It’s Sunday morning in Tampa, FL. There is only one place to be. Set aside the trendy restaurants with their Sunday Brunch drink specials. Skip the gym, and forget about sleeping until mid-afternoon. You are going to Wat Mongkolratanaram. Tampa’s one and only Thai Temple.
Wat Mongkolratanaram (simply called “Thai Temple” for those in the bay who are not fluent in southeast Asian languages) is exactly what it says it is. The gorgeous temple building sits right on the Hillsborough River. The stunning gold-tiered roof, beautiful nature and monks wandering the grounds in bright orange robes are enough to make you forget that you are in Tampa, let alone in North America. Visitors are welcome to sit in the temple with the worshipers to experience the hypnotic music, tenants of Buddhism, and the peaceful nature of the Thai people. Just remember to leave your shoes outside. This slice of Asian culture, tucked away in a seldom-visited corner of Tampa Bay, is so authentic that it is an absolute must for anyone looking to try something new and exciting.
Sunday visits are encouraged because of the infamous Thai Temple Food Market.
Between 8:30 am and 1 pm, every Sunday, members of the local Thai community set up food stalls along the porch of the rec building that sits opposite the gorgeous temple. The local lore cannot be confirmed on the Wat Tampa website, but the story goes that members of the Thai community began bringing food offerings to the monks every Sunday. Pretty soon, the volunteer and food volume became too much for the monks to enjoy alone, so the Sunday meal was opened up to the Thai community. Once the market outgrew even the Thai community, the market was opened up to anyone and everyone in Tampa Bay.
The food is delicious, the atmosphere is peaceful, and the people are painfully kind. So the next time you find yourself free on a Sunday morning, head to the Thai Temple for a little taste of culture.
Here are the things you need to know before you arrive:
The entire food market is cash only – making it one of the few remaining spots in Tampa Bay without credit card squares or Apple Pay. Make sure you have got some actual dollar bills in your wallet before you arrive. That being said, $10 will more than cover your meal. Prices are extremely reasonable. Just grab some extra cash if you want to shop at the stunning flower market. Best prices on orchids in the bay.
The earlier you can beat the brunch crowd, the better. There is a large parking lot in front of the temple, but even that can fill up quickly so arrive early to secure a spot.
Be Prepared to Wait:
Even with an early arrival time the market is still likely to be crowded. You will more than likely have to wait for a parking spot (also be aware, people utilize absolutely every available parking space, so it will likely be a tight squeeze). You will also probably have to wait at the food stalls, especially if you are after their most popular dish – the noodle soup.
Get the Noodle Soup!
This item is popular for a reason. The line wraps around itself several times, and you may need to wait up to 20 minutes to place your order. Once you arrive at the front of the line you have several decisions to make:
- What size soup do you want? (regular or large)
- What size noodles do you want? (large like linguini, medium like spaghetti, or small like angel hair)
- Which soup do you want? (beef, pork, or vegetable)
Regular soup costs $6 and large cost $8. As you move from the order area to the payment area, you can watch an assembly line of volunteers place your noodles in a bowl, cover those noodles with broth, add your chosen protein, plus a meatball for good measure, and top it all off with a fresh mix of veggies. Once you pick up your soup and pay the same man that has been working the stall for years, you can head off to the condiments counter.
The condiments counter contains large containers of hot sauce, jalapeños, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Go ahead and dress up your soup however you would like, then grab some utensils and napkins and head to the picnic tables. The best way to attack the soup is to use chopsticks for the noodles, and then a spoon to slurp up your leftover broth.
When you are finished with your soup, bring your tray and bowl over to a garbage station. Drop anything left into your bowl in the bucket lined with a strainer, throw away your trash, and stack up your reusable tray and bowl for the volunteers to pick up later.
If you are curious about other food options at the Thai Temple, check out “What to Order: Thai Temple Sunday Market”.
Plan your attack:
Everything at the Thai Temple is delicious, and you will likely want to sample more than one dish. If that is the case, you will want to plan your attack accordingly. The line at the Thai tea/Thai coffee station is always extremely long. It makes sense…the tea and coffee are delicious and only costs $1, wherein most Thai restaurants a single tea will run you at least $4…so start there. Maybe pick up two or three, one to enjoy in line, and the others to enjoy with your meal. From there, head to the noodle soup line. This will most likely take up the bulk of your time. The soup is very hot, so wait for it to cool a bit while you pick up anything else you may want – like some fresh spring rolls or mango sticky rice (which always runs out early). If you are hitting the market in a group, consider splitting up for efficiency.
Bring Sunscreen and Bug Spray:
The eating area at the food market sits right on the Hillsborough River – and while the majority of the area is shaded, the strong Florida sun may still poke through. Nothing is worse than suffering a sunburn or irritating bug bites when you are trying to enjoy your meal, so come prepared to ward off the more irritating aspects of nature.
Check out the River Dock:
Make sure to take a stroll along the dock extending into the river. If you look over the edge you will see dozens of river catfish. Drop something small into the water (like an ice cube) and watch the fish rush to the surface!
Sunday mornings are a time to relax, recharge, and take in the beauty around you. Do not rush your time at the Thai Temple. Instead, take in the delicious heat of the soup, the creamy sweetness of the tea, and the beauty of the people around you. ‘