Phuket’s vegetarian nirvana at Lotus restaurant

PHUKET: The Vegetarian Festival is a yearly religious event held in honor of the nine Taoist Gods (Kiu Ong Iah), who are revered for their power to protect Phuket island and its inhabitants.

For ten days during the ninth lunar month, the Chinese community observes a strict code of conduct to purify the body and mind: celibacy, cleanliness of the body, abstinence from alcohol and meat products.

During this time, vegetarian restaurants spring up all over the island to cater to vegetarian practices. Usually, vendors will cook up a multitude of various dishes in advance to save time for this very busy period. So what you get is mostly unappealing, overcooked vegetables and soggy fries. Not so with the Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant in Samkong, for every dish is cooked fresh on the spot.

Khun Pennapa ‘Poom’ Somnam, who has been a vegetarian for more than ten years, opened Lotus 12 years ago on Hongyok Utit Road behind Bangkok Hospital Phuket. Only a month ago, the restaurant moved to larger premises on the same road. The new Lotus is bright and clean and fully air-conditioned. There’s also a small outdoor area, which has proved popular with diners.

“Lotus, or Dok Bua in Thai, is a Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. Admittedly, you don’t reach nirvana easily, but I believe that we should all try to at least practice the Buddhist precept of non-violence, and vegetarianism is part and parcel of this,” says Khun Poom.

At Lotus, many types of mushrooms which are acquired daily from a nearby farm are used in place of meat. There is also mock meat to please the die-hard carnivores, which is made by combining mushrooms, soybean derivatives and herbs. It comes in many shapes and forms, such as roast duck, stewed pork and even prawns. It tastes and smells uncannily like real meat, although Khun Poom assures me that the seasonings they use are derived solely from natural products, notably the pungent shitake mushrooms and fermented soy paste.

Following the strict code of Phuket vegetarianism, where most strong-smelling herbs are forbidden, Khun Poom will not use garlic, onion, or chives in her cooking. However, pepper and chillies are allowed, so you will find a few spicy dishes here.

The meatless menu is varied, and all the usual Thai fares can be found: yam, or Thai salads; curries; stir-fries and noodles. Pla Pad Pong Curry (90 baht) is a cross between stir-fry and curry and has an unmistakably Indian flavor about it.

Pad Thai (60 baht) is every bit as good as the version with prawns. Try also the Kha Moo Rom Kwuan (90 baht), a kind of flavored smoked ham, or the Gaeng Ped Ped Yang (90 baht), roast duck red curry.

For the purists who have an aversion to mock meat, sample instead the refreshing Nam Tok Hed (80 baht), Isaan-style mixed mushrooms salad, or the aromatic Makuer Yao Pad Prik Horapa (60 baht), eggplant cooked with sweet basil and fermented soybean.

Perfect as snacks or side dishes are Goong Tempura (70 baht), battered and bread-crumbed fried mushrooms wrapped in seaweed, and Yam Pla Dook Foo (90 baht), crispy fish (tofu) salad with herbs.

There are various kinds of refreshing homemade herbal drinks. When it was suggested that these drinks tend to be on the sweet side, Khun Poom said she would consider reducing the amount of sugar used.

The restaurant is open daily from 10:30am to 8:30pm. Please note its unusual closing days: every first Sunday, and second and fourth Saturdays, of the month. T: 076-211985.

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival ends tomorrow. Click here for a schedule of the street processions.

— Nanthapa Pengkasem

Thai Life
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