Traveling abroad always comes with a healthy does of anxiety for me. Sure, some of it is just good, old fashion excitement, but the days preceding a large trip tend to put me on edge. Trying to pack for an extended period of time out of the country throws my Type-A brain into over-drive, but in addition to the practicalities of travel, I also fret about being a good ambassador for the US. The latter is a more nebulous stressor — one that can’t necessarily be quelled with extensive planning and lists.
 
It’s fair to say that America has a checkered reputation abroad. When I find myself lucky enough to explore different corners of the globe, I try to be aware of the image I am projecting. I’m sure none of you are shocked to hear that it is obvious that I am an American. Perhaps it’s the dumbstruck look of awe I wear on my face almost 100% of the time (I can’t help it!). My goal is to be seen a thoughtful American, a kind American, and definitely a respectful American. I can’t speak to how successful I am, but I strive to keep in mind that I am merely a visitor passing through. 
 
Needless to say, this was a lot to process before I went vegan. Being vegan has introduced two new wrinkles to travel:
  1. There is a possibility that I won’t be able to find much food to eat (looking at you, Pudong International Airport)
  2. Unless I am very, very careful, I might offend someone with my diet

Thank Buddha for Jay

The ease of traveling vegan varies greatly from place to place. As it turns out, Thailand is one of those places where it is shockingly easy. That is largely thanks to jay (also spelled jeh) food. The term “jay” is believed to have derived from Jainism, an eastern religion that practices strict nonviolence — so much so that that even the consumption of plants like garlic, onions, and potatoes is strictly forbidden. Why? When used for food, those plants don’t survive the encounter.

Image from Quora.

Today, many Buddhist monks believe that abstaining from meat consumption as well as pungent herbs (like garlic, chives, shallots, etc.) purifies the body and improves their karma. Because Thailand’s population identifies as 97% Buddhist, a special niche for jay food has emerged. These eateries stand out from the rest by marking themselves with a variety of bright red and yellow flags, several pictured above.

I thought it might be helpful to describe a few of the jay eateries we ate at during our 10 days in Thailand for any other vegans who might be planning a trip. So, without further adieu…

Jay Restaurants in Bangkok, Thailand

Suki Jeh Ru Yi

285 Soi Phraya Singha Seni in Chinatown

Located a short two minute walk from the Hua Lamphong Metro Station lives the vegetarian delight that is Suki Jeh Ru Yi.

Sign outside Suki Jeh Ru Yi featuring two versions of the jay symbol.

As a traveler, you know you’ve struck gold when you look around a place and only see locals. That’s definitely the case with Suki Jeh Ru Yi — i.e. no farangs here 🙂 . According to reviews, this cozy restaurant can get quite crowded, and now I know why. The menu was huge and had an insane amount of fake meat options. We ordered pad Thai (of course!), Thai style sour and spicy pork, and fried duck to split between the two of us. The idea was that we’d walk away with leftovers, but the food was so delicious that we wolfed it all down.

The sour and spicy pork was by far our favorite, but the mock duck was pretty incredible, too. I didn’t know it was possible to make tofu taste so meaty, but apparently it is – if you scour the Happy Cow reviews, you can see the comments say pretty much the same thing (“Good fake meat,” “non-veg friends couldn’t believe it’s not real meat,” etc.).

Jay Food Stall Behind India Emporium

345 Chakphet Road in Little India

I literally have no idea what any of this was, but it was delicious.

When we told people that we were going to Thailand, one of the first thing people told us was to “be sure to eat a bunch of street food!” JB and I weren’t sure what options we’d be have, so after finding these food stalls on Happy Cow, we knew we absolutely had to try them. India Emporium is  located in Little India, which was about a twenty minute walk from Wat Pho and off the regular tourist path. I have to admit, I was a little worried we wouldn’t be able to find the place. The instructions on Happy Cow were limited to “located behind India Emporium,” but it was incredibly easy to find. All you have to do is enter the mall on Chakphet Road and walk directly to the back to exit the building. The large, yellow jay flags are clearly visible from the landing, and they’re your clue that you’re in the right spot!

I didn’t get the feeling that many westerners ventured into this alley shopping area. We certainly didn’t see any while we were there. The woman running the stall spoke very little English, but her huge, warm smile help assure us that our lack of Thai wasn’t too big of a burden. She quickly filled up two plates of rice for both JB and I, and from there it was simply a matter of pointing to different vats of food to let her know what we wanted. I had a mock-meat and a potato dish, as well as some tofu – it was incredible. I wish I knew what exactly I had eaten so I could try to replicate it now that I’m back at home, but alas. It remains a mystery.

 

Yellow jay flags – once you see these, you know you’ve found the right place!

Jay Food Stall in the MBK Center

Phayathai Road, Food Court on Level 6 

If you find yourself in Pathum Wan with a hankering to go shopping, this food stall might be the place for you. It’s located in the Food Island area on Level 6 of the MBK Center. Admittedly, this was my least favorite jay restaurant of the trip, but it’s good to know it exists in case you find yourself in need of a quick bite to eat between stores. Like the other jay restaurants, the food is very cheap – about 50 baht for a plate of rice and a few entrees.

The procedure in Food Island was a little confusing for us, so I’ll quickly outline it here. You’ll purchase a ‘food credit’ card – there are few booths where this is possible around the perimeter of the court. This card is what you pay with at the different stalls, and whatever you don’t spend can be refunded before the end of the day. Feel free to load it up!

Jay Restaurants in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Samrup Jay Vegetarian

Uthong Road, north west corner of the island

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Ayutthaya’s central island is the little jay delight Samprup Jay Vegetarian. JB and I naively decided not to rent bikes (mistake), so we walked here. As of April 2017, the Google Maps directions to Samrup Jay from Wat Phra Si Sanphet took us on to a dead end in a residential area, where we had to circle back. Make your lives easier than we did and flag down a songthaew or a tuk-tuk. Ask them to take you outside of Wat Tuek, and you should be within striking distance. Maybe it was our 20+ minute jaunt through the oppressive heat, but this was my favorite Pad Thai of the trip.

Jay Vegetarian Food

48/1 Khlong Makharm Riang Road

We didn’t actually grab a meal here, but it’s worth mentioning that it exists. Jay Vegetarian Food is located on the eastern side of the island in a more central location to the ruins. It’s also easier to get to and from the train station from here than it is from Samrup Jay.

Jay Restaurants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ming Kwan Vegetarian

86 Rachadamnoen Road near Wat Phra Singh

Again, the two common jay symbols. Photo is from HappyCow.net.

Ming Kwan Vegetarian is located on Rachadamnoen Road, a two minute walk from the famous Wat Phra Singh temple in Chiang Mai’s old city. We grabbed lunch here after a long, sweaty trek on the Pilgrim’s trail up to Doi Suthep. Needless to say,  I was incredibly thankful for the large portions at this buffet. This was another “point to what I want” situation, with some wontons and spring rolls thrown in at the end of the line for good measure. I got a large plate of food food with rice and two buffet items for 30 baht, which was about $0.86.

A few of the food items were luke warm, but that didn’t bother us. We were aware that that could be the case after some reviews on Happy Cow, but honestly, the whole meal was so delicious that it didn’t matter anyway. Ming Kwan’s central location makes this little cafe the perfect place to grab a bite after temple hopping. The word on the street is that their vegan to-go burgers are also delicious – we didn’t end up getting on, but I definitely regret it.

Besides strictly jay cuisine, Thailand offers a whole host of other veggie friendly eateries. I’ll be writing more about some of our other favorite restaurants in subsequent posts, so be sure to come back soon!

xx,
s