Can you be vegan in Bangkok? Sure, there are vegan eateries in a super-touristy and near-to-India place such as Bangkok, but what if you don’t go to any of those eateries? Not because this is some kind of challenge reality show, but because those vegan joints are far away from where you’re staying, or at least that’s the way it seems in a new country.
I had recently visited the City of Angels (didn’t know it’s called this, but having reached there, didn’t take long to figure out why, he-he) on the insistence of one of my friends. Both my two best friends had been asking me for some time, actually for years, but due to both choice and chance (too long stories), our Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara kind of trip just hadn’t happened. But this time, when F1 (friend 1) gave me the ultimatum (a la Samantha to Charlotte in Sex and the City 2, the movie, when she asks the girls to join her for Abu Dhabi: “Charlotte, I have gone to baby showers for you, you better come to Abu Dhabi for me!), I decided to finally say yes. A part of the reason was also to test what I’d started this post with: I have been vegan for almost a year, and wanted to check if this holds up in a foreign land.
Here then is the account – a survival guide, if you will – of five days in Bangkok finding and eating vegan food, or at least trying to. In five parts, one for each day.
To start at the very beginning, the airport. We finished all our procedures, including the “random” questioning for single guys with an Islamic name, and finally reached the wait area. And what do people do while waiting, especially at the airport, especially if they are heavy-set (not me, my friends!)? Exactly. Eat. I wasn’t too hungry, but knew the next meal was only on the flight, a good couple of hours away, so decided to tuck in. Keeping my dietary preferences in mind, my friends placed an order of… fries. Little did I know this is how I’d be surviving most of the days in Bangkok.
Since eating fries is a monotonous activity and since that was the only edible food (for me) around and to check what vegan fate had in store for me over the next few days, I queried my vegetarian friend (F2), “What if the fries in Bangkok are made of animal oil?” F2 replied nonchalantly (he’s quite travelled), “If you think so much, you won’t be able to eat…” Hmm, wouldn’t I? A good thing I had listened to him and packed three packs of khakras and some peanut butter for the hotel. (The hotel wasn’t serving breakfast and in case of hunger pangs at night, you don’t want to raid the expensive mini bar in a country whose currency is double that of India’s.)
When booking our tickets, F2 had checked ‘vegan’ for my food preference. However, we had later changed our tickets, so we weren’t sure I would get vegan food. That’s ok, I would do what I usually do: ask for veggie food and subtract the non-vegan items. But no sooner did the food trolley start trolleying than the flight attendant came up to my seat, checked my name, and handed me a box that had ‘Vegan’ penned across it. Happiness at 30,000 ft above sea level. The choice and taste weren’t bad at all. Fruit slices, two types of hash brown (or one type of hash brown and one something similar to hash brown), juice, black tea, salad, bun… Doable. Jet Mata ki kai. However, there was some dairy whitener and butter too, but that was the non-vegan-educated attendant’s doing; the cook knew his/her vegan A-fine. The bun was delish even without the butter, and I asked for a second. I tried to figure out the difference between this vegan bun (on my plate) and the non-vegan one (on my friends’), if at all there was a difference. I felt mine had more dots on the bottom, like obvious cellulite. Ugh. But as I already said, it tasted wham.
After the flight, after the time change, after the taxi ride, after the negotiating with the receptionist (it was a new hotel and they seemed to have some weird rules), it was already dark. We settled into our rooms, settled our stuff, and decided to meet in an hour or so for dinner. 8pm, we were out on the streets. Sea-food smells all around. Three stalls down, I couldn’t take it anymore, and made a face and lots of sound. F2 chided me, “Careful, it’s their food…” My first lesson in respecting culture. (What about respecting life, I could have counter-chided, but the smoke had paralysed my thinking apparently.) Anyway, so through those burnt and brown sights and sounds, we made our way to our saviour, Aryaa’s, all-veg Indian restaurant. Step up (it’s on the first floor) and step in, and I realized we weren’t the only ones seeking succour. There were more than a handful of Indians around, and more walking by the quarter, seeking comfort in a foreign land.
We placed our order (veggie F2 and vegan mine was: tandoori roti, rumaali roti, daal without butter, bhindi, and of course masala paapad). The food came… and disappeared soon enough. We were hungry, plus the food was good.
Happy, we made our way back. We stopped at a nearby 7/11 (there are at least 711 such in the vicinity) to pick up some night supplies. I spotted a local brand of soymilk (Lactasoy), read the packaging like any good vegan, realized some variants contain milk (that’s why the portmanteau name), and so picked up only the ones that don’t, which was two of them. (Tip: Look for ‘Contains dairy’.) Came back to the hotel, we exchanged rapid GNs (we were too tired), I came back to my room, opened the soymilk pack, and went, “Aah”. First, the meal, and now this. Who said you can’t be vegan in Bangkok?
But then, tomorrow’s another day…