Songkran festival - North Hollywood
Add two parts Buddhist holy day to two parts Thai food festival, a large helping of minor league karaoke singing, a pinch of beauty pageant. Stir with a hyperkinetic water fight among teenagers that resembles an Unreal Tournament game played with Super Soakers and water balloons, and you have a recipe for the Thai New Year festival held at the Wat Thai Temple. Vendors are here every weekend, but not as many as on special events like Songkran.
Thousands filled the temple grounds to sample foods from a score of vendors hawking street foods. When we arrived about 1pm, some booths had lengthy waits of 30 minutes, like the green papaya salad lady. While waiting, we sampled chicken, pork, and beef satay from the vendor next door. Later, we tried garlicky grilled Thai sausages, a mediocre pad thai, and an oversweet bowl of boat noodle soup. Desserts consisted of excellent mango and sticky rice, custardy kanom krok, and sweet crepe called rotee filled with a fried egg, drizzled with sweetented condesed milk and sugar. Sounds odd, but think how good the maple syrup incursion tastes on your breakfast eggs. Get yourself an egg rotee!
The Wat Thai temple
Just some of the food vendors
Green papaya salad Queen
This dish is the food equivalent of standing in front of the stack of Marshalls at a Zeppelin concert. Prepared to order with mortar and pestle with juliennes of unripe papaya, tomato, fish sauce, small pieces of raw salted crab, dried shrimp, tamarind, lime juice, garlic, chili, cilantro, red chili powder and topped with peanuts. Last time, I asked the papaya lady to make mine spicy because I'm manly like that. I couldn't take more than a few bites before succumbing to the knowledge that I am an utter spice wuss who'd be outdone by half the 12 year olds in Bangkok. This time, I asked for mild, and there wasn't enough heat to balance the tamarind sweet and lime tartness. Next time, like Baby Bear, I'll get mine just right.
Thai rice steamers
Saucing steaming sticky rice with coconut milk
Glutinous rice, shorter grained and fatter than the jasmine rice favored by Thais, cooks up sticky and chewy instead of light and fluffy. It's flavored with sweetened coconut milk and a generous amount of salt, and eaten with fresh mango, or durian. I'm gonna be in Georgia this summer, maybe I'll make some with fresh ripe peaches!
She's a mango slicing machine!
With four straight strokes of the knife, ZIP ZIP ZIP ZIP, off comes the skin from half of the mango. Freed of its pit with a swift stroke, she lowers the blade on the mango filet, WAP WAP WAP WAP, and turns the fruit over. In fifteen seconds, your tray of mango and sticy rice is ready.
A man, a plan, a smelly hand: durian!
This vendor cracks open a fresh durian. His left hand is gloved to protect himself from the sharp, weaponlike husk of the fruit. Myself - not a big fan of the fruit that tastes like heaven and smells like hell. If someone hasn't trademarked that cliched description, I think I will and make a fortune from licensing it
Dessert lady ladling
Kanom krok, coconut milk fritters
Fans of the sweet Scandinavian donut aebleskiver, or the savory Japanese octopus fritter takoyaki will recognize the pan used to cook these Thai sweets. Funny how different cultures use similar tools so differently. Here, the rice flour and coconut milk batter is both sweetened and salted, in the distinctly Thai fashion.
Whatever you say, kid
You're reading a food blog, so naturally I've focused on the good eats for sale at the Wat Thai temple. Other vendors hawk handmade clothes, jewelry, handbags, Thai music CD's and movie DVD's, cases of fresh fruit, religious icons (it is a temple you're visiting, yes?) and carved wooden phallus charms, presumably to put some sting in your man's thing. Bring the kids and the impotent - something for everyone, and come hungry!
Wat Thai Temple
8225 ColdwaterCanyon Ave.
North Hollywood, CA