In the blossoming world of gourmet food trucks, the Nom Nom Truck is one of the most famous. After a great showing on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, the Nom Nom Truck now has a super dedicated, almost obsessive, fan base.
What’s so interesting about the Nom Nom Truck is that they serve banh mi, which are vietnamese sandwiches. Traditionally, banh mi is made with ingredients that most Americans would cringe at: pâté and headcheese. And yet, the Nom Nom Truck has a following that defies all cultural logic. You can get a traditional banh mi from Nom Nom…it’s called “the deli special.” But the more popular options are the grilled pork (pictured), the lemongrass chicken, or the tofu. In addition to the meat, each banh mi has cilantro, jalepeños, mayo, a tangy relish of carrots and daikon radish called do chua, and, my favorite, cucumbers.
Banh mi is a great sandwich to look at in terms of culture for two reasons. First of all, banh mi originates in the French colonialism of Vietnam. The sandwich demonstrates how the co-mingling of cultures creates new, hybrid ideas. In banh mi, the French contribution can be seen in the baguette and the pâté, combined with classic Vietnamese ingredients like the daikon radish. Nn fact, food is one of the best ways to track the movement of culture: by identifying food traits unique to a culture and finding them in other places, you will often find other cultural constructs have moved as well.
Banh mi is also interesting in terms of popular culture. It seems to have become the new, hip thing in the food world, with fans of all types. The best way I can illustrate this is through an episode of The Great Food Truck Race. The trucks found themselves in a small town in the South. It seemed as though the Nom Nom Truck’s winning streak had come to an end; everyone expected the burger truck to win. The Nom Nom Truck pulled out a huge victory, even in a place where most of the people had never heard of banh mi. For whatever reason, this Vietnamese sandwich appeals to everyone. The New York Times has done an article about banh mi, and in it, lists the top ten banh mi spots in the country (coincidentally, a commenter adds Num Pang to the list). When the Nom Nom Truck shows up at a gathering of food trucks, a line forms immediately, and the other trucks lose business fast. Whether it’s the sandwich in and of itself, or the prestige of the Nom Nom Truck or both, right now, banh mi is a force to be reckoned with.
The food truck phenomenon that has swept Los Angeles, and for that matter, the country, has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Thus far, however, I have only had good experiences.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that a food truck called No Reservations was on a street by our house and that I should go check it out. For those of you who don’t know me, I am an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, who has a fantastic television show by the name of No Reservations. I therefore decided to go see if this truck had anything to do with Tony or his show (knowing that it most likely didn’t) and hoped that regardless, I would get some good food out of the whole adventure.
It turned out that the truck had absolutely no connection to Bourdain, but my disappointment was quickly countered by the menu, which boasts simply:
HOT WRAPS: $8.00
Needless to say, I was stoked. Not only that, but each wrap is comprised of interesting ingredients with a movie title for a name. In addition, I was lucky enough to stop at the truck as a new employee was trying out each wrap. As I waited for my wrap, the Good Fellas, I hovered over the array of deliciousness being lined up in front of me. The girl eventually noticed me, and the guy showing her the wraps (manager? owner?) offered me half of the Silence of the Lambs (marinated roasted leg of lamb, middle eastern rice, spaghetti squash, red pepper hummus, and pomegranate red wine sauce). I couldn’t stop myself from digging in before taking a picture (photo #3). The wrap was unbelievable…the lamb was a little well done for my tastes, but the flavor was great and complemented perfectly by the spices in the rice and the surprising texture of the spaghetti squash. Most amazing was the tanginess that the pomegranate delivered, creating an unusual flavor profile.
I finally got my wrap and headed home, where I encountered a similar experience: though every component of the wrap made sense as a complete whole, there were tastes that were surprising and different. This wrap consisted of grilled New York steak, roasted garlic potatoes, gorgonzola cheese with cracked peppercorns and red beet horseradish creme fraiche, comprising a sandwich that has not one ingredient that I wouldn’t eat in a heartbeat. In the Good Fellas, I found that the gorgonzola provided a great bridge between the classic meat and potatoes and the modern red beet horseradish creme fraiche. The creamy texture of the cheese, combined with the strength of its flavor, matched the power of the creme fraiche while evening it out to balance the heaviness of the rest of the ingredients.
All in all, I was very sad that I didn’t get to meet Anthony Bourdain, but this exciting and surprising food experience was definitely worth the disappointment.