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AAPI Heritage: Tampa's Thai Temple shares its culture through food

Tee Chulikavittaweewat says his favorite part about Thai and Buddhist culture is that it is accepting of everyone.

TAMPA, Fla. — Every Sunday, rain or shine, people flock to Wat Tampa, a Buddhist Thai Temple, for its food.

Overlooking the Palm River, its weekly markets are so popular, some goods run out before lunchtime. Traffic, some Sundays, backs up out the gate. 

What's not seen behind the scenes: Dedicated members of the local Thai community scrambling to provide enough savory, salty and sweet meals for its visitors.


But the temple offers more than just heaping serving of pad thai or beef noodle soup.

"I always have this place to feel like home," Tee Chulikavittaweewat of Tampa said. "You look at it and obviously, it's Thai, but everyone's welcome."

The temple was established in 1981 as a cultural center. It also serves as a school to teach the Thai language, meditation, and Buddhism.

Chulikavittaweewat said the temple aimed to celebrate culture but over the years, it's also evolved into a place for anyone, regardless of background, to learn more about its culture.

Nothing appears to reach people more than its food.

"It's just sort of a foot in the door. If you come for the food, you stay for the scenery and you keep coming for everything else," Chulikavittaweewat said.

Visitors get the opportunity to go inside the temple and see how Buddhism is practiced.  

Credit: Rickey Kim

Aside from its well-known pad thai or beef noodle soup, the Sunday markets also offer a variety of cuisine including different curries and fried rice.

Plus, sweet treats like mango sticky rice and iced Thai tea add to one's visit. 

Chulikavittaweewat said while it may seem intimidating to be surrounded by the temple's unfamiliar surroundings, he reassures it's a judgment-free zone.

"It's a welcoming environment," he said. "'They're not going to be offended if you're if you tell them, like, 'Hey, listen, I've never had Thai food before. I've never been here before.'"

Credit: Rickey Kim

The temple also has signs featuring Thai and English translations of its celebrations, food and traditions.

Having just graduated from the University of South Florida, Chulikavittaweewat said he didn't appreciate his upbringing at the temple as much. However, he said he's thankful his family immersed him in the environment.

"I'm now dragging my friends," he said.

The Sunday markets start as early as 8:30 a.m. and last until 1 p.m. 

It's recommended visitors go around 10 a.m. to ensure there's enough food to serve. The market is also cash only.

Credit: Rickey Kim

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