A haven for the overlooked

Veggie curries and stir-fries at Raan Booniyom

I lost my iPhone a couple of weeks ago. It is hard for me to believe I have lasted this long without it. The one thing I clutch  at parties when there is no one to talk to, at restaurant tables when I am inevitably the first to arrive, at home just because — my iPhone was a personal lifesaver in a restless sea of social awkwardness and negative thought spirals.

I am now up to my neck in that sea. No one tries to contact me anymore. I feel like people like me less. Yes, I know, my phone is gone. Also, I hate talking on the phone. Don’t pester me with logic! The point is I feel cut off from everything, neglected, and lonely. Overlooked.

I think it’s easy for vegetarians who love food to feel overlooked here, as well. Thai food has never been known for being particularly meaty the way American food is, but it seems to be a lot easier finding a good vegetarian meal in the States than it is here. And the places that do exist in Thailand are often criminally ignored. I’ve been guilty of this myself. Even though I know there are tons of wonderful ways to cook non-meat ingredients, I don’t actively seek vegetarian places out (except for Rasayana Raw Food Cafe, which has wonderful soups. I’m not kidding). It has to be right in front of me.

That problem is compounded when you factor in street food. Perhaps it’s because Thais feel “authentic” Thai food must have fish sauce or shrimp paste in it, or because there are not enough Thai vegetarians around, but when people ask me about street food stalls that are also vegetarian, there are few places to recommend.  Does Lemon Farm count as street food?

Well, Ubon Ratchathani has its act together when it comes to this. Raan Booniyom (corner of Thepyothi and Srinaruad roads, 086-871-1580) — less a stall, more a cafeteria, to be honest — offers everything that any vegetarian in Thailand would be happy to try out. In business for the past decade or so, Booniyom is possible because of the efforts of a group of local volunteers who arrive daily to dish up stir-fries, curries, salads, noodles, desserts, and anything else you could think of that is vegetarian.

Veggie “shrimp chips”

khao lad gaeng (curries over rice) counter offers the choice of one curry over rice for 10 baht; 20 baht for three curries. An aharn tham sung (made-to-order) section cooks up stir-fries a la minute. A vegetarian guay thiew (soup noodles) stand costs 15-20 baht; veggie som tum for 15 baht is also on the menu. Possibly best of all are the different drinks available, ranging from nam macaam (tamarind juice) to taro milk and something called “mushroom juice”: need I mention they are homemade?

Homemade drinks on display

Is there something like this in Bangkok? Um … not that I know of. That’s not to say  that a volunteer-run vegetarian “cafeteria” couldn’t open its doors, somewhere (hopefully close to me), thanks to a group of enterprising food lovers. In fact, I’d be happy to be the first customer! Let me know! Just don’t try to call me.

(Photos by @SpecialKRB)

7 Comments

Filed under Asia, curries, food, food stalls, Thailand, Ubon Ratchathani, vegetarian

7 responses to “A haven for the overlooked

  1. gautam

    Enjoyed your very interesting [and eclectic] essay. Hence, please forgive me if I indulge in a couple of digressions.
    1. I do not have a cell phone, and am 62. It is getting to the point that unless you can download apps, many important tasks are not possible; just what happend in the case of laptops.

    2. I have a keen interest in 2 disparate subjects in Thailand; a] the cuisine and food habits of the vaidika priests, who do have important roles to play in palace ceremonies.
    b] Had read something about Khmer Krom cooking, including a strictly vegetarian set of dishes. Some of these including bitter melon pleasantly reminded me of dishes from Bengal, called shookto. Don’t the Chinese community not hold a public festival of purely vegetarian foods?

    c] Yes a ‘c’ did appear, and I am not to blame!! For a long time, have been taking a keen interest in the cropping systems and crop choices in the Isaan region, and feeling the same frustration I experience with the agricultural/horticultural practice in my native West Bengal. In particular, there is a growing south Asian diaspora who cherish a set of vegetables and vegetarian products that
    will give superlative results when properly grown; indeed, many in the cucurbit family are found in Thai markets, and the banana flower so loved raw in Thai dishes have a most superior substitute in a seeded, wild-type banana from West and East Bengal, tresured solely for the flower bud which is taken as soon as it pops out. massive, up to 40 kg, and filled with larger size yet infinitely more tender/tasty buds than any of the varieties used both in India anf Thailand after fruit has set. There are more wonders to this wild typem, and the great Thai agricultural centers would do well to take a look. Thailand already is selling processed rice straw to India, and taking some plants from India’s flora would be so appropriate.

    I continue to study very carefully the types of vegetable/farm products that add value to farm labor with relative ease and certainty. So much more can be done, both in Bengal and in Thailand, around the same species, that my hands itch to start planting myself. The bare fields of Isaan, post rice harvest sparselyy populated by desultory herds of cattle have such extravagant potential. Lack of water is not really relevant to growing more than 1 crop, including some water-sparing legumes that thrive in very hot weaather, and would provide infinitely better fodder for the cows, as well as add some green manure.

    I feel icky, and please forgive this expression, when i see the wonderful site established by the late and honored King, to grow vegetables used in Western cooking. There, some varieties of sturgeon are being farmed and it does not make any thermodynamic or economic sense, given the nature of that species. This is not a criticism at all, but a hope that if money can be thrown at such inutile projects, why not spend a teensy fraction on vegetable speies in very great demand by the subcontinentals, and found in some [ but not necessarily sufficient] amounts in Thai markets? Fantastic potential if wisely done. Sorry for the harangue; not meant to be one!

  2. izziebleu

    I love your blog! I was searching for Thai “Tacos” and happened onto your site. I’m glad I’m not the only one who calls it that. Haha. I too am Thai-American but I can’t read or write Thai so sometimes I make up my own names to Thai dishes.

    One question regarding vegetarian food. When I was living in Bangkok about 10 years ago I went to this place in Chinatown that served Thai vegetarian food. It was a stall. They had this dish that was made out of shredded oyster mushrooms, deep-fried, tossed in a sweet and sour type sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was supposed to be a veggie-friendly version of Thai shredded beef jerky. It was delicious. I spent days looking online trying to find a recipe but to no avail. I sort of made something up and it actually tasted pretty good. But, it wasn’t exactly the same.

    Have you ever tried this? I’m not exactly sure how they did the sauce and am dying to know so I can replicate it. I live in LA and I can’t seem to find anyone here who knows what I’m talking about!

    • That sounds delicious. I will be in Chinatown this week and will definitely be looking out for this. There is a mushroom “jerky” made by Lemon Farm which sounds similar to what you describe …
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Randy Lee Bown

    They were called “cell” phone because the coverage area of each tower was circular in shape on a map, thus each coverage area looked like a cell.

  4. Anney

    Dear Glutton – maybe you would like to sponsor me in an international contest to be the last person on the planet not to have a ‘mobile’ phone…. I think they are called … for some inexplicable reason ‘cell’ phones outside of Australia??

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