The Path to Enlightenment is Paved with Thai Street Food

thai street food

thai street foodOnce a year the Thai Buddhist Temple of Hawaiʻi turns into a Thai Street Food Sanctuary

Crispy fried chicken with sticky rice, steaming bowls of coconut fish curry poured over vermicelli noodles with fresh herbs and lime and ice-cold cups of bright orange, spiced Thai tea. Getting hungry yet?

Thai fried chicken
Thai fried chicken

A few weeks ago I was out foraging with Nat Bletter, cofounder of Madre Chocolate, and we got to talking about Thailand––where he lived for a while doing his postdoc.

In between identifying native plants and cracking open kukui nuts he gave me a gem of a recommendation. Every year during Buddhist lent––July to October––the Thai Buddhist Temple of Hawaiʻi in Pearl City puts on a Thai Street Food Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is the closest you will get to authentic Thai and Lao cuisine in Hawaiʻi he promised.

thai street food
Green Fish Curry

On a sweltering hot day in July I grabbed a foodie friend and set out for the Temple. We failed miserably on our first attempt.

“It happens to people all the time,” Bletter said after hearing that we showed up to their old location on 2nd street first by accident.

By the time we found the right address, and made our way over to their new(ish) Temple on Farrington, Bletter was just showing up.

thai street food

The three of us spread 11 dishes onto a picnic table and dove in. Bletter gave us ingredient intel on each dish as we navigated through the flavors of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

None of the dishes are over $8 and all proceeds go to support the monks––who steadily perform rituals and chants all afternoon while people graze.

Thai Street Food
Red Fish Curry

Spicy fried smelt (tiny fish) are tossed with red curry paste, fresh chilis and julienned lemongrass and Tod Mun, or fish cakes, made with galangal and makrut lime leaves are served with Thai sweet chili sauce.

thai street food
Spicy fried smelt
thai street food
Tod Mun

Papaya salad is made to order––to suit your taste––and is served with a handful of peppery la lot leaves. I opted for only one dried chile and an extra squeeze of lime in mine. The woman preparing it let me try it three times until she saw I was happy with the ratio.

thai street food
Green papaya salad

One of the vendors instructed us to eat the Saku Sai Mu––chewy balls of tapioca stuffed with pork––by wrapping them first in fresh cilantro sprigs and following each bite with a nibble off a Thai chili. It was my favorite dish of the day. “You have to eat it all today,” he urged. “It won’t be good tomorrow.”

thai street food
Saku Sai Mu

Pla Pad Chah gets its name from the sizzling sound the fish makes when it hits the skillet. This version is made with eggplant and includes mouthwatering aromatics like green chilis, pickled green peppercorns and Thai basil.

Thai street food
Pla Pad Chah

Another made-to-order salad I loved comprised bamboo shoots massaged with bai yanang––an herb and natural MSG. The marinated shoots are tossed with toasted, ground sticky rice, dried chilis, palm sugar, fish sauce, red onion, lime and mint.

Thai street food
Marinated bamboo shoots
Thai street food
Bamboo shoot salad

For dessert you must try the Khanom Krok––plump pan fried rice pancakes oozing with coconut cream and scallion––and Khao Tom Mud–– banana leaf wrapped coconut sticky rice stuffed with red beans and banana that turns bright pink once cooked.

Thai street food
Khanom Krok
Thai street food
Khanom Krok
Thai Street Food
Khao Tom Mud

There is also a table set up inside the Temple where the monks place their leftover food after they eat. The food is up for grabs to anyone who would like some blessed bites.

Thai Street Food
Food blessed by the monks

Bletter gave me a few tips. You may want to practice these when you show up to the Temple (or Thailand) out of respect.

1.   Cover your shoulders and don’t wear shorts to the Temple.
2.   At the beginning of a meal, fill up on a few bites of sticky rice first instead of going in for the more expensive ingredients right away.
3.   Pick up the sticky rice with your fingers and use it as a vessel to pick up the other ingredients with. Don’t lick your fingers.

On our way out we spoke with Loonk Pai-Rat, or “Uncle” Pai-Rat, a Buddhists who had been walking around educating guests while we were eating.

“You know why monks shave their heads?” he asked. “To make it easier to wash! That’s it!” He was demonstrating one of the principals of their lifestyle, which is to simplify.

He also warned us about desire––an action the Buddhists believe is the root of all suffering.

I digested his words, along with the feast we had just consumed, on the car ride home. It was a reminder to accept and be grateful for what I already have, to stop clinging to impermanent things and to stay focused on living a virtuous and intentional life––that eternal practice of letting go of the ego.

If you enjoy Thai cuisine you will love this event. Bring friends, sample everything and most importantly…open your mind. The Buddhist’s path is an enlightening one and as it turns out a delicious one too.

