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Thai Temple, Jan 2004

I've known about the Thai Temple since my early years in college.  Why I never went until this past year is a mistake I'll probably regret for the rest of my life.  This is one of my favorite places to eat in the whole Bay Area.  That's saying a lot because I LIKE TO EAT.  Oh yeah, Casey likes it too.  

So things ya gotta know about this joint.  First of all, get there early.  It officially opens at 9 a.m.  I know that's kind of early, so get there by 10:30 a.m.  That's still kind of early, but to beat the crowds and still get the entire gamut of foods available, that's when you have to be there.  Besides, if you're a bit hung-over from Saturday night, it's perfect.  Second, the area itself reminds me of a real Asian outdoor market.  There's long family-style seating under a tent and the vendors sell from under a semi-permanent structure.  Very indoor-outdoorsy.  Third, because you are actually helping support the temple through your donations in exchange for food, you must first change your money into offering tokens before attempting to purchase food.  The tokens are a buck a piece.  Lastly, the food can be SPICY, so just make sure that your stomach is not a sissy or a wuss-ass before you go.  

I'll buy a Thai Ice Tea for anyone who is not Thai, who can pronounce that word!  Just kidding. 

Of course, once you get there, it can be a bit intimidating.  What to order?  How hot is it?  Where to line up?  Gaah!  OK, no panicking.  Once you change your money, to your right are a bunch of ladies chatting away at various round griddles, frying up flat taro-coconut fritters and baking little half-spheres of custardy-coconutty-chive thingys.  They are both good and a combo dish is yours for only three tokens.  I always get those first because I can munch on them while I'm waiting in line for my curry rice dishes.

Left to right:  Thai Boat Noodles, Meat Curry plate, Veggie Curry Plate, Papaya Salad--  A feast for KINGS!

So keep moving right and at the near end of the stalls is the boat-noodle stand.  You have a choice of vermicelli, medium or wide rice noodles.  Tripe or no tripe?  Balls?  No balls? But you must understand that the broth is NOT veggie, and therefore not safe for vegetarians.  I usually get a large with everything.  But once you get your steaming bowl of noodle soup, you are by no means done.  Don't forget the table full of condiments to get your soup just right.  Now the "real" Thai people I've had noodles with generally start the adjustment by pouring in about five pounds of sugar.  Then follows the chili powder, vinegar with jalapenos and then fish sauce with the little Thai chilies that doubles as napalm and is guaranteed to grow hair on the chest of a 5 year-old.  I tend to add a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, followed by several spoonfuls of the vinegar (only) with jalapenos and then a good, healthy dose of the fish sauce with chilies (avoiding the chilies all the way!).  Taste and repeat...

No frills, just right!

So if you move to your right again, you have some steam tray curries, first veggie, then omni.  There are two separate lines usually, but the omni's can definitely order from the veggie side.  I really like the pumpkin curry.  The other meat curries, i.e. green curry chicken, beef panang, etc. etc. are pretty standard.  What I really like and what always knocks my socks off is the Pork Kapow.  Very spicy ground pork and a little bit of veg, flavored with kapow.  I don't know what kapow is, but I'm trying to find out.  The whole fish looks promising, but I haven't tried it yet.  They have Pad Thai, but I would rather eat all the other things available and so have not really gone for that one either.  The plates are 4 tokens for rice and one curry, 5 tokens for 2, 6 tokens for three.  

OK, the stall next to the curry stall is full of plastic packaged Thai sweets.  Usually there's a lady there peeling mangoes.  The really yellow, egg yolk looking flower shaped things are just that...  Egg yolks cooked with sugar, shaped into a flower.  I don't know if they are good because quite frankly, I'm afraid.  But I WILL tell you the things I really like:  the taro, corn and tapioca pudding covered in coconut cream, the squares of layered mochi-like stuff flavored with coconut and pandan, and the foil wrapped roti that's fried with sugar and then drizzled with condensed milk.  The roti is really good when hot, so I suggest taking it home and reheating it in a dry pan over medium heat.  

Next in line is the sticky rice and mango stall.  I love this dish.  No...  I should say, I love this dish when the mangoes are good.  Which is not now...  in late January.  The rice with coconut milk and cream is still good.  The forbidden red rice is interesting and good.  Mangoes, not good.  Wait until they come into season in the Northern Hemisphere.  Recently I went by to get my fix and I saw a new addition to the table, a coconut-egg custard topping the rices.  Ever game to try something new, I bought a box and I'm glad I did.  The custard  was eggy, sweet and slightly salty.  The salt cut the sweet richness just enough to make you have to eat the entire box in one sitting.

Now for my favorite and really the reason for me getting up to eat Thai food in the morning:  papaya salad.  It can be made vegetarian, but for me, what's the point if there's not the pungency of fish sauce and dried shrimp?  The lady usually asks if you want it spicy.  I always say medium because I don't mess around when a Thai lady asks if I want spicy.  Sometimes she'll let you taste it if you sound unsure.  Her movements are unhurried and sometimes hint at a bit of confusion, but when she pounds the papaya, her movements of strong and her salads are always generous and delicious.  I love her like an older aunt and she always gets my most reverent "Sawadee-ca" in greeting with my hands steepled over my nose, and "Kapcun-ca" in thanks.  

The last stall, I neglect mostly because by then, I'm too stuffed to bother with it.  But to lovers of fried chicken and sticky rice, it's really quite good.  You get a mound of sticky rice and a chicken leg, accompanied by a small cup of sweet/sour goop with chopped peanuts.  For a few tokens extra, you can get sweet potato, taro and banana fritters on the side.

It's not fancy, it's not expensive, but going to the Temple can be a religious experience.

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