Our arrival in Phuket coincided with the start of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. This is an annual, ten day celebration throughout which abstinence from meat and other stimulants is observed. It is believed that this acts as a spiritual cleanse to obtain good health and peace of mind.
The festival areas were adorned with yellow flags and the worshippers all dressed in white clothing. The festival is celebrated at many of the Chinese temples around the island but the majority of festivities take place in Phuket Town.
This year, the festival fell at the same time as the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s funeral so the celebrations were toned down significantly. In past years there have been fire crackers, fire walkers and parades of devotees inflicting torturous acts on themselves, to bring luck to the community. People pierce their cheeks with sharp objects like knives and swords, and outright bizarre objects like spanners, ukuleles and even bicycles. It is believed these people will be protected from scarring and mutilation by the Chinese gods. I wasn’t too upset about missing that part of the celebration.
We visited the main Chinese temple on the first day of the festival.
As you can see, it was full of people dressed in white commencing their celebrations. It is tradition that on the first day of the festival a lantern pole, about 10 m high, is raised to notify the Chinese gods that the festival has begun. You can see the pole in the picture below lying horizontally, covered in gold leaf, waiting to be raised.
The streets leading to the temple were packed with food stands offering all sorts of vegetarian food. The majority of the restaurants close during this period so people flock to these market stalls for their fix of festive delights. Whilst a vegetarian diet is followed, most of the food on offer consists of noodles, tofu and deep-fried foods. Finding actual vegetables is a bit of a struggle.
While we stayed in Phuket Town, we ate at the festival food market every evening to sample a good variety of what was on offer. It was always buzzing with thousands of people coming together to enjoy the festival.
On our first evening we went to a buffet-style place where you pay a small amount for each dish you like the look of. The selection available was overwhelming.
It was slightly chaotic but that added to the charm of the place.
I ended up asking one of the ladies that worked there for her recommendations and got the most delicious plateful of food.
This simple plate of food concealed the most flavoursome meal. There were two different deep-fried tofu dishes (a sesame one and a peanut one) and some leafy greens. I’d never really been a big fan of tofu but I can assure you it is really delicious deep-fried and coated in sauce.
The next evening we sampled some of the street food options and bought a couple of noodle bowls.
These weren’t quite as mind-blowing as the previous meal but tasty nevertheless.
For our final meal we opted for one of the buffet-style places again. It followed the same concept where you pay per dish selected. The selection, again, was incredible.
This time we picked out our own food.
Another delicious feast of deep-fried tofu dishes alongside the only real veggies we could find.
On top of all these options for dinner, the food market had a large variety of snack foods available. This included spring rolls, sweetcorn fritters, sweet potato balls and, of course, more deep-fried tofu.
You point at what you like the look of and it gets chopped into bitesize pieces, served with sweet chilli sauce. Yum.
For a sweet treat to round up the culinary experience, there was plenty of roti on offer (not Urdu for bread). This is a Thai style, sweet pancake with a pastry-like texture, smothered in different sauces and toppings.
All in all we were very lucky to have arrived in Phuket when we did. The vegetarian festival will be a foodie experience I won’t forget.