Sunday Brunch at Wat Mongkolratanaram, Berkeley

by foodhoe on September 14, 2008

1911 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA (one block past Ashby off MLK) | (510) 849-3419

I’ve heard about the Sunday brunch served at the temple for years and finally got inspired to go when I saw an East Bay meetup was organized.  I had a hard time rousing Mr. K up early on a Sunday to drive over and get in line at 9:30 but it’s very popular and there was quite a line by the time they started to serve the food at 10.  I read that it was supposed to be the kind of food that we saw at the night bazaars and sold by street vendors in Thailand and not porridge, to Mr. K’s great relief (most of the breakfast buffets we went to in Thailand had porridge)…

Staffed by volunteers and owners of many local Thai restaurants, the proceeds go to benefit the Wat itself, monks that live in the temple and its many programs including the cultural center and the school.

The brunch began as a traditional religious act and simply grew of its own accord.

“In Thailand, monks are not allowed to make their living outside the temple,” said Sukum Saingarm, a board member at the temple. “They go outside and believers give them food, because taking care of the monks is one way you get in good with God,

The very popularity of the temple’s Sunday Thai Brunch is threatening its future as several neighbors have filed complaints because of the food smells (delicious) and sounds of cooking from early in the morning (yum), the noise of the crowds (exciting), cars blocking driveways and a general disruption of the neighborhood…  When we walked up there was an information table with petitions to show our support of the food fundraising and temple.  Apparently when the temple requested a zoning permit to build a sanctuary in its backyard,  the neighbors protested and now they want the temple to stop the Sunday brunch altogether.

For first timers, it can be confusing.  You first need to stand in line to buy tokens, which you donate in exchange for food. The exchange rate is $1 per token and most dishes were between 4-7 tokens, sodas and Thai iced tea were 1 token.

There were two lines, one for delicious curries, stir fries and noodles that included chicken, pork, or beef and the other line was for vegetarian dishes.

Here is my plate with beef with red curry on top, chicken with yellow curry taking over the right side and a small mound of chicken with mushroom and cashews.

The curries were rich with coconut milk and spicy, and the portions were huge.  My only complaint was that the rice was overwhelmed by the sauce!  I suppose I’d rather have more saucy stuff with not enough rice than vice versa…  I noticed that a lot of people had plastic containers that they handed to the server and received very generous portions (very eco-friendly and smart since the portions are huge).

Mr. K had the yellow curry with fried tofu and spicy green beans with tofu.

The fried tofu had a dense and chewy texture that was very satisfying and soaked up the curry.

This is the Chicken Pad Thai

Beef Noodle Soup, you can choose if you want vermicelli, thin or thick rice noodles, and then dress it yourself…

There were several stations of condiments that included fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and lots of chilies: dried, paste, pickled…

The Papaya Salad (5) looked very colorful and fresh.

Sticky Rice with Mango was delightful, it was served with two different types of sticky rice (one was black and the other was white) and a couple of scoops of a rice tapioca custardy thing that had me smacking my lips, especially when I took Michaela’s advice and spooned up a little bit of everything.  It had a liberal drizzle of sweet coconut milk that added stimulation to my tastebuds.

I am always drawn to the sizzling sound of frying, this is the dessert counter and I don’t know whether these fritters were banana or coconut, but they definitely looked good…

This is the combo dessert plate (5): Coconut pancakes (Khanom Krog) which are made with coconut, green onion, sugar and flour and cooked on a greased griddle and the golden brown crispy fritters to the right.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste these since I was too occupied with my sticky rice and mangoes…

We loved the casual friendly atmosphere and the delicious selection of foods.  I hope that the temple and their neighbors are able to resolve their issues and continue the 20 year old institution of Sunday Thai Brunch.  On the way out we removed our shoes to  peek into the temple where monks were chanting and delicate sticks of incense burned pungent tendrils of smoke.  We paid our respects and exited out past the now crowded and long lines.

BTW, while they do have a listing on urbanspoon and yelp, they are not a restaurant.  The brunch is held on Sundays from 10-1.

Wat Mongkolratanaram on Urbanspoon

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa September 14, 2008 at 10:05 pm

A great and interesting place! That food looks yummy! I love Thai food!



Rosas last blog post..WEEKEND CAT BLOGGING #171


grace September 15, 2008 at 8:22 am

well this is certainly not what i think of when i see the word brunch, but what a pleasant surprise! and the name of that temple–good googa mooga! 🙂


Kirk September 15, 2008 at 9:34 am

Hi FH – Man that looks great. The Wat in Los Angeles used to do that every weekend until last year, when the neighbors complained and they shut down…..we used to drive up just for the experience.


foodhoe September 15, 2008 at 10:53 am

rosa, I love it too and hope the temple can keep serving this brunch!
grace, you crack me up! yeah it was a different sort of brunch, but the lines show that thai food for brunch rocks.
kirk, i heard about that Wat in L.A., and really hope that doesn’t happen to this one. Berkeley can be militant about the weirdest things, so it will be interesting to see what happens…


rowena September 15, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I’m virtually all over those grindz. Incredible! And phooey to the snots who can no longer stomach the idea of delicious thai eats on a Sunday. It’s not like they’re getting ‘house visits’ with monks trying to push religious literature!


Single Guy Chef September 15, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Wow, I would never think of Sunday brunch at a temple! The food looked good and plentiful. But I have to say, I wonder if the monks are borderline becoming too commercial. All the food looked really like restaurant food. In Hawaii, most of the temple monks on special religious holidays would have fundraisers like this but all they would serve is the vegetarian dishes in accordance with their beliefs. So it does seem odd that this temple is so loose, but maybe they need the money.

Single Guy Chefs last blog post..Horton Hears a Pluot


foodhoe September 15, 2008 at 4:46 pm

rowena, yes this is my idea of breakfast for sure!
single guy, the neighborhood certainly thinks so… it’s gotten really popular with yelpers, which may account for the increase in traffic. whatever the case, the food is prepared and served by volunteers, not the monks from what I understand.


taste memory girl September 16, 2008 at 7:28 pm

everything looks delicious. i have recently tried green papaya salad and have been hooked ever since! need to buy one as am sure it’s so easy to make. hope they continue this and the neighbors leave them alone. This must be a wonderful fundraiser for the temple and great community time!

taste memory girls last blog post..triple buzz: florida food bloggers + todd english’s bluezoo + foodbuzz


Passionate Eater September 16, 2008 at 8:02 pm

When I lived in Berkeley, this was a place that I loved to visit. Thanks for the reminder. I really hope the Berkeley residents drop their complaints–parking was always a problem around there, irregardless of brunch!!

Passionate Eaters last blog post..Getting Dressed (Po’ Boys) at Domilise’s


Pat September 17, 2008 at 11:23 am

I went to a festival (loy krathong) at a Buddhist temple in a Seattle suburb once and the spread was just amazing! This is a great way to raise funds for the temple–I’ll have to visit the next time I’m in the area!

Pats last blog post..All Pickled Out


foodhoe September 17, 2008 at 11:49 am

taste memory girl, I love green papaya salad too and haven’t ever tried making it. Yes, I hope they can continue the Sunday brunch cuz there are so many other dishes to try!
PE, me too 🙂
Pat, It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of food and I found another one to try in Fremont!


Bangkok March 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Oh i love those little knom croc things, those are delicious!!!
.-= Bangkok´s last blog ..Berryz Kobo live in Bangkok =-.


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