Culinary Postcards From the Dallas Thai Culture & Food Festival

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Buddhist Center of Dallas hosted the Thai Culture & Food Festival, an event boasting traditional music and dances, tours of the Buddhist temple and more food than even the hungriest noodle fanatic could handle.

Pulling in at the Forest Lane DART station, my friends and I could already hear hints of classical Thai music. A quick walk away, crowds of hungry patrons coursed through the neighborhood’s streets, headed straight for the music and the delicious smells.

The Buddhist temple was nearly surrounded by stalls from local restaurants, social clubs and other vendors. Sure, you could get pad thai if you wanted to, and we did try Bangkok Dee’s pad thai; it wasn’t great. But many of the cooks ditched their regular menus for special street-snack items that you can’t order every day. From Thai Riverside, a restaurant located in downtown Grapevine (but not on a riverside), I tried a tiny egg roll stuffed with a shrimp, the tail hanging out one end. Fried corn kernels gelled together into sweet chips, a fun side, but the highlight of my Riverside sampling was a quail egg dumpling. The quail egg is wrapped in a wonton skin and quickly fried, the egg yolk taking on a deviled texture and flavor.

One stall down, Thai Pepper, from Lewisville, had fish cakes on skewers. Construction-zone orange, and filled with visible flecks of green onion, the fish cakes make for a weird sight and an acquired taste, too. The texture of fish pieces pressed into a patty is fairly squishy, and the cakes were spicy, even without the chili pepper-spiked sauce. I enjoyed them, but my friends didn’t, despite the cheery vendor’s insistence that I’d need two skewers.
Around one corner, a woman stirred noodles around a huge wok at the free cooking demonstration booth, handing out delicious samples loaded with green onion shoots. Our favorite snack of the afternoon, however, was in the opposite direction, where three women manned tiny portable grills, turning out huge amounts of pork and chicken on skewers. The pork — juicy, peppery, with that hot charcoal smoke flavor you can’t fake on a gas cooktop — was leaving dozens of people full and happy.
We washed it all down with bubble tea and fresh juices. A few Tiger beers wouldn’t have gone wrong —Saturday was hot and sticky, just the right weather for a celebration of southeast Asia — but this was a family festival, after all. Despite the all-too-authentic heat and humidity, a good time was had.

If you missed the fest, you're not entirely out of luck — the Buddhist Center hosts a smaller number of Thai food vendors every Sunday at lunchtime. Now, can somebody send the Observer a hot tip on where to locate crispy quail egg puffs year-round?
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart