Food Truck: Bian Dang Taiwanese Food
Sighting: 53rd between Park and Lex
The first food truck I knew I had to review was the Bian Dang Food Truck. They’ve been around for a while (they used to be called NYC Cravings) and I’ve been a fan for a while.
They specialize in Taiwanese food. Now a lot of you might assume this is “Chinese food”, but as I like to tell people, Taiwanese food is to Chinese food as Mexican food is to Spanish food. They may speak the same language in both countries, but each has a culinary tradition that’s worlds apart.
The word “bian dang” roughly translates to “lunch box”. Back in Taiwan’s history when rail travel could be a full day affair, they’d sell “tie lu bian dang” at train stations and on trains. It usually consisted of a fried pork chop, some braised meat and sauce, some pickled vegetables, some stir-fried vegetables, an egg, and rice.
For my money, this is one of the perfect lunches of the world. The flavors and textures all balance each other out. There are few tastes better than braised meat and sauce over rice, and with the juice from the pork chop seeping into the rice you’ll enjoy one of nature’s perfect flavor combinations. Add to that the savoriness and chewiness of the pork chop, the sourness and pop of the picked vegetables, the subtle sweetness and crunch of the vegetables, and you have a full meal that all fits within one convenient plastic container.
The Bian Dang truck replicates this classic lunch box pretty accurately. The first thing I’ll say is that the portions are generous. If you order the pork chop over rice, you’ll get two full pork chops, and a generous helping of rice and the other ingredients.
The dish can be tricky to eat subtly at a desk in a shared workspace. First of all, there’s an awesome aroma when you open your lunch box which you can enjoy but you’ll need to make sure your co-workers do too. And if you get the pork chop, you will need to pick it up with your fingers and do your best Cujo impression if you want to get every last bit of meat out. Be sure to have some floss handy as well. On the other hand, if you order the chicken, the braised pork, or the fishcakes, you’ll be able to eat those pretty quietly.
As for the flavor, while I can’t say it’s the absolute best pork chop over rice I’ve had in my life, it’s certainly very satisfying. The meat is well-cooked and tender, The rice, sauce, and pickled vegetables are kind of piled on and tend to mix together; it’s something I don’t mind as I’d be doing that anyway but if you’re picky about the presentation of your food this might be off-putting if you’re not expecting it.
Something that wasn’t on the menu but available as a special when I went back a few days later was the braised pork belly. I went back the very next day to get it. As with their other lunch boxes this came with vegetables (some Napa cabbage in this case) and rice. Here’s what it looked like up.
Yes, those are big honking pieces of pork fat. Perhaps off-putting, even repulsive to the Western palate, but for someone from Taiwan it’s one of the most sublime experiences on earth. These guys didn’t disappoint. They made it juicy, tender, and perfectly seasoned, perfect to eat with a big steaming bowl of white rice. I always used to avoid these because of, oh, things like arteries and heart disease. But my wife (who’s from Taiwan) assures me that these are good for you, so who am I to argue with her.
Incidentally, if you visit the National Taiwan Museum, you’ll see that one of their national treasures is an artifact from the Ching Dynasty–a piece of rock that looks exactly like a piece of pork fat. It’s to Chinese culture as the Mona Lisa is to French culture. And now you know.
Both times I got my food in under a minute, packed securely in a brown paper bag. The young guys in the truck couldn’t have been friendlier.
5 stars out of 5. I will be back.
Price I paid: $7 for the pork chop over rice, more for the pork belly. $1 for the tea egg.
Portion Size: large
Tricks for fast ordering: memorize the menu and be prepared to order quickly. You’ll likely want to choose one main dish, a tea egg and a free high five.
What to order if you’re a newbie: You’ll probably want one of the “pork chop over rice” or the “chicken leg over rice”, two quintessential lunch boxes in Taiwan.
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