1 – 1. The score-line read after two days in Bangkok. One day that was good on the vegan front, one day that wasn’t on the friend front. So, which way would day three go? Read on…
Same old, same old
By now, we had slipped into a routine. Wake up, finish ablutions, meet up in F2’s (friend two, vegetarian) room for a breakfast of thepla and khakra. But there’s only so much of T&K you can have. So, we decided to have less of it today and head out for proper breakfast, at Dosa King. We would have brunch of sorts, skipping proper lunch, as we were going with F1 (friend 1, non-vegetarian) to an exhibition he had come to the city for.
Kingly setting, kingly price
Dosa King was nice and spacious, and more decorous than last night’s Bukhara’s, and showed in its prices: breakfast here was as steep as dinner there. But then, your food in a foreign land always costs dearer. (Saravana Bhavan has opened up in Amsterdam recently, and a tumbler of filter coffee there costs… Rs 300.) I asked for upma – I had already had soymilk and the theplas, so was quite full. But I lingered with the menu – it held my attention not just due to the fascinatingly high prices, but because it was entirely visual, that is, every item was mentioned not in a list as in a traditional menu but had images showing the dish in its full finesse. Brilliant strategy: patrons aren’t confused, neither are the Thai staff (while the managers were Indian, many of the serving staff were Thai). The friends had paper and masala dosas. We finished brunch quickly, paid reluctantly, and took a cab speedily.
Nothing to talk about – vegan-wise – at the exhibition as it was one big walk after another, F1 checking out lots of stuff, F2 buying a lot of stuff, and me storing all that stuff as I was the only one with the backpack. There were food-stalls and a café there, but we were too busy and also didn’t want to take a chance.
But food was on our mind. On our way back, we decided to stock up on breakfast for the rest of our stay there – we wanted to go beyond the Indian stuff we had brought but didn’t want to have overpriced breakfast that too almost at lunch-time. So, we headed to the nearby supermarket, Villa Market, which was an organic and foreign foods’ paradise. Most fruits looked as big as a watermelon, which was surprisingly missing, so we don’t know how big watermelons are there. As big as a ruby? (Thailand is called the Ruby Capital of the World.) The fruits, not surprisingly, were highly priced too. I am yet to come across three bananas for 80 bucks (am talking INR here), so I passed. F1 bought a lot of red rose apples, all as big as a normal mango in India. And then we hit the cold store section. Paradise.
Soymilk Capital of the World
Actually, first, it was hell – as there was tons of red around. And then in the dairy section, well, tons of dairy. But somewhere in the section, were to be found little rubies for me: packs upon packs of soymilk. Of different brands, sizes and variants. And the price, unlike the fruits, very cheap / reasonable: some 14 bucks, some 30, some 60 (again, INR). So, where Bangkok ODed (for the vegan) on seafood, it made up for in soymilk. I started visualizing settling down there. I heaped in one pack / bottle of each brand / variant – whichever was good, I would come tomorrow for repeats. And then, went into the next aisle… where there were more soymilk brands. I started visualizing settling down in that aisle.
Into the basket went these. Tofusan (in India, I guess, that would mean ‘Tofuji’, as ‘san’ I understood is a form of respect for males in Thailand) in plain, with sesame seeds, with a tofu sheet (hmm, how would that be?). More Lactasoy. Good old Silk, but without the import price it has in India. And a new brand called Vegemil. It had different variants: almond and walnut (sounded very promising) and a couple of kiddie flavours. I wanted to extend my trip already.
We went back to the hotel, deposited our stash, and they decided to stay in. They were too whacked after all the hopping and shopping and wanted to do very Bangkoky Saturday night things (don’t ask). I wasn’t game, and saying that we could very well do separate / individual things, headed for the nearby mall. They seemed too tired to resist.
Little Arabia, lotta horrors
I didn’t know which mall I’d go to – there were tons on the way – but I started walking. For the heck of it, I decided to walk through the Arab quarter (known locally as Soi Arab), as I was seeing tons of Arabs streaming out of this lane, like they were returning from Mecca. (Umm, I didn’t realise I had a fascination for Arabs; damn Russell Peters.) But big mistake. Watching dead seafood, which we had been doing all throughout, is not as grisly as seeing stripped, naked, beheaded chickens on skewers; taking in overpowering smells of big meats and of strong spices to mask those smells; noticing tossed-out inedible parts, with bits of flesh still sticking… But hey, here I could afford to display my disgust: this wasn’t a Thai space after all. But only a bit: those Arabs are huge, you know.
I came to a big crossing, saw a big mall there (Central World), sensed a big buzz, and decided this is where I’d hang for the evening. There was a weekend market in full swing, of both fashion and food. Mercifully, here, the food didn’t trouble me too much as there were so many competing sights and sounds, from buyers and shopkeepers alike. I waded through some of these stalls, but they seemed very teenyboppery, so decided to enter the main mall.
Hunger strikes at the mall
A few floors up, I started thinking, malls seem to be the same everywhere, just that the brands and buyers are different. And okay, this one is huger than most Indian malls, except the ones at Gurgaon, from what I’ve heard. Five floors up, a book purchase down, and a movie ticket in, I was getting hungry. Remember, I had not really had anything since upma at Dosa King. The top two floors was the food court; yes, two whole floors. I was in luck. Or. So. I. Thought.
I looked. And looked. And then some more. And couldn’t see beyond seafood, seafood, and more seafood. From all the different South-East Asian countries, and even from China and Japan. And as if this wasn’t enough, there was fusion food from these countries. And for a change from seafood, there was “good” old pizza – all non-veg, of course, so forget vegan – and even steakhouses. I was done in. My face was falling. My spirit was crushing. What would I eat? And no, not fries at McD’s or KFC.
And keeps striking…
I spotted an oasis – a supermarket. I went in and scoured. No relief. I spotted an Indian counter there – Mrs Balbir’s restaurant – but good old Punjabi / Sardarni Mrs Balbir, even if she gives up her butter chicken can’t give up her palak paneer. So, all the veg items there had either paneer or cream. But, wait… No, I don’t want to have samosa either. That too, overpriced.
Big lesson learnt: When vegan in a non-vegan place, prepare to not eat for a long time. Actually, that goes for any place.
At the end, soymilk proved to be the saviour yet again. Spotted Lactasoy (what would I have done without this brand?) in the dairy section, and this time a different flavour: green tea. Paid up, sipped up. Awesome. Made up for all the misfirings, or rather, mis-sightings so far.
It was time for the movie. Didn’t have much hope for vegan items here – even in India, popcorn and Coke is my standard order these days – but that would be okay. Lactasoy was still in my senses. And so popcorn and Coke it was; the only difference, super-sized. Just like the fruits at the supermarket.
And the movie? For the situation, the cruelly named and conceived Zootopia, where carnivores and herbivores live peacefully together. That, I guess, can only happen at the movies.
And the score is…
There might have been seafood to the right of me, and red meats to the left of me, but thanks to all the soymilk, and some steadfast determination, the vegan had managed to hold his own in Bangkok. Day 3 was done, and the score-line read 2 – 1. In the vegan’s favour.
And then at night, returning to the hotel room, I had the Vegemil almond and walnut soymilk. Make that 3 – 1. I was definitely returning to the supermarket in the morning for repeats. And then some more.
This is part three of a five-part series on being vegan in Bangkok, or at least trying. Read parts one and two below, and watch out for part four tomorrow…