Berkeley Thai Temple: First Visit

On Sunday, December 11th 2005, I biked a mile or two south for the Berkeley Thai Temple's (Wat Mongkolratanaram) brunch. Although everything was supposedly decent or good, I had a small list of chowhound endorsed items to seek out and try.

I followed advice and arrived at 10:30am, before the crowds that supposedly start arriving at 11:00am. I needn't have worried; the day was a little overcast and, although it got a bit more crowded over time, it never was packed. (I was slightly surprised about this, as it was warmer (50s) than the previous week and the sun did come out for little while. It was nice when that happened. Ah, radiant heat!)

After peeking at everything and trading in my money for chips to pay with, I went to grab the first item on my list: fried chicken with sticky rice. The woman preparing the chicken was impressive. She took a cleaver and hacked a small cooked chicken in half and then chopped a half into smaller pieces/slices. Wow. And it was certainly good fried chicken! It didn't need the little bowl of a sweet sauce that accompanied it. The sticky rice though was thoroughly unexciting, but then I just don't generally appreciate sticky rice. The sweet sauce made the rice slightly more interesting but it was too sweet for me. Instead I just threw out the plate of sticky rice, saving my calories to try better (and more nutritious) dishes.

The next item on my list was the papaya salad (som tum). This was another item that gets prepared far away from the long table of hot tray of curries. Preparation of the papaya salad was also quite artful. The little man asked me how spicy I wanted it and then proceeded to pull spoonfuls of dried shrimp, papaya, ground nuts, and many liquids and more out of nearly a dozen different bowls. After mixing it all together, he laid a little bed of lettuce on the plate and poured the salad over it.

It was quite tasty and definitely amply spicy. I've only have papaya salad two or three times in my life -all in the last year- and this was the best of the lot. It seemed more complex and flavorful. That said, this might only be good in contrast to the few others I had, which I don't think were any good.

Having nearly eaten the equivalent of two full meals, I gulped and looked at my food item list. The next heavily endorsed item was the kanom krok, a sort of coconut and green onion mini-pancakes. Smiling, I realized this suggestion also seemed to be a secret item requiring separate preparation and distinct from the main lineup of foods. But I also gulped once again when I noticed this suggestion was more fried food to clog my veins on top of the fried chicken.

Two fried dishes -the kanom krok and the kanom-something (I forget the name)- are prepared in the back left of the area. The kanom krok are little dollar coin sized pancakes, slightly hemispherical. They are cooked in a large machine much like a waffle maker (i.e., the machine closes on the top and can rotate to flip over) with many tiny divots for the batter for each mini pancake. Meanwhile, the other kanom- dish was simply deep fried coconut flour in little patties three inches across. It was relatively scary watching these float around in the oil as they cooked.

I got a little plate with some of both of these dessert-type items and walked a few doors down the street and sat in the grass in front of the library. The rest of the grass was also occupied by thai temple eaters, but were mostly high school students. Meanwhile, the crowd eating at the picnic tables by the thai temple proper (I observed as I ate my first two dishes) was a wide variety of Berkeleyans, with a distinctive presence of twenty-sometimes likely using the food to re-energize after a late party on Saturday night. Indeed, two conversations I heard support this.

In any case, these items were pretty good. The chowhounds have apparently not lead me wrong in their suggestions. The kanom krok was better than the other dish. The kanom krok were served sliced in half. If one puts the outer side on one's tongue, one gets a nice fried coconut flavor; if one puts the inner side on one's tongue, one gets a warm and mushy coconut and green onion batter that slowly dissolves. I preferred the latter method of eating. The other kanom- dish was simply like coconut pancakes (a la potato pancakes) was good but a bit too deep fried for my tastes. But really I was just running out of the willingness to eat more fried food. Still, I forced myself to finish this dish of both kanom-things. Actually, since the kanom krok outnumbered the other part by quite a bit, forcing myself to finish wasn't hard work on the taste side, only the rational healthy brain side.

I sat, digest a bit, and then biked home. And that was my first trip to the Thai Temple. My second would be turn out to be more efficient, less tasty, and also less artery clogging (or at least less obviously so).

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