I feel just a little bit guilty about writing this article because my intention is to shine a light on the already overly lit (for some people’s tastes) Sunday market at Wat Mongkolratanaram Buddhist Temple. Why the guilt? Well, it seems to me that there are two types of people who attend the Sunday market. Person A is visiting the temple for the first time. She is wide-eyed and excited by all of the interesting sights and smells and, because she has never been to the temple before, she is unsure of where to go or stand, how the food lines work, or if it’s okay to take pictures. Oh, it is okay? She is also taking pictures, lots of pictures. Person B has been to the temple before. Even if this is only the second time he’s been, he is already irritated with Person A who is nervously meandering around, disrupting the quick and steady flow of the food line, and taking pictures, lots of pictures. How gauche.
Nearly everyone I spoke with, lamented the ever increasing numbers of visitors each Sunday. “I used to come here years ago and it was never this crazy,” said one man. A woman who had waited in the noodle line for over 40 minutes likened her temple experience to “Thai Disney World” and wished that they offered fast passes. Like Disney World, the Thai Temple felt just a little bit crowded and magical. Set against the backdrop of Palm River and under the shade of huge trees, friends and families gather to eat authentic Thai food at red communal picnic tables. The smell of soup and fried bananas hangs in the air and long lines of people snake around a covered wooden building to load up on Thai tea, curries, spring rolls, and sweet rice.
After asking several temple regulars what they recommend, we bought two Thai teas ($1 each), an order of fried bananas ($3), an order of mango and sweet sticky rice ($5) and some easy access chicken skewers ($6). The fried bananas were my favorite combination of sweet and savory and the sticky rice with mango was warm and really comforting. I didn’t dislike the chicken skewers, but they weren’t anything special. Although we were too impatient and hungry to wait for the noodles, we heard that they are the real deal and definitely worth a trip.
To the first-time Thai Temple visitors: The market operates from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and I recommend getting there between 10 and 11 to avoid long lines. Make sure you bring cash for your meal and budget a little extra to buy herbs, a fruit tree, or one of the exquisite orchids they sell. Your meal will be served by women who are all business so know what you want to order and have your money ready. Give yourself permission to people watch, appreciate the colorful and ornate temple, ask people for advice about where to go and what to order, and observe the people that have made this place so special.
To the long-time Thai Temple visitors: I know the new people are irritating because you feel like they just stopped by to take a picture of the bandwagon you’ve been riding for years. Maybe they dilute your experience, make it feel less authentic. I can understand that, but urge you to be patient and gracious. The temple is a beautiful, unique little gem that every Tampa resident should experience at least once. Don’t hate on the wide-eyed newbie. Instead, offer suggestions and assistance and maybe share your table. ไชโย (pronounced Chiyo, hopefully means Cheers!)
Wat Mongkolratanaram Temple is located at 5306 Palm River Road, Tampa, FL 33619. Open Sunday 10am – 1pm