Under golden spires and Thai architectural prowess comes the clangs of fired up woks, the smell of stir-fried garlic and spices, and the merging of generations -- old and young -- joining together for a traditional Thai meal. Standing here, you might believe that you’re in Thailand, but beyond the temple, known as a wat, stands a strip mall, a Shell gas station, and a street sign that reads “Coldwater Canyon Avenue.” Believe it or not, you’re in North Hollywood.
My mom has always told me that no matter where I am in the world, if I’m seeking Thai community and food, the first thing I have to do is find a wat. That’s exactly what she did when we first immigrated to America 24 years ago, where she stumbled upon Wat Thai of Los Angeles -- a Buddhist temple nestled in the San Fernando Valley, just 15 miles north of Downtown LA. It also happens to be the first -- and largest -- Thai temple in the country.
The wat serves as a home and place of meditation for practicing Buddhist monks, as well as a weekend Thai school with language, music, and traditional dance lessons. It’s a place of coalition building, where aunties and uncles come together to gossip, exchange recipes, and speak their native tongues. It’s where I spent the majority of my weekends growing up: begrudgingly trying to meditate (and failing), learning the Thai alphabet, practicing traditional dance, and -- of course -- dining on arguably some of the best Thai food in America. Something I’ve learned in my 24 years as a Thai-Brit living in America is that where there is a collective of Thai people, there will be a wat. And where there is a wat, there will be traditional Thai food.