I would be fibbing if I told that my visit to Ubon Rathcthani was not somewhat influenced by Uthayam Booniyom, a vegetarian restaurant run by some pretty amazing women affiliated with the nearby Buddhist temple. The huge open-air space is part fruit/vegetable market and part delectable, totally vegan buffet. The buffet options are plentiful and focus on the ladies’ skills at creating delicious soybean meat analogs, each dramatically different in taste and texture. All this on your heaping plate for the price of 20 Baht, less than one American buck.
Here are my buffet plates from the two times I visited. To be honest, it was hard to keep track of all of the flavors and ingredients as I piled them all on top each other and chowed down with such ferocity. But I am quite certain my tongue recognized lemongrass, basil, fennel, mint, cinnamon, chillies, cabbage, butternut squash, rice noodle, glass noodle, Chinese broccoli, celery… This was no two-bit operation. The ingredients were well thought-out, extensive, fresh and, no doubt, local. Also very hearty and satisfying was the steamed bun.
The kitchen is also stocked with vegan treats and baked goods. Of particular note was the fresh mini-loaf of black-sesame bread. So doughy and soft (and the color of eggy whegs), I had to inquire whether, indeed, the bread contained no egg. The charming cashier told me it was colored and flavored with pumpkin! Of course they would not be deceiving the Buddhist monks who dine here, the ones practicing strict vegetarianism, let alone silly farang vegans from America.
This place is a true gem. The food was top-notch, the garbage sorted into compost, recyclables and true trash and the vibe completely friendly and welcoming. After speaking with this woman about some of the items for sale, she wanted to know where I came from. She knew America but never heard of New York City. I thought that was just wonderful.