On a recent trip to Ayutthaya to buy sausages (I know what you are thinking, that I have no life, but did I mention that these are GERMAN-STYLE sausages?), I encountered something very troubling and did something totally out of character. At the restaurant, there were many dogs, but one was tied up and two little boys were trying to force the poor dog into a tiny little cage, prodding her with sticks and occasionally giving a kick for good measure.
This is not something I want to see while I am trying to stuff my face with frankfurters and deep-fried pork knuckle, or anything else, for that matter. I tried to intervene several times, chastising the boys and looking to their freaking PARENTS for some back-up. Finally, after forcibly removing the stick from the boys and yelling at them to STOP, I asked the parents why this dog was tied up.
Apparently, the dog was “bothering customers” by being overly friendly, and so rather than letting her “bother” customers, they tied her up. Somehow, the thought that seeing this defenseless animal abused might bother their customers did not occur to anyone. Or that having their kids disciplined by some random stranger was a bad thing. This trip made me rethink a few things, namely: 1.) the “evil” of corporal punishment on obnoxious, mean-spirited kids, 2.) whether I can ever go back to that restaurant again, no matter how good the sausages are supposed to be and 3.) if I can’t stand to see animals being mistreated, what about the meat that I eat every day?
So I’ve been trying to eat less meat, and I haven’t exploded from yearning or frustration yet. What has helped: the southern Indian (read: vegetarian) stand at the food court in Pahurat’s India Emporium (561 Chakapet Rd., 02-623-9301), a magical place promising gastronomic delights of all descriptions — Thai and non-vegetarian included — but brimming (unusually, for a place like Thailand) with all matter of vegetarian dishes and flavors.
Truth is, real vegetarian (when it’s not Buddhist Lent) is hard to come by in a country where fish sauce is part of the essential flavor profile (although I did meet two Thais the other day who found fish sauce “smelly” and used light soy sauce and salt instead. What is this world coming to? Next thing you know, chilies will be too “spicy” and Tabasco will be considered living on the edge. Thailand: the Erie, Pennsylvania of the future.)
So being a vegetarian here can be a bit of a chore, especially if you want to eat on the street (which explains why a lot of people go pescatarian when they live here). And while the food court at India Emporium is hardly the sweltering, National Geographic-worthy adventure that a trek into, say, the side-streets of Yaowaraj can be, it IS in one of the most exciting neighborhoods in Bangkok — full of color, interesting smells (not ALL unpleasant) and food you won’t easily find anywhere else. A case in point:
These thin crepe-like dosas are made fresh before your eyes and stuffed with masala and, if you like, cheese, before they are served with a vegetable soup, yogurt and chutney. If, say, you went crazy and started ordering everything you saw because you were so moved by the color and chaos of the surrounding neighborhood and also got lentil fritters, soaking in a red-tinged vegetable broth, and papdi chat, puffy air-filled bits of dough slathered in yogurt, coriander chutney and tamarind sauce AS WELL AS a lovely rasmalai (cottage cheese dumplings in milk with almonds) and a double order of gulab jaman (uh, too sweet here, not aromatic with cardamom like it should be), the nice young man at the counter won’t bat an eye or judge you (too much) for your Gluttony, not at all. No, he’ll be fine and you can go on living like you are completely normal. For realz.
So, India Emporium food court: the place of non-judgmental face-stuffing. And, much of it is vegetarian. Also, no crappy 7-year-old sociopaths. These are all good things.