Could the Thai food at the Buddhist temple be Berkeley’s worst-kept secret? If the day I went is typical then I would say so – the place was rammed with people from all over the Bay Area. People weren’t just seated at the tables but spilling out on to the street and picnicking on the footpath.
For the uninitiated, the deal is that every Sunday you can eat Thai food in the back yard of the Thai Buddhist Temple in Berkeley, the Wat Mongkolratanaram. Officially this is called a “Sunday food offering” and the food is not sold but is given in exchange for donations. In practice, it feels pretty much like you are paying for food – each meal costs a certain number of tokens and each token has a dollar value. You line up in one queue to buy your tokens and then you line up in another queue to swap your tokens for food.
I’m a huge fan of Thai food and the food is pretty good. They serve curry with rice, or noodles and there are also desserts on offer, such as sticky rice with mango. Many Buddhist traditions espouse vegetarianism but not this one – there is a selection of both meat-based dishes and vegetarian ones.
My only complaint was the huge amount of waste – the bins were overflowing with disposable plates and cutlery, plastic take-away containers, paper napkins, drink containers and plastic straws. The monks earn merit for preparing and serving the food and for picking up litter, so why can’t they earn merit for washing dishes?
The neighbours, you won’t be surprised to hear, have complaints of their own. The temple is in a residential district and for some reason the locals don’t particularly like having thousands of people over their back fence every weekend. Earlier this year they tried to get the temple’s restaurant-style activities curbed. Despite finding that the temple’s zoning permit, dated 1993, stipulates that it is only allowed to serve food to the public three times a year, the templewon the right to keep operating.
Thai Buddhist Temple
1911 Russell Street
Sundays, 10am to 1pm