IrfindingVegan… In Bangkok | Day 2: All’s Not Well…

IrfindingVegan LogoDay 1 had gone vegan-perfect. Now, would Day 2? Well, it didn’t – not food-wise, but otherwise. You’ll see what I mean. And based on the knowledge of that, Day 1 hadn’t gone perfect either – and this time, vegan-wise. You’ll see what I mean too.

Bingeing at breakfast

A serving of theplas with pickle on a plate

Theplas, or how an Indian vegan can survive in Bangkok

I woke up for my first full day in Bangkok, and within a short while, got a text from F2 (vegetarian) checking if we were ready for breakfast in his room. Reminder: the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast, but we had come prepared with Indian snack/breakfast items such as thepla (he), khakra (me) and, ok, American peanut butter. I crunched through a few khakras, but found his theplas much more appetizing: they were soft, moist, and delectable with the chutney the manufacturers had managed to squeeze in next to the vacuum-sealed theplas. Mercifully, F2 had come prepared – he was going to stay back after we left, for a conference, and had got enough for all three of us and even some of the hotel staff.

Breakfast over, we made our plans for the day. F1 (non-vegetarian) was going for some work (this wasn’t all a holiday trip for him either), so F2 and I decided to do the touristy thing and go to Grand Palace.

We met downstairs after a shower and all after an hour or so, and made to the main road. Just as we waited for a cab, I noticed some pigeons pecking away on the ground – the first time I was noticing animal life on the roads and outside here. Agree, it was less than one day in Bangkok, but I hadn’t noticed street dogs or cats or even crows, pigeons, parrots and other avians regular in Indian skies. My friend educated me, “You know, ‘stray’ animals aren’t considered a symbol of an urbanized city in the rest of the world…” So, did Thailand too shoot eat its crows and other birds as well as quadrupeds, as Singapore is known to do, or worse, eat them, I mused…

Piscine birds, piscine everyone

A flock of pigeons in Bangkok Back to the pecking pigeons, I noticed something jaw-dropping: they were pecking at fish pieces. Suddenly, all that I’d known of grainovorous pigeons went flying away with them. Bangkok’s pigeons, at least, the few I had seen, had done the classic Mother Nature thing of adapting to their environments. And evolution seemed to have followed suit: these piggees looked leaner, sharper, meaner than their veggie Indian counterparts. You live and learn, you live and learn…

Fried insects at one of the many street stalls in BangkokIt was going to be a day of further extreme sights, it would seem. For after Grand Palace and Wat Pho, as we started making our way to the pier Tha Tien, with me happy that I had managed to survive on vegan snacks and beverages there (iced tea – actual iced tea, not ice tea; fresh juice; cut fruits – so, when in Bangkok, a vegan becomes a fruitarian), we came across the next level of non-veg “food”: insects. Big, brown grasshoppers, curled-up maggots, and other entomological beings I couldn’t get myself to look at, forget identifying. I bent over, feeling like throwing up, but remembering the cultural lesson from the first day and also realizing I’m the outsider here, steadied myself. Barely had I done so, than there was another display. And then all the strong and sullen (to me) smells from all the sea-food joints at Tha Tien. It seemed people weren’t just going cruising at the pier, they were also indulging in fishing, and then bringing their fresh catch back to the bank to devour immediately, though with seasoning.

With so much non-vegan, non-me smells to endure in one afternoon, I needed some air to feel my senses again. So, we hung at the pier for some time, and just to be doubly sure, for our trip back to the hotel, we took the airy tuk-tuk.

But if you think that was the tough part of the day, it’s still to come…

Duels at dinner

We rested the evening out, and early night, decided to hit town – it was Friday evening after all, and the world and his horny brother seemed to have descended on the City of Angels. I was enjoying trying to identify the different nationalities, in between frequent exhortations of “Boom boom” (that’s not the tuk-tuk, but, urm, calls for “fuk-fuk”). Having taken in enough and not really having eaten properly since breakfast, our insides were firing up. We wanted to try out a different place today – again, Indian; “always safer” in F1’s opinion – and came across a comforting name, Bukhara’s; I guess, related to the many Bukharas back in Bombay. We stepped in, the manager seemed Indian, so more familiarity welcomed us. The place looked elaborately done, but also a bit dark, as if it didn’t want you to notice that the elaborateness was a bit of a show and perhaps hiding a lot of squalor, or seediness, behind. Or maybe I should stop analyzing so much…

The interiors at (New) Bukhara's restaurant in Bangkok

Menus in hand, orders being placed, I started with my standard question, “There is no milk, cream, ghee, butter, etcetera in this, right?” Perhaps because he was hearing me for the second night in a row saying this to the server/manager, F2 thought of helping me out, by informing the manager, “He’s vegan.” At which, the manager piped back to me (all this in Hindi, by the way), “How is it possible to be vegan in today’s day and time…” He already looked shifty and smooth-talking, and now he was acting smart as well. But I prefer not to bite back at once, so I tried a combination of humour and comment with the equally swift rejoinder, “Actually, it’s exactly in today’s day and time that people are going vegan…” But Shifty wasn’t going to rest, it seemed. He paused and came back with, “Then, you can’t have the rumaali roti – it’s got milk in it… and in some places, they even put egg…” I returned with, “Simple, I’ll have the tandoori roti then…”

Fake smiles exchanged with the manager, I turned to F2, seething for having put me through this with his no-doubt well-intentioned gesture. The words came out slowly, “You know, I took over a year to go vegan… To figure out how exactly to deal with situations like this… I know what people typically say… So, I don’t tell them I’m vegan, but rather ask them if the food has got dairy and stuff… I find that a better way to check with people… Only when I feel the person may know what’s vegan – and doesn’t appear smart-assy – do I tell them… Basically, I like to control the communication…” F2 was almost incensed, I could feel – the atmosphere felt as hot as the oven of a tandoori/rumaali roti. Dissed, he just repeated, “Ok, ok, I got it…” F1 tried to calm both us down.

Rumaali roti in making

Lesson learnt: Rumaali roti is not vegan

Things a bit cooler, F1 asked me, “So, what about the (non-vegan) rumaali roti you had yesterday then…” I smiled, paused and replied, “You might remember, when I had turned vegetarian 20 years ago, in the very first year after that, we had gone to our (earlier) favourite bakery and I’d asked for potato chop. Only when it came and I had chomped through more than half of it did I realized that ‘chop’ in any form means a chop of mutton. I typically make most mistakes in my first year since having gone vegetarian/vegan, so I’m okay with it…”

Phew. To douse all the fires at the table, they needed lots of lassi. I wanted to get away from Shifty’s restaurant asap. And the moment I did, I went again to the nearby 7/11 and filled myself with Lactasoy non-dairy soymilk. Thank god for small comforts.

My own mind too calmer now, I did some more thinking, ‘May be, more than controlling the communication, I should aim to handle the communication…’ You live and learn, you live and learn…

This is part two of a five-part series on how can you be vegan in Bangkok, or at least try. Read the first part here: Day 1: All’s Well. And watch out for part three tomorrow…

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3 thoughts on “IrfindingVegan… In Bangkok | Day 2: All’s Not Well…

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