Samui Wining & Dining
Virtuous Vegetarians
Enjoying the ‘Full Moon Vegetarian Lunch’ at Art Café helps others too.


Virtuous Vegetarians Do you give money to charity? If you’re like most people, you’d probably like to and either don’t get round to it or don’t know how best to do it. Here on Samui it’s not as easy giving time or money to good causes as it can be back home. Charities and worthwhile groups aren’t as visible here and it’s not just a matter of dropping a few coins in a collecting tin outside Tesco’s.


But it can be done, as shown by Khun Sujitra Kerdsompong, better known as Khun June. Originally from Bangkok, Khun June owns the Art Café in Bo Phut (at the Samui Town Centre complex, on the main ring-road just past BigC as you’re coming from Chaweng) as well as the About Art and Craft shop in Nathon. Both sell healthy organic food using recipes from all over the world. And it’s the Art Café which June is using as a base in her mission to raise money for worthy causes.


Her main venture is the Full Moon Lunch, a vegetarian buffet lunch running once a month. As the name implies, the lunch is held on the day of the full moon. Khun June is getting other restaurants involved, such as Noori India in Chaweng whose owner Dee Dee Pandey regularly drops off Indian vegetarian dishes to add to the mix.


It’s a small way to help, but we’ve been doing it for three years now and we’ve raised quite a lot of money,” Khun June says. “The causes we raise the money for vary – when the Haiti earthquake happened, all the money we raised at the lunches went straight to that, while more recently we’ve been raising money for victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. We did start at first raising money specifically to help people and causes on Samui, but as time went on we realised we’re all connected together in the world, so any money for any cause was good. So now we give money to causes on Samui – the Dog Rescue Centre, for example – as well as to causes around the world.”


The charity day starts at around 10:00 am when the Art Café opens, with most people dropping in between midday and 2:00 pm. All the dishes are laid out buffet-style on the main counter with customers able to help themselves to what they want. June says the type of dishes vary every time, but there’re usually around 10-12 choices, with some regular staples always making an appearance. You could try the tofu patty, served with a large salad, or the pumpkin, tofu and basil stir-fry. There’s also the popular Penang curry and the Art Café sauce of lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil. And, of course, there’re the Noori India dishes, again changing every month but representing the best in Indian vegetarian food.


There’s no set price for the meal, no matter what or how much you have. Instead, there’s a donation box into which you can drop whatever you’d like to give. June is unsure about the average amount donated by customers as she deliberately doesn’t keep an eye on it – the aim is to make people feel comfortable about giving what they can.


It can sometimes be a shock to Western people, as they’re not used to things working like that,” she laughs. “They say, ‘I want to pay, how much is it?’ and they’re surprised when I say they can pay whatever they can afford. I’m not sure how much each person puts in, but we always collect at least 6,000 baht and sometimes up to 11 or 12,000 baht, so we know people are putting in a fair amount.”


But it’s not all about money,” she adds. “It’s important for people to bring smiles and good energy as well. We’re a community here and it’s all about helping each other. People can come to help out, to help clear up, or even to come and play music. We have a musician who regularly comes to the lunches and he really helps to create the atmosphere. We once tried to give him an envelope with some money in it to say thanks, but he just dropped it back into the donation box. That’s the type of spirit we have here.”


Chatting to Khun June it’s clear she’s passionate about helping people, whether that’s helping to paint a school wall here on Samui or campaigning to raise money for victims of natural disasters elsewhere around the globe.


I just feel I’ve been very lucky in my life, especially in the last 10 years, and I’d like to give something back,” she says. “Disaster can happen to anyone, so if you’re lucky enough to have a good life then it’s good to give something to those who don’t.”


Khun June’s journey to Samui certainly shows that she gets out of life as much as she puts back. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband were living in Bangkok, she as a graphic designer and advertiser, he as a photographer, and both struggling against an economic downturn and lack of jobs. Then Khun June’s company closed down and she was made redundant.


I said to my husband that I wanted to start a new life and I wanted to go to Koh Samui,” she says. “So he resigned his job and followed me here and we’ve been here ever since. We opened the café in Nathon shortly after and the one in Bo Phut four years ago.”


Shortly after opening the Bo Phut Art Café, June hit on the idea of giving something back to her new home and she started to run the Full Moon vegetarian lunches. So if you’re around the island on full moon, call in and have a bite to eat. You’ll enjoy some healthy good food and be giving to good causes as well.


Lisa Cunningham


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