Across the city, through several neighborhoods and past the large, fancy skyscrapers lies a magical spot like nothing else I’ve found in Philadelphia. Though University City is home to prestigious collegiate institutions and Ivy Leaguers from all over the globe, I’m less fascinated by the geniuses roaming the college campus as I am wide-eyed over the “kitchens on wheels”. Scattered throughout the blocks from 38th to 33rd and Spruce to Chestnut (arguably) are the cities best food trucks. Whatever you’re in search of will be found, as the trucks and carts in the area boast global cuisines, menus catered to anyone from the adventurous palate to the student coming off of an all-nighter, and even vegetarian fare or fruit salad stands for those in need of a lighter lunch.
Food trucks seem to be a somewhat recent trend in the culinary sector, but Philadelphia is extremely familiar with them; one might even say our city was on the forefront of the movement and may just have the best food trucks in the country. Not only are new ones popping up all over the area, the Food Network has dedicated and entire show to cooking from a vehicle and our very own Chef Jose Garces makes his rounds in the Guapos Tacos truck. Heather Shouse, a food writer and contributor to Food & Wine magazine, has one-upped the rest of the food channels and articles covering the fad by not only scouring the country in search of the best food trucks America has to offer, she has also included some of the best recipes she’s encountered in her travels so we can enjoy them in the comfort of our own kitchen.
Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels is packed with almost 200 pages of coast to coast trucks making anything from juicy burgers, smoky barbecue and SPAM sandwiches to cookies, pudding and other sweet treats. Shouse also included the back story of the trucks, which are sometimes just as exciting as the food they tout. Many respectable, trained chefs choose to leave the limelight of 4-star restaurants in favor of cooking is a tiny kitchen on wheels. Even more inspiring are those with self-taught skills, talent for cooking, and a passion for food, who are simply following their dream of bringing delicious dishes to hungry people.
On 38th Street, between Spruce and Walnut, the Yue Kee Chinese mobile kitchen dishes out traditional Chinese food from a somewhat beat-up, silver truck with a striped awning. The appearance of the vehicle is certainly no reflection of the food, but is a testament to the hours Yue Kee serves the University City community; the truck is open 7 days a week and provides a phone number for pick-up service. If you have trouble spotting it amongst the other food trucks on the either side of the block, just look for the long line of students, professors and locals alike.
Beijing Hot Noodles
Adapted from Yue Kee, via Food Trucks
2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons of minced garlic
2 Tablespoons of minced ginger
2 green onions, minced
1 pound of ground turkey
1/3 cup of ground black bean sauce
1 (12-ounce) package of extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 Tablespoon of chile oil
2 Tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
1 pound of lo mein noodles, cooked according to package directions
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
½ cup of shredded carrots
Heat the oil in a wok or heavy, deep sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the green onions and ground turkey and cook until the meat is fully cooked and just browned. Add the ground bean sauce, tofu, chile oil, salt, and sugar and toss to coat, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the sesame oil, stir, and turn off the heat. Divide the lo mein noodles among individual plates, place the cucumber and carrots alongside, and top the noodles with the pork and tofu mixture. Serve immediately.
If you’ve ever glanced at a Chinese menu full of curiosity and wonder, only to settle for what you know in the end and order the usual, this recipe was made for you. It incorporates flavor elements of Chinese cooking that fans appreciate, like garlic, ginger and green onion. Additionally, the sugar in the sauce acts as a thickening and sweetening agent, which is familiar to many of us in popular dishes that have anything to do with Sweet and Sour or General Tso. Instead of being served with a thick, sticky sauce, though, lo mein noodles are topped with a ground meat and tofu mixture that has been quickly cooked in a slightly spicy, strong and savory ground bean sauce. Don’t worry about the spice being too hot to handle; this item may have a cute little chile pepper printed next to it on the menu but I didn’t find the heat terrifying. The cucumber and carrot not only add a little crunch to the noodles and their delicious topping, they also cool down the spiciness.
The black bean sauce, chile oil and sesame oil can be found in the Asian section of your local supermarket, which means the recipe is even more accessible than taking a trip over to University City. If you decide you would rather try the original dish from the Yue Kee truck first, be prepared to wait in line. In the time it takes for you to get there, I could make and eat a nice big bowl of Beijing Hot Noodles in my own kitchen.