Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chasing Truck Food – Rickshaw Dumpling Truck

The fascination with truck food has reached a fevered obsession. I hear rumors of a “dumpling truck” on the streets of Manhattan and immediately head for Mad Me-Shell’s office.

“We must find this mythical dumpling truck!” I insist, like some kind of addict seeking a fix.

A few quick taps on her keyboard and Mad Me-Shell produces the answer – Rickshaw Dumpling Truck at 45th Street and 6th Avenue. Their slogan – “We believe that dumplings taste better in the street.”

“How did people eat before the Internet?” muses Mad Me-Shell.

We all but sprint down 6th Avenue. During our speed walk, we have some time to reflect on the virtues of truck food. What about it, exactly, has so completely consumed us? And, why don’t we get the same kind of rush from a street cart vendor, of which there are hundreds in Manhattan?

Mad answers unequivocally. “I don’t eat street meat.”

Growing up in the suburbs, food wasn’t mobile. It came from the kitchen. Perhaps the appeal of truck food is the inherent mystery of a sparkling vehicle that magically appears on a street corner bearing food. Maybe it’s the artisanal quality of the food, made on the premises. Or, maybe it’s the low overhead, affordable prices and no need for a reservation. After all, there’s always a table available on 6th Avenue.

We turn the corner of 45th Street, and there stands the mystical, raspberry-colored Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, opened for business. It’s like encountering Shangri-La in the mist for the very first time. There are probably 20 or more smartly dressed urban professionals in line and we cue up behind them. A chalk board lists the specials of the day, and there’s a nice shade tree protecting us from the harmful rays of the sun.

Here, I must note that Rickshaw Dumpling Bar has a bricks and mortar location in the Flatiron district. The truck is kind of a mobile brand extension, for those of us who are too lazy to hop a subway downtown. If you’re not already starving, check out their website for key moments in dumpling history.

I order their signature menu item - Classic Pork & Chinese Chive Dumplings with cabbage, ginger, scallion and soy-sesame dipping sauce, as well as a side of Chili Sesame Noodle Salad. You get six hot dumplings in one of those smart white cardboard takeout boxes. Mad Me-Shell goes for broke and requests both an order of Classic Pork as well as Chicken & Thai Basil with spicy peanut dipping sauce. The whole order is wrapped up in spiffy brown paper tote bags – all the accoutrements of takeout, but with instant gratification.

We take a seat under some nearby trees. Mad offers me a taste of the Chicken & Thai. The dumplings are succulent and the peanut sauce has a smooth and spicy kick.

Mad is indeed “chopstick proficient.” I am a klutz (maybe it’s all those people on the street staring at me), but within due time I develop a “stab and lift” technique that manages to get the dumplings into my mouth.

At this point, I completely forget my table manners. “Are you sure you have room for 12 dumplings?” I ask Mad Me-Shell.

A slight chill engulfs 45th Street.

“Uh, that would be ELEVEN dumplings,” she points out, indignantly. “You ate one of mine.”

I decide to focus on my Chili Sesame Noodle Salad.

My alfresco faux pas aside, we agree that the pork dumplings are indeed a classic. And, the Chicken & Thai Basil is nothing short of high cuisine. You can see the steam rising off the plump, glossy, pillows. The dumplings are fresher, hotter, more tender and flavorful than anything I’ve consumed in a restaurant. With truck food, consumption is almost instantaneous. Your entrée never idles on a warming tray, waiting to be delivered to the table.

Clean-up is a breeze. Everything goes back into the brown paper bag and dropped in a nearby trash can. And, no haggling over the tip. The hike back to the office is helpful in suppressing any potential for a dumpling coma, so we’ve had an outstanding meal, and a little exercise.

Who needs full-service dining, anyway?

©2009 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved


Julia said...

Those dumplings sound great! I'll be in Manhattan on wed., maybe I can find it? How do I find out where it will be?

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Julia - Looks like Wednesday is the Dumpling Truck's flex day - they'll post their location for the day on Twitter that morning:

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Actually, a dumpling coma sounds pretty good to me. If you go again, look for something spicy and shrimpy -- that would completely win me over. Now if only you can find that mythical burger truck...

~~louise~~ said...

The only truck chasing I ever did in the suburbs was chasing after the ice cream man, Bungalow Bob.

I want a Rickshaw Dumpling Truck! Everything looks so GOOD!!!

The Old Foodie said...

Good fun post t.w.!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Cool T.W. Those dumplings look fabulous. I'm not good at all with chopsticks so I would have been very nervous trying to use them.
How fabulous it must be to live near the city.

Foodiewife said...

How fun to have a foodie friend to share this experience with. I was right there, with you, reading each and every word. You are such a great writer. I could almost taste and smell this lunch. Nothing like that is available in Monterey, CA. We're not quite that metropolitan.

veron said...

Keep the food truck stories coming. Al I can do is drool. I love street car's feels so hearty.

Shriner said...

Wow...the Chicago foodservice scene needs to get its act together and someone needs to get a truck. I've never been more jealous of NYC than right now. CAN SOMEONE GET A TRUCK ALREADY?!

Mad Me-Shell said...

I'm still dreaming about those dumplings! Waiting until Friday for the truck to come our way again seems too long! Next time, I may not even be willing to share!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Julia, Good luck! Hope you find the Dumpling Truck!

Lydia - I think the specials change every day, so we'll be visiting again. And we are tracking that burger truck, believe me!

Louise - Bungalow Bob! A classic!

Janet - Do you think we should start a Pie Truck?

Sam - I'm going to keep practicing!

Debby - I think truck food is something that has infinite possibilities.

Veron - I wonder if there's a macaron truck in your future?

Shriner - I'm coming to Chicago - we'll get things moving!

Mad - You are the dumpling champ!

Stacey Snacks said...

It's time for bed and I am craving dumplings!
Have you ever eaten at the Dumpling House on the lower east side? It's crowded but they make great dumplings with all kinds of unusual fillings!
What's on tomorrow's munch mobile plan?

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Stace, we are moving on to a "sweet finish" on the truck route tomorrow!

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

Dumplings look great. I would love to have a truck food in town.