The Thai Temple is a super unique cultural center of Tampa. An honest to goodness Thai Buddhist Temple (complete with orange-clad monks), the Sunday Market at Wat Mongkolratanaram will transport you all the way around the world to someone else. Every Sunday, the Thai community invites the public into their Temple and sets up incredible food stalls dishing out super traditional and super delicious Thai Food. But without a menu, directory, or any clear way to tell which stall serves what, actually obtaining a meal at the Thai Temple can be a daunting task.
Below you will find the three best dishes available at the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple. Follow this guide and sample some of the most authentic Asian food in Florida.
#3 Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
When you first walk into the Thai Temple, you will be on a path between the temple itself and the community center that hosts the market. The community center deck on your right-hand side hosts a half a dozen food stands. Somewhere near the center, you can find fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce, for only $5! These things make the perfect appetizer. A delicate rice wrapper encases fresh lettuce, carrots, and thin rice noodles. Some of the rolls contain chicken strips, and some contain shrimp. Pick whichever pack of four looks the best to you and claim it as your own before someone else does. The beautifully fresh flavors of the spring roll then blend with the rich peanut dipping sauce to form a bite that it all together fresh, rich, silky and crunchy. These are a great item to share, or they can be enjoyed all on your own! All in all, it is one of the best dishes at the Thai Temple Sunday Market.
#2 Mango Sticky Rice
Along that same deck, but closer to the river than the stall with the spring rolls, is a stall of wonderful Thai women serving Mango Sticky Rice. Mango Sticky Rice is technically a Thai dessert, but it is so delicious and in such short supply at the Thai Temple Sunday Market that you should grab whenever you can! Mango Sticky Rice consists of fresh sliced Mango, next to white rice sweetened with coconut milk. At Wat Mongkolratanaram, they serve their Mango Sticky Rice with a side of sweetened coconut milk, for you to pour over your mango and rice if you so please. The dish is sweet without being overly sugary, and decadent without feeling heavy or overly indulgent. If you ever visit Thailand, you will find Mango Sticky Rice available on nearly every menu, from street vendor to 5-star restaurants. This stick rice is incredibly authentic and absolutely delicious. It sells out quickly – so definitely find this stall first, and then continue around the market putting together the rest of your meal.
#1 Noodle Soup
The noodle soup at the Thai Temple is truly something special. The stall selling it is all the way at the end of the wrap around deck, on the side facing the river. Though, you barely need directions since the line alone will clue you in into which stall you are looking for. The noodle soup consists of rice noodles (available in angel hair, medium, and thick), savory beef or pork broth, a delicious meatball, and some fresh bean sprouts and vegetables. The dish is highly customizable. You have the choice between a large and a small, a choice of three different sized noodles, and then a choice of beef, pork, or vegetable. Just make sure you have your choices made by the time you get to the front of the line. Also, the line will be long. But do not let that deter you. The crew working this station is super efficient, so you should be holding a hot bowl of soup within 15 minutes, even when the line wraps around itself five times and heads down the stairs off of the deck. Once you get your soup, head over to the condiments table to customize it even more! There, you will find jalapeños, fish sauce, sriracha, and sugar. Toss in whatever looks good to you and grab some utensils. The easiest way to attack this dish is with chopsticks for the meat, vegetables, and noodles, and then a spoon for the broth. This dish is filling and heartwarming. It is comfort food in Asia, and you will feel that comfort in every bite you eat. You cannot go wrong with the flavors you choose, and you can try a different combination every time! This dish is an absolute must for anyone looking to have an authentic experience at Wat Mongkolratanaram.
Bonus Dish! Thai Coffee
Most people visiting the Thai Temple will sing the praises of the sweet and creamy Thai Tea – available at another busy stand for only a dollar per cup (a fraction of the price of most local Thai Restaurants). But if you are looking for something with a little more kick, you cannot go wrong with the Thai Coffee. The Thai Coffee (only available iced), is a rich, black drink brewed with sugar and spices giving it an intense depth of flavor. Once it is poured over ice, the stall attendants top it off with a splash of half and half, cutting the richness and adding a creamy flavor. It is sold at the same stand as the Thai Tea, and for the same price, but gets a lot less attention. If you really want to do the Thai Temple Sunday Market the right way, you will grab a few of these bad boys to enjoy while waiting in line, and a few more to enjoy with your meal!
The Sunday Market at the Wat Mongkolratanaram is an incredible experience. So grab some cash (oh, forgot to mention, it is cash only), make sure you have got an appetite, and head to this incredibly scenic site on the edge of the Hillsborough River. Enjoy your Sunday!