Monday, 6 January 2014

The vegan Jay restaurants in Thailand


All over Thailand there are Jay restaurants. They serve humble Buddhist vegan foods buffet style for a cheap price. Bangkok has dozens of Jay restaurants and many other Thai cities have one or more Jay restaurants.
Originally the Jay kitchen was introduced to Thailand by Buddhist Chinese immigrants. Nowadays Jay restaurants are integrated in Thai culture. The number of Jay restaurants is growing.

“Jay” food should not be confused with the “Jain” food from India.

Jay shops usually have screamy and flashy festive and colorful yellow red signs with the Chinese character for "strict vegetarian" and the Thai letters "Jay" often in Chinese style. "Vegetarian" and recently "vegan" are also used.

The philosophy of the Jay kitchen.

The philosophy of the Jay kitchen is rooted in both Chinese Buddhism and the traditional Chinese medicine.
When I did write the Bangkok Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide I was able to meet and talk with many owners of Jay restaurants. “Animals can feel pain just like us, it is wrong to kill them.”  and similar phrases I heard a lot. One Jay restaurant in Bangkok showed a poster ; “Animals are my friends, and I don’t eat my friends.”
Out of the Buddhist compassion for all living beings, no animal ingredients are used. No meat, fish, eggs, milk, or honey. Like in most Chinese vegetarian restaurants in South East Asia, the Jay restaurants decorate their shop with images of the Guanyin (aka Kwam Im),  the Bodhisattva associated with Compassion.

The Jay kitchen also avoids five different kind of plants for health reasons. Tobacco is unhealthy for your lungs, garlic is supposed to be unhealthy for your heart, onions  for your kidney, Chinese chives for your liver.
Alternatively, white beans are good for your lungs, red beans for your heart, green beans for your liver, and black beans for your kidneys.

from left to right
1. Free "Jay" book sometimes available in Jay restaurants.
2. "I don't eat my friends." 
3. Explaining about the unhealthy effects of 5 particular herbs on the internal organs.
4. A cow is shedding tears when a woman wants to butcher it.

The JAY sign.

The Jay sign is a bright yellow colored surface with a red Chinese character meaning “strict vegetarian”, and the word Jay written in Thai language, also in the color red. Often the Thai letters are stylized in Chinese style.
Not only the Jay restaurants carry this easy-to-recognize sign but also many ordinary supermarket food products that are vegan have a tiny “Jay” label. The Jay symbol is widely recognized by all Thai people.

1. A plate of white rice with two toppings for 35 Baht.
2. A bowl of Yeng Tau Foo with yellow fried noodles, mock fish balls, mock slices of beef and fried tofu.

Visiting a Jay restaurant.

With their big yellow red signs a Jay restaurant is easy to spot and hard to miss. When you enter the Jay restaurant you go to the buffet to order.
The typical jay dish is a plate of white rice with one, two, or three toppings of your choice from the buffet. You simple order with a “laat kaaow” which means you want rice with topping, and point to the toppings of your choice.
And don’t worry, ALL the food in the buffet is vegan. If you see some white liquids, it is coconut milk and not cow milk. Yellow noodles are not “egg” noodles, they are vegan.
The lingo for ordering a plate of rice with toppings:

Plate of rice with 1 topping : Laat kaaow nung yaang.
Plate of rice with 2 toppings : Laat kaaow soong yaang.
Plate of rice with 3 toppings : laat kaaow saam yaang.

The price for a plate of rice with one topping is at the moment 30 Baht, two toppings 35 Baht, 3 toppings 40 Baht.
After ordering, you can take a seat at a table and somebody will bring you your dish. Don’t pay yet, when you finished your meal and are ready to leave you can pay.
Besides a buffet with 5 to 10 options, a Jay restaurants usually has noodle soup and some other dishes.
Usually a Jay restaurant has cold water plus ice free of charge self service. A jug of cold water on your table is free of charge but a bottle of mineral water on your table is not free of charge. Don’t open it and you won’t be charged.
Home made juices are available in the refrigerator.
Often Jay restaurants have a big freezer stuffed with high quality mock meats for sale, ranging from fish to burgers to chicken nuggets. If you have opportunity to cook at your lodging you might consider buying a few.
A pack of frozen mock meats usually sell for around or under 100 Baht.

1. Some Jay restaurants have a bilengual  English Thai menu.
2. A buffet with ten options.
3. A tray with fried mock meats.Mock meats are originally a Chinese food.
4. A table with take options like sandwiches, spring rolls, and cookies.

Other vegan Jay products that might be for sale in a Jay restaurants are dried soy proteins, boxes of nori, dried noodles, etc. Sometimes small round cans of mock meats are for sale. These might be handy when traveling around as a vegan snack or topping for a plate of white rice.
In general Jay shops open early, which is good for the early birds among us, and close in the late afternoon or very early evening. Jay shops might be closed on Saturdays and or Sundays.
“There is cow milk in the refridgerator !!”
Sometimes between the juices and the soymilk, there is cow milk available in the refrigerator of some Jay shops. And occasionally I spot a bottle of honey for sale in the Jay shop.
That of course raises fears that maybe also the food in that and other Jay restaurants might occasionally not be strict vegan. But that is not the case. ALL food offered in a Jay restaurant is Jay, vegan, absolutely no milk or eggs or honey are used. ALL the food in the buffet and on the menu is Jay, vegan, always.
It is simply that some products that are sold which are not Jay, not vegan, like milk or honey, but never meat or fish. Again, these products might occasionally be sold but are never used as ingredients for the meals in the Jay restaurant.

1. Don't try to impress her with a "I am already 5 year vegan!". She is a 20+ vegan herself, like many other Jay restaurant owners. :-)
3. The image of Guanyin (or "Kwam Im") is displayed in most Jay restaurants.
4. Jay restaurants often have a food corner with canned mock meats, soy protein, noodles, nori, and more.

While in Thailand, support your local Jay shop and enjoy the vegan meal and vegan vibes !


  1. Gosh .. I wished I had known that before I went to Thailand. Read the article on the way back... ;-) Gotta come back and try the Jay Restaurants!
    Thanks a lot.

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  3. We adore these restaurants. Thanks for the informative write up!

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  5. Good and informative, thank you :)
    I am in Bangkok now looking for the yellow and red sign, but no luck so far. Are there any area where there is a few or could you point out the location of a few good ones? Thank you again :)