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Food

The Taste of Thailand at Wat Thai Buddhist Temple

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Okay guys, I want you to listen very closely: whatever you're doing today, cancel it. If you can't, cancel what you're doing next weekend. Then, by hook or by crook, by car or by train or by bus or by broom, I want you to - stay with me here, this is going to get difficult - I want you to go deep, deep into the Valley. Follow Coldwater Canyon almost to where it ends, all the way to Roscoe Boulevard. What will you find? Nothing less than culinary enlightenment.

Well, okay, okay: you'll also find the candy-colored towers of the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple, in the middle of a small Thai enclave in the very farthest reaches of North Hollywood. The temple sponsors a food festival every weekend during the summer, but word has it they might be closing after next weekend - so go now, and go quickly! It's just about the closest you'll get to tasting real Thai street food without booking a ticket to Bangkok.

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Exchange your dollars at the central stand for a handful of colored tokens that you can use to purchase all manner of amazing, delicious, cheap Thai treats: bite into a warm chicken curry dumpling ($1/ea), which is spiked with coconut milk and begging to be washed down with fresh coconut or longanberry juice. Maybe kao niao ma muang - sticky rice and ripe mango - sound like a good breakfast treat. Or you can feast on a myriad of meat and veggie satays; or, better yet, about twenty different noodle bowls and soups ($3/bowl), filled with fresh herbs, vegetables, steaming broth, and the meats: chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, fish cake, pork blood, duck - oh the list of edible animals goes on and on and on! At every shaded table are entire families of Thais slurping away at a little bowlful of home.

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Above: enjoy a freshly squeezed orange, lime, coconut, or longan juice.
Below: Thais line up to get a little bowlful of heaven.

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For dessert, don't miss the little coconut-dough explosions known as kanom krock - a thin, crepe-like dough exterior is magically wrapped around a molten coconut center. Try a fried banana with fried coconut shavings ($3/serving) or a cool Thai iced tea ($1.50). You've got veggie options like green papaya salad and lots of fried fruits and starches, but it's definitely not the same kind of feast for vegetarians as it is for meat-eaters (but anyone can certainly fill their tummy at bargain prices).

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Don't park in the temple lot if you drive; it's easy to find street parking on Roscoe or on Coldwater. This neighborhood, although it looks industrial and barren of all culture, actually has quite a few Thai storefronts and markets (which will be explored more later this week). The heat rising from the pavement is no match for a fresh, cool coconut juice ($1.50), which actually tastes as if you've bitten into a thick, juicy, woody slice of coconut - light, not too sweet, with a hint of a grainy aftertaste, and surprisingly thirst-quenching. Those Thais have got this whole beverage thing figured out.

Once you've sated your morning appetites, slip off your shoes and step into the cool sanctuary of the temple. An old man greets you jovially at the door, while old women count up stacks of dollars that have been tithed as offerings to the gods. Modern young Thais wave incense and kneel together in front of three golden Buddhas - one towers over the others, a picture of perfect repose. The entire atmosphere is relaxed, familial, and benevolent. It just goes to show that even in the vasty wildernesses of the north Valley, you can still discover these serene little pockets of beauty and culinary adventure. A portion of the proceeds from the food stalls goes back to the temple, so you can spend your little red and yellow tokens confident in the knowledge that you aren't just getting a delicious meal, but you're also making sure this little slice of paradise is getting the community support it deserves.

Wat Thai Buddhist Temple
12909 Cantara St. (Coldwater Canyon/Roscoe Blvd.)
North Hollywood 91605
(818) 780-4200

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Temple open 9a-9p M-Sa
Food market open until next weekend

All photos by Zach Behrens for LAist