96-130 Farrington hwy, Pearl City
July-October, Sundays, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Pro tip: The parking lot gets full so if you see a spot on the street, grab it!

Thai Green Papaya Salad

thai green papaya salad

thai green papaya salad

In Thailand, where the flavors of spicy, sour, sweet and salty come together in pure harmony––attaining good balance is the goal. Thai green papaya salad exemplifies this balance.

In order to balance these nuances in a dish, you must be familiar with your ingredients. You want to create a blend of textures, aromas, flavors and temperatures that make each ingredient shine.

Here you have crunchy green papaya, soft fragrant herbs, spicy chiles, salty fish sauce, sour lime and a dash of sugar for sweetness.

thai green papaya salad

Thai food is vibrant, light, nutritious and delicious. And that is exactly how I would describe Thai green papaya salad.

It is customary, when preparing this dish, to pound the ingredients together using a mortar and pestle. If you do not have one, you can make the dressing in a food processor and pour it over the papaya, or chop the ingredients with a knife and mix them together in a bowl.

thai green papaya salad

Thai Green Papaya Salad

Since I have a shellfish allergy I do not make this salad with dried shrimp. If you want yours to be more authentic, add a pinch of dried shrimp to pound up with the other ingredients for the dressing. You can also use palm sugar instead of monk fruit sweetener here for authenticity. Monk fruit sweetener is lower glycemic and is touted as a "healthier" sugar.

Course Salad
Cuisine Thai
Keyword Thai green papaya salad
Servings 4 servings


  • 1 each Green Papaya approx. 1 1/2 lbs
  • 4 each Scallions sliced thin
  • 1/2 bunch Cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 bunch Mint leaves
  • 1/2 bunch Basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Roasted & salted peanuts coarsely ground
  • 1 each Shallot sliced
  • 2 cloves Garlic smashed
  • 1 each Chinese Long Bean (or 2 green beans) chopped
  • 1 each Red chili sliced
  • 1 pinch Sea Salt
  • 1 pinch Monk fruit sweetener
  • 1 each Lime juiced
  • 2 Tbsp Fish Sauce


  1. Peel the papaya and cut in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Either grate the papaya using a box grater or julienne it with a mandoline.

    thai green papaya salad
  2. In a large bowl toss together the shredded papaya, scallion, herbs and peanuts. 

  3. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the shallot, garlic, long bean, chili, salt and sugar into a paste. Stir in the lime juice and fish sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. 

    thai green papaya salad
  4. Pour the dressing over the papaya salad, toss to combine and serve immediately. 

  5. This salad can be held in the refrigerator and eaten later, but the papaya will start to soften and lose its crunch. 

Recipe Notes

For fish sauce I recommend Red Boat

Need a mandoline? Here's what I use. 

Want to try out Monk Fruit Sweetener? Try this.



Thai Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup

Winter is the time of year when you want to curl up with hot soups and stews for dinner.

Butternut squash soup is classic but can sometimes be overdone here in San Francisco. This recipe takes a riff on this already delicious soup and kicks it up a little.

Thai Butternut Squash Soup

Sweet, sour, creamy and a little spicy. This ain't your regular old b-nut squash soup. Use organic ingredients whenever available. Recipe by Spencer O'Meara
Cuisine Dairy free, Gluten free
Servings 6 cups


  • 1 tbsp Avocado oil
  • 1/2 each Yellow onion chopped
  • 1 tbsp Ginger minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tsp Coriander ground
  • 5 cups Butternut squash large dice
  • 1 can (13.6 fl.oz) Coconut milk unsweetened
  • 2 cups Chicken stock unsalted
  • 1 each Fresh Kafir lime leaf
  • 1 tbsp Fish sauce
  • 1 each Lime juiced
  • TT Sea salt and pepper


  • 4 tbsp Roasted cashews chopped
  • 1 each Red fresno chile sliced thin
  • 2 sprigs Mint chopped
  • 10 sprigs Cilantro chopped
  • 4 leaves Basil chopped


  1. In a large pot cook the onion in avocado oil with a pinch of salt over medium heat until soft, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger and coriander, cook one more minute.
  3. Add the squash, coconut milk, stock and kafir lime leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until squash is tender.
  4. Remove the kafir lime leaf and discard. Pour the soup into a blender, add the fish sauce and lime juice and blend on high until smooth. ***Place a towel over the top of the blender lid and secure with your hand when blending to ensure that hot liquid does not escape.
  5. Pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish with the cashews, herbs and chiles.

Recipe Notes

Need Avocado oil? - Buy "La Tourangelle, Avocado Oil"
Need Kafir lime leaf? -Buy a "Fresh ORGANIC Kaffir Lime Leaves"