If your spirits were damped after leaving Pasadena's 626 Night Market this weekend without so much as a pancake roll in hand, a good way to curb any lingering craving for Asian street food might have been to head for the Wat Thai temple in North Hollywood the next morning, where the annual Songkran festival, a celebration of the Thai new year, took place over the weekend.
Granted, at Wat Thai you'll often find food vendors selling things like papaya salad and skewers of barbecued meat at weekend festivals interspersed throughout the year, but it's only during Songkran when L.A.'s Thai community can enjoy the fruits of its most devoted home cooks in full force.
If you were hungry, you could have scored a spicy bowl of noodles stocked with bits of braised offal and crispy duck skin, or perhaps a length of vinegary pork sausage that perfumed the air and came with a rather potent version of the minced chile dip nam prik noom.
The som tam ladies were at their booths, too — surrounded by hills of green papaya, tomato, peanuts, dried shrimp and a few other ingredients about which no one will ever be fully enlightened. When you order a plate, everything gets tossed into a tall stone pestle — the size of which suggests a prehistoric museum prop — and then mixed and pounded with a stone mortar until it becomes a singular, blazingly hot creation.
But the one stop that everyone makes — after making the requisite offering to the orange-robed priests and paying respects the large shrine near the front gate — is to visit those cheerful grandmothers peeling mangoes and laying plump yellow slices over sheets of chewy, coconut-scented rice.
Missing out on a box of this dessert is a bit like neglecting a slice of peach pie at a Baptist bake sale — it just isn't done.
Songkran may have just passed, but you can still find a stall or two open on an errant Sunday if you watch your calendar. With any luck, those wonderful ladies will be there to greet you.