. Be sure to try the wee sausages, which are a type of sour Isarn sausage with noodles inside.
26. Pickled fruits
Sour green mango, star gooseberries (mayom), sapodilla, jujube, santol, and madan are just some of the pickled fruits you might find. These are great snacks to munch while wandering or with some adult bevvies.
Pad (Pat) ผัด– Stir fried
Try multiple stir fries and order plenty of rice. A solid choice is always pat gaprao (kaprow), which is stir fried something with holy basil. I also love the little fake eggs they have during the festival, even though they taste of nothing. My favourite spot for stir-fry mayhem, and believe me it is mayhem, is on the corner of Ranong and Soi Phutorn. It's a makeshift tent space with a few vendors inside. Push your way in an find a table. Someone will take your order eventually.
27. A few stir-fries to try:
- Stir fries with fake eggs. Not because they taste like eggs (or anything) at all but because they're cute.
- Pat Gaprao is a solid favourite, always. Always. Most Thai restaurants in the UK screw this up big time and use the wrong kind of basil.
- Also stir fried sataw, or stink bean (you may see it labelled as Petai elsewhere).
- Pad pak bung (stir fried Thai morning glory/water spinach)
28. Vegan O-tao (local specialty in Phuket)
Chunks of taro, some sprouts, TVP, and tofu are stir fried with a coconut batter with a chilli sauce.
Yam ยำ and Som Tam ส้มตำ – Salads
You will be sorely disappointed if you order a Thai salad and expect a dressed bowl of lettuce to be delivered. Thai salads are difficult to categorise and pin because they utilise so many types of ingredients. Thai salads tend to be warm or room temperature dishes of vegetables, noodles, meats, or other proteins dressed to be salty, sour, and spicy, sometimes with a hint of sweetness depending on regional variations. These dishes are typically eaten with rice and tend to err on the fiery side. By the way, along with the usual som tam salad, which you should eat a lot of, try to find some fruit and deep fried variations of this popular papaya salad.
29. Dtao Ka-noon (ตำขนุน)
Dtao Ka-noon is a Northern lanna paste of pounded jackfruit with tomato and aromatics like kaffir lime leaf and galangal. Onion and garlic would typically be used, but since the jay diet eschews these ingredients, they will be omitted during the festival. It's nice to see some other regional cuisine sneak down south for the festival. Thought I had a picture, but don't. Sorry!
30. Naem Khao Tod (แหนมข้าวทอด) – crispy rice and vegan sausage salad
Last year was the first time I spotted this gem, vegan naem khao tod, or curried and fried crispy rice ball salad mixed with fresh ginger, peanuts, fried dried chillies, fresh herbs, and soured vegan faux pork. This variation also even uses mock pig skin, a traditional ingredient in non vegan yam naem khao tod. It is dressed with lime juice, soy sauce, and roasted chilli flakes.
31. Fish ball ลูกชิ้น salad
I wish I could find a photo of the salad made from these vegan fish balls, but it's simple to imagine: a bowl of the faux fish balls with a sweet chilli sauce on a bed of lettuce. If you have never tried Thai style meat balls or fish balls, give it a go. The texture is unlike Western comparisons because Thais favour bounciness (if you drop one it will literally bounce) in their ballszzz.
Neung นึ่ง– Steamed
You will find tiers of stacked bao and various dumplings on offer. Unfortunately I don't yet know what they are all called in Thai, but they are unmissable (the bao is especially visible in the morning)
32. Steamed dumplings
33. Steamed Buns (Bao)
Check out this beauty with sweet pandan custard.
Foreign Inspired Foods
34. Vegan sushi
You can spot this booth by the stacks of stunningly put together sushi, and the crowds and crowds of people rushing to try it. In recent years a few copycats have appeared. Rest assured they are all equally disappointing. But still, it's worth trying a few because no matter what I say you won't be able to resist how beautiful they look. I buy them every year even though I know they won't be good.
It's unsurprising this Japanese snack has made it to the festival as Thailand has a sizeable Japanese population. They're mainly in Bangkok, but it's not unusual for popular foods to move around the country. Fillings are mushroom, as opposed to traditional squid. Good stuff.
You can find vegan onigiri in 7-11 and maybe family mart. Who stocks what changes annually. Grab one the night before and wake up to an easy breakfast.
37. Tory's Ice cream
These guys started at the festival a few years ago, with promise of a future shop. Well, that time has come. I don't know if they will still be at the festival, but if you want to visit the Torry's Ice Cream shop you will find several vegan options on offer. The corn milk and durian flavours are excellent. Be aware the Thai dessert flavour is smoked with a beeswax candle.
38. Western baked goods
These are increasingly popular, especially in convenience stores. But FFS you are in Thailand so don't eat waffles and cake all day. I'm talking to you everybody who lives at a certain waffle haven in the capital. Okay, but some of the 7-11 Western cake things are still awesome. You will find a greater selection in Bangkok than in Phuket though. They also have shiitake mushroom crisps.
One plate rice dishes
39. Khao Mok Gai
Think of this a Thai style chicken biryani. Curried chicken is served on biryani style (although we're looking at Jasmine, not basmati) rice, ideally alongside cucumbers, some crunchy greens, and a spicy green sweet and sour nam jim dipping sauce.
40. Khao man gai
Typically the chicken laid over the rice would be boiled, not fried like the one below, but you get the idea. This image is actually from a restaurant in Nakhon Ratchasima, but the presentation is virtually the same everywhere, so you still know what to look for. It is served with cucumber, a clear broth, and a sauce that is made from ginger, soy sauce, chilies, sugar, vinegar, and fermented soybean paste. Non jay versions use garlic. You will see more people peddling vegan khao man gai than vegan khao mok gai.
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