It's tough to be a vegetarian in Thailand.
First off, they put meat in just about everything. Even if it's not a meat dish, it'll be seasoned with fish sauce, shrimp paste and oyster sauce.
Second of all... they just have totally different concepts of being a vegetarian. There's 'jay' which is a diet that monks occasionally adhere to. It's a purifying diet that omits meat and eggs, but also onions and garlic... and beer (the horror!). There's a 'jay' festival for 9 days every October for the purification of the soul. Many people participate in this and there are big community meals put on by the temples. So while people might understand that a person is 'jay' - they might wonder why they're 'jay' when it's not October, or why they're 'jay' and drinking beer. Then there's 'mon saw erat', which I think has fewer religious connotations. But it's also not quite as strict. Oysters and Oyster sauce are fair game for a 'mon saw erat' diet because (as explained to me by a student) oysters don't have blood.
Finally, if you want to eat a vegetarian diet, at some point you're going to need to find some alternative form of protein, which involves asking for tofu or eggs to be added to your food. This requires learning enough of the language to make yourself understood. Bunny has really given this the old college try, and often gets tofu added to her food, even if she has to say the word about 7 times in 7 different ways.
Vegetarian or not, ordering meals is always a bit like Christmas morning. You never know what you're going to get, and there's a good chance it's not going to be exactly what you'd asked for. Yesterday was, however, an epic fail. We went to a Japanese restaurant at the mall and she asked what on the menu was 'mon saw erat'... one dish was pointed out... then Bunny proceded to ask if tofu could be added to it. She said the word several times but the waitress looked confused and ultimately said 'mai mee' (don't have). Which was just not the case because we'd eaten there before and Bunny had somehow managed to obtain tofu. The waitress asks if she would like egg on the dish, and Bunny agrees while looking at the menu. Finally she finds a dish that has tofu in it and shows it to the waitress saying 'tofu tofu' in Thai. "Oooooh... tofu" the waitress replies... sounding exactly like how Bunny had said it. We can't hear anything properly here. I ordered a few pieces of sushi and tempura to share. Rex tried to indicate that he'd like the same thing I ordered. Bobby, smart lady, ordered something that had a picture next to it.
Bobby actually got what she ordered, and I guess I did too. But Rex didn't get any food as the waitress assumed we'd be sharing what I'd ordered. Bunny though, got two dishes.... one big bowl of tofu soup (yay tofu!), and another big bowl of some kind of rice dish.... with fish dumplings on top. FAIL! There was also a bowl of miso soup that no one remembered ordering. Bunny tried to dig into her tofu soup, but only chopsticks had been provided. When the waitress came back to check on us Bunny indicated the spoon in the miso soup and attempted to ask for another spoon. I wondered why she couldn't just use the spoon in the soup, but apparently she avoids using utencils that have touched meat as well and there was probably some kind of fish product in the miso soup. But you know what happened don't you? Did we get an extra spoon? NO! We got an extra bowl of miso soup.
All the extra food was fine though, as Rex and I were sharing the four pieces of sushi I'd ordered. So we also split the rice dish with the fish dumplings. It was good. Eventually the waitress brought Bunny a spoon so she could actually dig into her food. Nom nom nomming commences.
All is well... right? Oh no. Bunny notices a bit of crunchiness and looks down.... there's a bug in her spoon. Well, half a bug. EPIC FAIL! She's horrified, but starving, so she disposes of the bug and continues eating... until she finds another bug... and another one. We showed the waitress, who just kind of looked at us oddly, but didn't really do anything. At this point we start to wonder if it was an accident... or a seasoning. You know, it bothers me so much that I have to wonder about this... but seriously there's a cart full of garlic-fried grasshoppers at the food court where I get my dinner more often than not. So it kind of blurs the line between when it's okay to find bugs in your food and when it's not. But it also makes me wonder if bugs are considered 'mon saw erat' or not.
We left the restaurant and headed to the safe-have that is Starbucks. I ordered a hot cocoa (they set the AC so cold in there!) and Bunny orders a caramel creme frapachino something other and begins to feel better about her day... until she looks down at the beautiful white and swirly brown beverage in her plastic cup and sees... a hair.
TAG, on Bunny's behalf: Code Coconuts.