#1808: MAMA Vegetarian Instant Cup Noodle Tofu & Shiitake Flavour

This is one I saw posted on facebook by one of the nice folks I met at MAMA in May. I was very curious about it and so I asked if I could get some samples – thank you! This one and the vegetarian tom yum are made specifically for October. Why? Well, there’s a special Vegetarian Festival in Thailand during October! Here’s a little about it:

In Thailand, this festival is called Tesagan Gin Je เทศกาลกินเจ, the Vegetarian Festival. It is celebrated throughout the entire country, but the festivities are at their height in Phuket, where about 35% of the population is Thai Chinese. It attracts crowds of spectators because of many of the unusual religious rituals that are performed.

In accordance with the traditions, many religious devotees will perform ritualized mutilation upon themselves and one another (with the consent of, context and understanding of all involved and the practice itself) while under a trance-like state, including but not limited to: impaling through cheeks, arms, face, legs, back etc., with everything from as small as syringes to as large as is agreed upon between all members; partial skinning (the skin is not removed, just cut and flipped over); slashing of limbs, chest, stomach and especially tongue with swords, axes and knives; bloodletting; removal of tissue (normally limited to cysts) and intentionally wrapping or standing near fire crackers as they are lit.

This is done without anesthetic, always inside or near the temples surrounded by other devotees with only iodine, petroleum jelly and surgical gloves as precautionary measures. Despite this scenario, many of the same people performing the rituals are also the people who will care for many of the people in their recovery. The actual impaling is done by doctors and physicians in the community, is planned out for weeks if not months in advance and medical teams are present in and around temple grounds for the entire time of the festival, with spectators frequently needing more help than the devotees, who remain in a trance during this process and are monitored through the entire event in case they should drop out of concentration, in which case they are immediately take to medical professionals regardless of the circumstances to minimize post trance bleeding.

To this effect few people ever need to have prolonged medical treatment, and although in the weeks after the festival many people will be seen covered in bandages, scarring is uncommon, stitching, even on individual devotees who impale their cheeks, is rare, and return to daily activity for the devotees occurs shortly after the completion of the ritual, frequently before the festival ends unless performed on the last days, much sooner than before the bandages themselves are removed.

The purpose of this practice is a mixture of veneration for their gods and ancestors, to display their devotion to their beliefs and the trance itself, which although anecdotal in nature to what is experienced, has a profound impact upon demeanour for days or weeks after, frequently with devotees appearing exceptionally calm and focused in their day-to-day activities after the festival is completed.

During a period of nine days, those who are participating in the festival dress all in white and gin je กินเจ, which has come to be translated as abstinence from eating meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products. Vendors and proprietors of restaurants indicate that je food is for sale at their establishments by putting a yellow flag out with the word เจ (je) written on it in red. However, technically, only food prepared in the sacred kitchen of the Chinese temple (in Thailand, called san jao ศาลเจ้า or ahm อ๊ำ) is je, as it must undergo a series of rituals before it can be given that name.

Mah song ม้าทรง are the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. Mah ม้า is the word for horse in Thai, and the name mah song refers to how the spirits of the gods use the bodies of these people as a vehicle, as one rides a horse. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become mah song. At the temple they undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practiced. The mah song tradition doesn’t exist in China and is believed to have been adopted from the Indian festival of Thaipusam.

The festivities in Phuket include a procession of mah song wearing elaborate costumes who pierce their cheeks and tongues with all manner of things, including swords, banners, machine guns, table lamps, and flowers. While the face is the most common area pierced, some also pierce their arms with pins and fishhooks. Teams of people accompany the mah song to keep their wounds clean and to help support the heavier piercings. It is believed that while they are possessed the mah song will not feel any pain. They can also be seen shaking their heads back and forth continually, and usually do not seem to “see” their surroundings. At the temple during the festival there is also firewalking and blade-ladder climbing. While large crowds of people gather to watch, the entranced mah song distribute blessed candy and pieces of orange cloth with Chinese characters printed on them yang ยังต์ for good luck.

As you can see, the cup is yellow – everything during this event looks to have a lot of yellow colors and red text or the opposite. This event is amazing – I would love to be able to come to Thailand some day and – learning about such a rich cultural tradition so different from what I’m used to here in the states is really what fascinates me and a big part of why I keep reviewing instant noodles; I probably wouldn’t have heard of this unless I did!

Now, I’ve heard of vegetarianism in Chinese and other cultures before, but I wasn’t sure about ‘fetid’ vegetables during this event. Here’s a little about that from wikipedia:

In China, Korea and Vietnam, monks are expected to abstain from meat. In Taiwan, Buddhist monks, nuns, and most lay followers eat no animal products or the fetid vegetables – traditionally garlic, Allium chinense, asafoetida, shallot, and Allium victorialis (victory onion or mountain leek), although in modern times this rule is often interpreted to include other vegetables of the onion genus, as well as coriander – this is called Su vegetarianism. Some Zhaijiao lay adherents do not eat any meat.

I was looking at a post on the facebook group called PG Food Hunter A Team and saw a restoran mentioning the 9 Emperors events, and some items special for the occasion. That’s where I noticed mention of no onion, and then looked at wikipedia bout the fetid vegetables. I did so after plating and so decided to redo this one to keep things correct as possible as I had used onion the first time. Let’s give this cup a try!

Detail of the side panels (click image to enlarge). Vegetarian; contains no meat. To prepare, add in sachet contents and boiling water to fill line. Cover and steep for 3 minutes. Stir and enjoy!

Detail of the lid (click image to enlarge).

An included fork!

The noodle block.

The powder soup base sachet.

A fluffy flecked powder.

An oil sachet.

Has a light sesame scent.


Finished (click image to enlarge). Added tofu puff, ito toughrasi and Salad Cosmo mung bean sprouts. The noodles hydrated nicely and have the standard MAMA noodle gauge and chewiness – just the slightest crumble and a good backbone to them. The broth was interesting. It had a kind of black pepper taste as well as a mushroom hit to it. One of the nicer tasting vegetarian varieties. 3.5 out of 5.0 stars. EAN bar code 8850987101809.

The Vegetarian Taste of Thailand: Vegetable, Tofu and Seafood Dishes (Vegetable, Tofu & Seafood Dishes from Cha Am Restaurant)

A video showing some of the festivities for the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, Thailand.

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