CHEAP EATS This Cheap Eats restaurant review is a thank-you note to a guy named John. He bought all the tokens for a Thai temple brunch for me, Bernie, and Laura last Sunday. And technically it should have been the other way around, me tokening him, because he’d just breema’d me.
If you don’t know what breema is, I don’t know what to tell you. They bend, push, and dance on you, kind of like a massage, only you’re lying on the floor and it’s all very musical. Then you’re hungry and all relaxed and shit. I love it and am lucky to have two friends, Bernie and Laura, who are practitioners. And now John. Three friends.
If you don’t know who John is, he lives in Oakland, used to have chickens, still has a Ping-Pong table, two cool kids, couple watermelons on the counter, a big empty room with pillows along the walls, and lots of rugs. I think he might be the Big Cheese of Breema, because 1) he’s crazy good at it, and 2) he taught Laura, who I think taught Bernie, who used to practice on lucky me.
I have no interest in learning anything per se (like Latin), but I do like to receive. Massage, breema, packages, sensory information, tokens … At a Buddhist temple in Berkeley on Sunday mornings, you turn these tokens into Thai food. It’s a madhouse. Lines out the yinyang, no more meatballs, no more fish balls, nowhere to sit, general confusion … and still you gotta love it.
Know why? Because it’s different. It’s something else. It’s outside. The food’s pretty good, and at a dollar a token, five tokens for a big bowl of noodle soup, the price is pretty reasonable.
The soup line was way shorter than the meat line and the vegetarian line, and anyway soup seemed really really good to me. So that was where I stood. They had three different choices of noodles: wide, skinny, and skinnier. But they were out of everything else.
“No meat,” the serverguyperson said when I came to the counter.
“Fish balls,” I said.
“No fish balls,” he said.
I was just about to think I was in a Monty Python sketch when he gestured toward the adjacent vegetarian buffet and said, “Vegetable only. Fifteen minutes for meat.”
“I’ll wait,” I said and stepped to the side. But I’d already been waiting in lines and wandering between them like a lost little chicken farmer, and the next couple people behind me conceded to vegetable soup, and I had to admit that the noodles, the dark broth with the little load of color on top, looked dang delicious.
After this I was going to play at a block party barbecue in Albany for food and tips, and then after that I was invited to another barbecue back in the city. I did the math. Meat plus meat equaling meat meat meat, I broke down and went with veggies for brunch.
So now I had this nice bowl of steaming vegetable soup and no idea where all my friends were. In the process of looking for them, wandering around like a lost little chicken farmer, I discovered on a remote fringe of the mayhem a no-line-at-all fried chicken station, and the chickens looked great, but I was all out of tokens.
Also found: a stage with colorfully dressed musicians playing traditional Thai stuff to tables and tables of happy eaters. No friends and no room for me and my soup, not there, not in the main part of the pavilion, not in the alley …
My soup was starting to get cold. I was dying of hunger. Buzzards were circling. I looked at the sky, looked at my feet, kicked the bleached bones and tumbleweeds out of my path, and pushed on.
Here they were! Sitting cross-legged on the grass and sidewalk out front, eating stuff. Although I tasted some of everything, and everything was good, I think my favorite thing (because I’d never had it before) was this little fluffy doughy doodad cooked with coconut milk and stuffed with green onions.
But Bernie, bless him, had scored one of the last fish ball soups, and I managed to mostly eat that. Thank you, Bernie. The fish balls were wonderful. SFBG
Sun., 9 a.m.–2 p.m.
1911 Russell, Berk.
Credit cards not accepted