What: Great Real Thai food
How Much: $5 per dish, $3 per snack
Where: Thai Temple
When: Every Sunday
Who: Thai expatriates and families, Thai students, Americans with great love of authentic Thai food, neighbors
Like many Thai communities, San Bruno, California has a Thai Temple that been one the best finds for us. Many go to just hang out, but what keeps us coming back is the food. Most Thai Temples in the US have similar spreads. A big part of what's fun is that you won't find the most popular Thai foods in the US, but you will find the most popular Thai food in Thailand. If you want to see what Thai people really eat when they cook for themselves or are in Thailand, this is the place to go.
Papaya Salad is the most popular dish in Thailand. Here you can order your papaya salad to your personal taste: hot or not, sour or sweet, with lots of shrimp or few. Papaya Salad goes exceedingly well with Sticky Rice and Grilled Chicken. While they don't serve grilled chicken, you can get a half chicken deep fried Thai style for $5. They also have Laab which has been hit or miss. The very first time we were there, the laab was heavenly good; lately it has been so-so. Other popular dishes in Thailand we've had there and enjoyed include Steamed Curried Fish - haw moak, meung, Mackerel with Chili Sauce - nam prik pla tuu and Mussel Sprout Pancakes - hoy tod. Many people (including us) buy extras to take home for the next couple days.
In, Thailand, most markets and some street stalls have ready made food in huge trays ready for you eat there or take home. Here at the temple, they have 6-8 trays of food that you can have with rice. They usually have a few trays of curries like pumpkin curry, curry with bitter leaves and flowers of a tree - gang keelek, five spice pork and eggs - pa-lo, sour curry - gang som, spicy fish stir fried or fish ball green curry.
Noodles come in boats: Next up two coolers sit on top of a Thai boat. What is the boat doing at the temple? Thailand used to have an elaborate canal system similar to the road system that we have today. People used to paddle everywhere. Noodles sellers used to come by your house in a boat. Now that the canals are gone, these boats refer to a type of noodles - thin rice noodles with beef and beef ball with dark dark broth. Here at the temple they have several types of noodles that you can order (you might want to read up on how to order noodles in Thailand). You can pick from two types of noodles, rice vermicelli and rice noodles and numerous meats including beef, beef balls and fish balls.
They even have types of noodles that are unheard of in western Thai restaurants, yen ta fo noodles - flat rice noodles with fish balls and reddish broth and guay jub. Guay jub is fresh flat rice noodles that has been dried and re-cooked with lots of water until mushy. The noodles are served with pig's blood and edible internal organs like liver and intestine. The broth is dark and has the aroma of five spice. The soup is served with tofu and a hard boiled egg that has been cooked in the five spice broth. While this dish may not sound great to westerners, but it is a comfort food for many Thais.
For snacks, nothing is as nostalgic for me as kanom krok and fried banana and taro. Seeing the cook pouring the kanom krok batter into what looks like a massive escargot or poached egg tray brings back the memories of my grandmother. She loved kanom krok and we'd have it every morning when I visited her house. I always let the cook know that I like mine really crispy on the outside. Kanom krok is slightly similar to pancakes, except that it is wetter than pancakes, has coconut milk and is only cooked on one side. Fried banana and fried taro tasted really great here even though my favorite ingredients are missing, grated coconut and sesame seeds.
Another recent addition to the long list of foods is roti. This roti is a type of fried dough originally from Indian but has different twist to it. The thin dough is fried in butter and topped with sweet condensed milk and sugar. It is crispy, sweet and salty at the same time.
While the dessert lady is kind of the last in line, I visit her first. Desserts vary from week to week - some are really good and go quickly. My favorite is the rainbow colored strips in coconut milk. She also makes other snacks like tapioca balls stuffed with minced pork, salted turnips and peanuts.
As we drive away, we can never get over what a great find that was.