TRUCKSTOP: The Best Meals On Four Wheels

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AaronAvatar_1.jpgBY AARON STELLA My fellow hungry Americans, welcome to another edition of Truck Stop, where each week we’ll visit street vendors in different parts of Philadelphia to assist the common wayfarer in their travels and grub scavenging. Hey, don’t give me that look — if you ain’t too proud to get your news off the Internet, then you probably ain’t too proud to eat sushi off a truck. This week, we’ll be traversing the feeding grounds of the Community College of Philadelphia. From Jamaican to Chinese to sushi to the bacon-egg-n’-cheeses, an international smorgasbord layeth before you, and is cooked to serve before you can finish a cigarette or that courtesy call to Mommy Dearest.

KOREAN SUSHI TRUCK

Location: On 17th St. in the middle of the CCP campus.
Cuisine: Staples in Chinese takeout, and, like the opener says, your favorite, sushi (ahem) fresh off the truck.

As I neared the truck on a mission to satisfy my craving for sushi, I heard laughter and sporadic waves of squeals from within: a game of tag was ensuing between Christi Lau and her son, Anthony Lau, 8 [pictured, above]. Christi and her family came from Hong Kong to the U.S. 20 years ago, and their first business endeavor landed them in the food court at the Gallery. About two years ago, they added some wheels and made a new home at CCP. Christi is very sweet, and Anthony makes it a habit to bound about the truck and it outskirts, chatting it up with hungry patrons and curious first-timers.

The Menu: General Tso’s, sweet-and-sour, lo mien and egg rolls. Sushi — salmon, tuna, crab (imitation), and veggie.

It’s a crying shame that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing a sushi cart. They’re a little more uncommon than you’d think they’d be. But they’re out there, and some are certainly better than others. Well, I ordered the spicy tuna. It came in a Styrofoam container with the traditional garnish, pickled ginger root and wasabi paste. In case you’re unfamiliar with common sushi ingredients in rolls prepared curbside, they include cucumber, avocado, rice, dried seaweed and the fish of choice. Now about my spicy tuna. It was six large pieces topped with cayenne and paprika in a gelatinous goo. The summer heat and lack of refrigeration had taken its toll on all aspects of the roll: the already undercooked rice had dried significantly; the tuna effused with that putrid alkaline metal stink, the tell-tale sign of bad fish; the cucumber was more pliable than it should be—just plain weird. All signs, not good. It’s too bad the sushi was so terrible. Christi and Anthony are lively and very charming. Although I probably won’t chance the sushi again, I’ll definitely stop and say “hi” and purchase my beverages there in support.

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CHING’S TRUCK
Location: Spring Garden between 16th and 17th streets
Cuisine: The incredible, edible egg in all her vivacious glory, also sandwiches and sides

Herang Ching and her husband, Lokdaing Ching, arrived from Cambodia in 1982 and opened a small Chinese takeout. Later, they traded the takeout joint for their own lunch truck, which they’ve operated for the last 11 years. Duties within the truck are split: Lokdaing takes care of the heavy lifting and replenishing of ingredients, while Herang works the kitchen. Throughout the lunch rush, their countenances retain a serene grin and an air of quietude, as they watch the afternoon crowd roll in.

The Menu: Sandwiches, eggs, and bacon, OH MY! Plain fries, cheese fries, volcano fries, and just plain fried things for your pleasure.

You can go greasy or go healthy with Ching’s truck. Either way, it’s hit or miss. I ordered the seafood salad wrap without inquiring about the contents first. Not a bad deal for $2.75: In a cocoon of lightly baked pita, everyone’s favorite imitation Krab meat is lumped together with a julienne of lettuce and half-mooned tomatoes. Sounds good so far, but I shouldn’t forget that queer, mayo-based polymer — yes, polymer — in which the contents were swimming. My imagination soon became my only defense as incursion of alien flavors — a likely by-product of the blistering summer heat — laid seige to my taste buds. Soon there was no choice but to surrender the soggy remainders to the garbage can. I don’t really know what to say other than always keep a ration of water nearby (or Coca-Cola when you need the heavy artillery) just in case your purchase looks or smells suspicious. Despite my dissatisfaction with my seafood wrap, it should be noted that Herang and Lokdaing are exemplars of great customer service. Herang is able to move gracefully about the kitchen while entertaining conversation. And if it ever gets busy, Lokdaing is never shy to hop aboard the truck to help or keep customers occupied with your all-American brand of idle conversation. They seemed to have a number of regulars, not just from CCP, but from the community as well.

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THE JAMAICAN TRUCK
Location: 17th St., a couple a trucks south of the Sushi truck.
Cuisine: Soul food at it’s finest.

The Jamaican Truck folks were, how shall we say, reluctant to speak on the record and forbade me from photographing their truck. Go figure.

The Menu: Entrée’s are jerk chicken, oxtail, fried fish (usually tilapia, but they also have red snapper), fried chicken, rice and beans (for vegetarians), including a slough of juicy sides. plus a choice of two sides. Sides include mac ‘n cheese, collard greens, candied yams, black-eyed peas and cornbread.

On the suggestion of a passerby, I ordered the oxtail with the collard greens and mac n’ cheese. My love for mac n’ cheese is, truthfully, a little embarrassing. I don’t eat it often, but if’s a choice between that and nothing else, then well, the decision’s already been made. Collards are also a personal favorite, but they’re tricky to cook, as toughness and mushiness are both common flaw in the final product, especially when prepared curbside. Alright then, the oxtail: A leaner batch than I expected. Not to say it was measly meal, hardly so. It was probably the most bountiful batch of oxtail I’ve had yet. I do, however, prefer a little fat to be stuck among the sinews, because the juices of the meat and spices in which it stews throughout the day concentrates in the fat. As for the sides, the collard greens were a little too stringy-tough for my taste and the mac n’ cheese tasted like someone knocked over the carton of Morton’s iodized salt in the batch. Or it could’ve been the summer heat, but I don’t think that makes much sense, so, someone needs to watch where they’re going. Service could have been snappier. While I treasure humanity and its mirthful expressions, when you’re on the clock (so to speak), it shouldn’t slip into levity, or indolence; because it took 10 minutes for them to put some oxtail in a Styrofoam container. If the lack of productivity was caused because of me (I have the bad habit of entertaining idle chatter longer than what’s healthy) then I’d have no complaints. Eh, oh well. I can be patient. Remember, if you have any time constraints you’d like accommodated, don’t keep it to yourself, speak up. No one’s a mind reader.

[Photos by AARON STELLA]

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