Like many children of the ‘90s, my first exposure to the rich culture of the Thai people was Street Fighter 2. Specifically, it was the stage where you fight Sagat in front of that cool-looking Buddha statue. Even more specifically, it was Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (damn, there were way too many versions). Now, as a full grown adult with a bank account and everything, I realize that my perception of the Buddhists of Thailand was woefully misguided and borderline racist (my six-year old self was ignorant, I’m sorry).
Luckily, I was able to visit the Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood to adjust any misconceptions. For any resident of the San Fernando Valley, this temple is one of the most notable landmarks you will encounter. The Wat Thai Temple has stood on Coldwater Canyon Blvd. for years, and yet this was only my first time ever visiting. Before you go accusing me of appropriating Buddhism, it is important to know that the Wat Thai Temple is very welcoming of others from different faiths and there’s actually a food court set up every weekend. And this friends, is truly the most magical aspect, for me, of the Wat Thai Temple. The food stands here are amazing and very cheap.
"My first exposure to the rich culture of the Thai people was Street Fighter 2. Specifically, it was the stage where you fight Sagat in front of that cool-looking Buddha statue."
On Saturdays, you will find a row of food stands selling Thailand’s most delicious delicacies without having to actually go to Thailand. But before you run to the nearest stand, make sure to exchange your cash at the central stand for colored tokens. Yes, the temple gives patrons tokens that are traded at the various food vendors. This made my visit all the more whimsical. All I needed then was to run into a dancing Jean Claude Van Damme who appears in Kickboxer (no not Bloodsport, that’s the other one).
With my magic colored tokens in hand, I soon made my way to the pad see ew vendor and exchanged five tokens for a plate of the best damn chicken pad see ew I’ve ever had. The dish comes in your standard Styrofoam box, as the food is just so good that it’ll make you forget about saving the environment. Inside the to-go box is a generous portion of the most glorious noodles you’ll ever have for five dollars at a Thai Temple food stand. Naturally, I smothered my pad see ew with the crimson-colored nectar of the spice gods known as Sriracha (freaking hipster). Now that it was sufficiently spicy enough for my taste buds, I gorged into this glorious Thai dish alongside the best Thai Iced tea a two dollar coin can buy. For a mere 2-5 dollars, you can also get pork belly, chicken curry, skewers and noodle soup.
"With my magic colored tokens in hand, I soon made my way to the pad see ew vendor and exchanged five tokens for a plate of the best damn chicken pad see ew I’ve ever had."
Glorious $5 Pad See Ew
After finishing my meal, I walked around the courtyard where there were several vendors selling good luck charms (for a religion that preaches the unimportance of material things, they sold a lot of material things here). According to Chris, an elderly vendor, these good luck charms “fight against evil spirits”.
When entering the actual temple sanctuary, it’s important that you take off your shoes (probably a good idea not to bring your Thai iced tea inside too). As to not offend the monks, I took off my chanclas and proceeded to go into the temple. The interior was truly beautiful. Having been raised Catholic; this was definitely a new experience for me. Whereas I was accustomed to pews, haunting photos of Jesus, and what boils down to an aerobic exercise with the constant sitting and standing, this Buddhist temple was an open floor for all to kneel down and pay their respects to a beautiful golden statue of the Buddha. And thankfully, not once did the monks ask me to sit up, then down again. Nor did they ask me to put my hands up in the air and wave them like I just don’t care (I have a hard time separating mass and rap concerts). Kneeling down in front of the golden statue and just shutting the hell up for a couple of minutes, truly made me feel at peace and I could see why so many people in LA convert to Buddhism.
"I don’t know if I’ll end up growing a man-bun and start meditating every day, but I can assure you that the Wat Thai Temple is truly a San Fernando gem that everyone should visit."