A garden sanctuary: For an out of this world experience, check out what the monks are growing

Laura Hall | Gardens with Annie
The Head Monk teaching about The Buddha at The Wat Mongkolratanaram or Buddhist Temple in Fort Walton Beach.

I hardly know where to begin to explain the marvelous experience I had in Fort Walton Beach at The Wat Mongkolratanaram or Buddhist Temple in Florida.

Here in a quiet neighborhood of shaded trees, you will find a bustling Sunday market overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables that you have to see to believe.

One of the vendors, Ann, had a large market stand that held small berry like things she said were eggplant and Thai watercress that looked like something the alligators would like to hide in.

I was captivated with a box of dark wine, scary looking fruit, covered with soft spiny tendrils that made me reluctant to pull out a handful of them for closer inspection. This fruit, about the size of a plum, looked like fiery, angry balls of lava just spit out of a volcano. Ann assured me that I had completely misinformed myself as to its splendiness (when needed I make up these good words); so; she placed her thumbs on this fruit, dug in and popped out the most glorious, shimmering white fruit that was luscious to the palate.

I bought an entire pound and what I don’t eat, I will use in a floral arrangement for Halloween. This market and eat-a-thon goes on every Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 741 Mayflower Avenue in Fort Walton, and everyone is given a warm welcome to come in and explore the food markets, enjoy the grounds and peek into the Buddhist temple. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of the monks from the temple dressed in their bright orange attire.

You can pick and choose from an array of wondrous food cooked right in front of you. All of the food is reasonably priced, fresh, and unusual to many there, including myself, but everyday life cuisine to others. It is a great way to take the entire family out for a unique dining experience under the cool shade trees where you will find many inviting picnic tables that are available for seating on a first come, first serve basis.

There is a small garden in the back that contains some of the longest beans I have ever seen, some pepper plants along the fence and guava trees providing salad makings. Within the courtyard you will find persimmon, loquat and grapefruit trees. When you get ready to eat, first of all you exchange your money for tokens which you use to buy food from the many vendors.

Ok, now the difficult, but delightful and exciting part is picking out what you are going to eat. Some of the items you have to choose from are fried bananas, rice flake “noodie” (noodle) soup, coconut rice pancakes, which are popped out of this round piping hot cast iron skillet. You will find these warm, tiny dream bits, crispy on the outside with a soft, gentle flavor of coconut milk on the inside.

Want a heavy meal? Try the pad Thai, mild, medium or hot, heaped up with flavored noodles and chunks of chicken. On the side of this dish, you will find shredded carrots, shredded cabbage and a whisk of some green ornamentation beyond my remembrance.

Dear ladies, I beg your forgiveness at this point if I misspell your names. If I asked three or four times and still wasn’t sure I just decided to “wing and hum.” Hummmm …. Cooking mini pork shish kabobs was Suean, no not right? Sueap, no, Sutared? No, wait, I think I finally got it right as Sutaned Griaswodl.

By this time we were all having a good hoot with each other. She had the grill piping hot with at least 20 or 30 pork minis going at the same time. Sutaned is a native of Thailand but living locally now. My group made an agreeable decision to try one of everything. I met a lovely lady, Sukee Damen, who has graciously offered me a visit to her garden and I will be reporting back to you when I have more exotic information to share.

I was invited to come inside the temple building and see the statue of the Buddha and where the monks sit to converse with the congregation. I entered, after removing my shoes, and took this picture of the head monk. When he sits on his golden chair he acts as a preacher and explains the teachings of the Buddha. Later he will move over to a raised platform and sitting yoga style with several other monks, members of the congregation will kneel before them and chant or say a prayer.

I met a young gentleman named Mike; even though he was a first time visitor like me, he explained that the monks only eat twice a day at 7 and 11 and they only eat what people bring them.

It is a great place for people to join together and enjoy each other, shop in the fresh market and enjoy delicious and interesting food. On Nov. 18 they are having a big festival, expecting 200 to 300 people for dancing as well as eating. I met local people from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma.

The visiting people sitting at our table had moved to the Destin area from New York, Connecticut, China, Louisiana and Alabama (that’s me and Hubbub).

Here we sat, all enjoying life and having a great time. It’s a small slice of our inconsistent and troublesome world that seemed to come together with a brief moment of peace, friendship and laughter. See you at the festival. Yum, yum!

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.

SEE FOR YOURSELF: An out-of-this-world farmer’s market and eat-a-thon goes on every Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Buddhist Temple in Florida 741 Mayflower Avenue in Fort Walton. On Nov. 18 they are having a big festival, expecting 200 to 300 people for dancing as well as eating.