Convenience stores have long been one of my favourite stops on my travels. I especially love seeing what they sell in different locations around the world; where in the UK there'd be an egg mayo sandwich next to a meat filled pasty in Japan there'll be onigiri filled with all kinds of interesting combinations from the very non-vegan fish eggs to the often vegan friendly ume plum paste sharing space with sweet pockets of inari tofu. On my first ever trip to Thailand this January I was excited to discover things like ketchup crisps (the crisps themselves are shaped like french fries and they come with a little packet of ketchup for dipping), seaweed snacks, plum candy and Jay labelled ready meals stocking the shelves of the convenience stores and it was actually Rika's blog post about this very subject, convenience stores gone vegan, that first alerted me to the awesomeness of Thailand's vegetarian festival. After more digging I found plenty of other things to get excited about, street food, body modification, parades, but the lure of a convenience store stocked with vegan snacks never left my mind.
7/Eleven became a frequent stop during mine and Nick's journeys around Bangkok and Phuket during the vegetarian festival, the familiar blast of air con providing a much needed break from the sometimes stifling humidity outside. Power aisles and shelves were stacked with red and yellow goodies and flags were prominently displayed helping to guide vegan travellers and festival goers alike towards suitable snacks, meals and treats.
The shelf below became my very favourite sight when entering a 7/Eleven, there were sandwiches, cakes and sweet breads galore.
The steamer station also became a daily obsession, would they have my favourite taro bun? Would I stumble upon one of the lesser spotted sweet shredded pork varieties? You can tell which buns are Jay by the pictures on the front of the case as the ones that were suitable sometimes shared space with their meaty counterparts. They also helpfully had the Jay symbol on the paper beneath them which was helpful when faced with a confusingly busy 7/Eleven where you couldn't be 100% sure you'd been understood. Costing around 9THB / £0.17 / $0.25 each these were the biggest bargains of the fest' for sure.
I devoured many a taro steamed bun late at night beneath the glow of the 7/eleven sign.
The fridges were also overflowing with vegan goodies and I picked up deep fried tofu, five spice gluten stew, veggie and sweet taro sticky rice burgers and gyoza dumplings.
The tofu, which just needs heating in the microwave, has become a mainstay of my diet since the festival ended disappearing from shops only yesterday a whole month after the festival ended. I'm really hoping that this is just a stock problem and that it'll reappear soon becuase I'm gonna miss that quick and easy protein boost. Since the fest' I've also managed to find the five spice gluten stew in Lanta Mart on Koh Lanta but I suspect that it was just a hangover from the festival. The taro sticky rice burgers were one of the biggest 7/Eleven surprises for me, I was suspicious at first but after finally caving in and trying one I soon became obsessed. The solid feeling rice that acts as the bun turns into something softer and more appetising as soon as it's taken a spin in the microwave and the warm and slightly sweet taro filling complimented the flavourful sticky rice perfectly. I'm beyond sad that these aren't sold all year round.
Vegan microwave meals are something of a rarity and whilst I didn't actually eat any of them during the festival in either Bangkok or Phuket I was very pleased to see them on both Koh Yao Noi and Koh Lanta. The veggie fried rice with mock meat and veggies was pretty great for something that's ready in seconds and if you're in the market for something more flavourful the mock fish with Chinese kale (not pictured) and the Baked Vermicelli with Vegetarian Abalone offers a peppery alternative.
My favourite microwave meal, the Hong Kong Noodles, which come with cabbage, mushrooms and vegetarian ham seem to have become a mainstay in 7/Eleven's around the country, rebranded and with a new look I'm pretty sure they're here to stay.
Bread in Thailand contains milk and often egg and honey too so bread products are one of the things that I always miss when I'm travelling over here. What can I say, I'm pretty sure that bread's my favourite carb! I was both amazed and excited by 7/Eleven's selection during the festival which ranged from straight up white sliced bread like the kind pictured below and traversed the whole spectrum of sweet cakes, pastries and sweet breads.
On the savoury side of things was this peculiar but wonderful Shredded Vegetarian Pork Pocket Sandwich. This white bread pouch stuffed with slightly sweet shredded pork became my go-to snack when I needed something quick that didn't fall into the dessert category.
This Banana Cake was another one of my first finds and it stuck with me as a favourite throughout the ten days it was in stores. It was super moist, had just the right level of sweetness and kinda made me miss home. I always had counters scattered with browning bananas so banana bread was an almost weekly thing before leaving the UK.
This surprisingly named Vagetarian Croissant was another favourite, it was getting close to the wrong side of greasy but it managed to stay on the right side of the line and became one of mine and Nick's go-to hotel room breakfasts.
Another banana based treat was this Chocolate Banana Muffin which was enjoyed less often than the three previous things but it was just as good as the banana bread and the croissant - a must eat for sure. I used to eat leftover chocolate cupcakes as muffins when I was in Brighton running Operation Icing so this was a nostalgic treat for sure.
In the UK the puff pastry wrapped pies found in the aisles and fridges of convenience stores are usually meat filled and not even close to vegetarian friendly let alone suitable for vegans but these came in Apple Raisin and Pineapple. I have to say that they didn't become favourites of mine, I slightly preferred the apple raisin but it wasn't love at first bite, Nick on the other hand fell head over heels for the pineapple pie and devoured enough for the both of us during the fest'.
Taro Custard Filled pan bread was an entirely new to me sweet treat, I'd never even tried pan bread before and at this point my feelings on taro were lukewarm. This sweet bread elevated my taro love to something approaching a simmer and by the end of the fest I'd describe my taro lust as a rolling boil. I ate plenty of these and their mung bean filled counterpart before they disappeared from shelves leaving me panbreadless again!
The Taro Bread was a late discovery and I didn't actually see it appearing in stores until the festival was almost over. I still managed to squeeze in a couple though, it was soft, so light that it was almost fluffy, and had just enough sweetness that it didn't even need a smear of jam or PB to make it enjoyable.
These Thai Custard and Black Bean filled buns on the other hand were far, far too sweet for me. They were also seriously greasy and had an off-putting overpoweringly buttery smell which meant that I didn't try more than a bite. Nick was quite into them though as was my pal Jules so y'know, different strokes for different folks. Give them a whirl if you see them next year and let me know what you think.
Green pea snacks are a definite favourite of mine and I snap them up whenever I see a Jay label on the pack.
I also discovered some fun drinks, Nick always buys the Double Choco flavoured soya milk from this brand but during the festival they also brought out a Thai Tea flavour. I'm not the hugest Thai tea fan but the flavour is definitely growing on me thanks to this drink and some wonderful ice cream I sampled in Bangkok.
My favourite soy milk drink has to be this green tea flavoured variation by Tofusan. I can't handle the weird tapioca-esque pearls at the bottom of the drink (yuck!) but the milk itself is tasty - it's sweet and flavoured with just the right amount of matcha. Thankfully this is one product that's stuck around since the festival's finished and I pick up a bottle a few times a week .
Vegan Jay labelled noodles in pots or packs were another feature of the convenience stores we frequented during the festival and whilst I was unable to find any that were chilli free Nick went to town trying all kinds of flavours.
As I said at the start of this picture heavy post 7/Eleven isn't the only convenience store where Jay eats can be found, Family Mart also have you covered. The stars of their show were the onigiri which came stuffed with tofu and shiitake mushrooms and, in a Laotian twist on a Japanese classic, vegetarian larb pork.
I fell in love with the tofu and shiitake mushroom onigiri at first bite, it was delicately flavoured and the combo of soft cubed tofu and slightly sweet marinated shiitake mushrooms was spot on. I was also excited to spot some Jay labelled daifuku there too. Mochi daifuki is something that I made myself love before visiting Japan, it was far from love at first bite with these peculiar, squishy, rice treats but I persevered and now I'm a big fan. These didn't turn out to be my favourite daifuku of the festival, that spot goes to the matcha strawberry daifuku from upscale Bangkok mall Siam Paragon, but it was still good and I'm sure it would have been even better if I hadn't let it get all smooshed in my bag!
Family Mart also had a few bread products on offer but nowhere near the range that 7/Eleven had piled up on their shelves. My favourites were this soft sweet soy bean bun and the spongy mini banana muffins, the raisin bread wasn't so much of a hit as it was a little on the dry side.
Now that the festival is over I'll admit that getting used to the options that are available year round has been a challenge, I miss my morning banana cake and mid afternoon steamed bun and I totally wish that they were permanent fixtures. In fact, I'd go one step further and say that I wish that all convenience stores could be this vegan friendly all the time. Wouldn't that be so cool? If I've piqued your interest and you're considering visiting Thailand during the vegetarian festival you can learn more about the hows and whys of the festival in my posts on Bangkok and Phuket.