The ornate gilded roof of Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram rises majestically above squat brick apartment buildings. The temple, its grounds, and the shrine room with its Emerald Buddha is so spectacular that I always include it in my tours of what I like to call SEA Elmhurst. Even more amazing though is the temple’s annual Songkran—or Thai New Year—festival featuring music, kick boxing, a beauty pageant, and an immense Thai buffet that draws an equally immense crowd.
In years past “before the Internet,” as a friend likes to say, the crowds were manageable. These days the line snakes around the corner. Yesterday I arrived at around 10:45 to find a huge crowd waiting to feast. Long tables laden with larb, currys, grilled fish, and many, many other dishes were arrayed in front of the temple.
Apart from larb I don’t the names of any of the dishes I tried because they weren’t labeled and the crowding made it next to impossible to engage the servers. I do know that everything I ate was excellent, singing with the flavors of Thailand: fish sauce, chili,lime juice, and kaffir lime leaves to name a few.
After filling up on all that terrific Thai food I explored the grounds for a bit. Then I headed upstairs to pay my respects to the Emerald Buddha. I also made sure to check out the crowd from the balcony.
Water splashing is a Thai New Year tradition. It includes everything from kids with super soakers to pouring water with rose petals over Buddhist icons. I feel truly blessed to have taken part in both traditions.
Inside the temple monks sat in serious repose receiving offerings from congregants. Outside some of the saffron-robed gents were taking part in the water fight. I suppose Dunk the Monk would be far too irreverent,but it was nonetheless great fun to see one of the priests smiling as he squirted kids with a super soaker.
By this time I was starting to feel hungry again so I got on what was surely the day’s longest line of the day. As I approached the front I saw four ladies making steamed rice crepes in a set-up that looked like it could be on a roadside in Thailand.
“Next year we need to get two pots,” one of the ladies said as she spooned dough on top of the makeshift steamer lined with bricks. After the dough was poured it was covered with a conical lid. Lastly it was filled with a mixture of ground pork and chives.
It was worth waiting on line for 45 minutes. The irregular half moons were cross between a dumpling and a crepe, topped with chilies and washed with a mixture of fish sauce,soy, and lime. Such a treat.
Afterwards I headed over to Tea Cup Cafe for a coffee. I found myself wishing I had a second stomach when I saw that there was soup station set up in the front. When I asked the owner whether the soup was a Songkran special he replied, “No we do this every weekend. Five bucks buys a bowl of Issan style noodle soup,complete with chicken feet, chicken blood, and plenty of fresh vegetables. I have a feeling I’ll be stopping there on this Sunday’s tour.
Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram, 76-16 46th Ave., Elmhurst
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