Wat Thai Temple: home to L.A.’s best Thai market

Photo by flickr user Dorami Chan

Photo by flickr user Dorami Chan

Every Saturday and Sunday starting at ten in the morning, the parking lot of the Wat Thai Temple of Los Angeles is lined with dozens of food stalls that exude tempting scents of lemongrass, kaffir lime and coconut milk.

I visited the temple on a rainy afternoon in early September with a couple of friends. The temple itself is beautiful, the roof a brilliant rose color adorned with golden ridges. At the front stand two tall Yaksha, nature-spirits guarding the temple. What really draws your attention, however, is the food.

When you enter the lot, you trade in your cash for orange and purple tokens that you use to purchase food from all the stalls. Each dish is very small, so you can taste items from many different stalls. Because my friends and I didn’t know what to get, we bought about ten various dishes and shared them all.

One dish that really stood out was the boat noodles with its deeply savory flavor, pickled chilies, delicate noodles, and undertones of cinnamon. The satay we bought was well-seasoned, and the sticky rice adequately sticky, though neither was phenomenal. The fried banana was surprisingly delightful. It was hot and sticky and sweet, but at the same time the flavor of the banana brought an unexpected freshness to it.

I liked best the Khanom Krok,a traditional Thai street food. It’s essentially little spherical coconut custards made up of a lightly fried shell filled with sweet, oozing pudding. On the outside of the stand was a poster of the old man who made them when he was still young, cooking the Khanom Krok on the streets of Bangkok. Visiting the temple and eating the food, you really feel as if you’re in Bangkok, watching an old Thai man fry you up Khanom Krok. That’s what I really love about this little Thai neighborhood; the fact that you don’t have to fly to Thailand to immerse yourself in its culture, but can do so with just a half hour drive.