Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Fugu Food Truck Is Coming!

Fugu. The Japanese term for the pufferfish. The above picture of a pufferfish makes it look cute though the actual fish can be lethal.

Fugu is a highly prized fish, which has been eaten by the Japanese for thousands of years. However, it also contains a deadly poison, tetrodotoxin, which is 1250 times more toxic than cyanide and for which there is no antidote. A tiny amount, only 1-2 milligrams, is sufficient to kill someone. Each year, there is an average of 30 or so cases of fugu poisoning, leading to 6-7 deaths each year. Those who did not die consumed enough poison to get sick, but not enough to kill them. Chefs who serve fugu must be specially licensed and the rigorous training to obtain such a license takes at least two years. Most deaths from fugu consumption are due to inexperienced individuals trying to prepare fugu on their own.

Starting on April 1, a new food truck, the Fugu Truck, will be traveling the streets of Boston. Though it is named after the deadly fish, do not worry as they will not be serving actual fugu. Trying to properly slice fugu on a moving truck would have been a formidable task.

This past Sunday, I was invited to attend a special preview event, to view the truck, check out some of their potential food, and to chat with those involved. It was a fun event, with some tasty food, and I believe the Fugu Truck has much potential. The cute pufferfish on their truck is intended to be a symbol, and Chef Bing first saw this fugu on the handle of one of his knives. As it takes much skill and training to prepare fugu, the symbol on their truck is thus meant to represent the "discipline, dedication, and sophistication" they hope to bring to their food.

The Fugu Truck will essentially serve Asian street food, inspired by a number of different Asian countries and regions. Each day, they will stop at different Boston locations for lunch and dinner and you can check their schedule for where they will be on any specific day. Though much of their food will be authentic, they won't limit themselves and may create some of their own Asian-inspired dishes. The menu will change constantly, and they will likely sell about 7-8 items each day. About half the items will be prepared off the truck and the other half will be prepared on the truck. They are still working on their pricing, though it will probably be something like two Pork Belly Buns for $5 and Bubble Tea for $2.50.

It is good to see that the Fugu Truck will try to be environmentally responsible, using biodegradable dishes, cups and silverware, engaging in recycling and more. In addition, they will also incorporate charitable giving into their business plan. They want to give back to the community and seem sincere in their beliefs and actions.

Chef Bing, the culinary leader of the Fugu Truck, grew up in Harbin, a major city in Northeast China, where he was exposed to plenty of street food. He eventually studied engineering at the University of Michigan yet his true passion was in cooking food. Against his parents' wishes, he journeyed to Paris where he trained at Le Cordon Bleu. While in France, he spent time working at Taillevent and Chocolaterie by Jean Charles Rochoux. Upon his return to the U.S., Bing moved to New York where he worked at places such as Dovetail and Corton. Eventually, he came to Boston, where he learned about Japanese cuisine at Oishii.  

Bing wanted to move out on his own, to indulge his culinary creativity. While pondering a number of ideas, he and several college friends checked out the SOWA Open Market and were intrigued by the idea of food trucks. After more discussion and exploration of the concept, they decided to create an Asian street food truck. They succeeded in fund raising through Kickstarter and are ready to launch their truck in less than a week.

These are some of the good people involved with the Fugu Truck, with Chef Bing at the center.

Upon arrival at the preview event, I received a cup of Iced Bubble Tea, made from black tea, condensed milk, and tapioca balls. It was a tasty tea, wasn't sweet, and the straw is wide enough for the chewy tapioca beads to flow up the straw.

Kimbap is a Korean dish which is akin to Japanese maki, a seaweed wrap holding rice and fillings. This particular kimbap contained BBQ beef and a few vegetables, like radish and cucumber. They also offer a vegetarian option. A nice blend of flavors and textures, it made for a good, one-bite treat.

Chef Bing stated that the most challenging dish to prepare are the Spring Rolls, which contain bean sprouts, cabbage, and mushrooms. He stated that the preparation is time consuming, slicing all of the vegetables the proper size and shape, and then carefully wrapping them all in the skin. I was not a fan of this dish only because it contained far too many veggies for my preference. However, the spring roll skin was delicious, thin and crispy, and any veggie lover is likely to enjoy it.

A Stuffed Eggplant dish may also not seem like something I would enjoy, but this was quite delicious. The fried eggplant slices are filled with pork, tofu and spices, and the whole thing was topped by a spicy garlic sauce. First, the sauce was a clear winner, and I would love to try that sauce on a variety of dishes. The eggplant itself was tender and the stuffing was flavorful, spiced well. It is something I would order again, which is saying much for the eggplant.

My initial plate of appetizers, and we were able to get more of anything we liked.

I wanted to dive into this tray of Pork Belly! Or grab it and run out the door. But I was good.

I got to try their Steamed and Grilled Pork Belly Buns, each which contained a good-sized, tender slice of pork belly, some scallions and a sweet bean spread. You also receive a side of housemade pickles, which seemed like crisp, lightly pickled cucumber pieces. The pork belly was compelling and flavorful, with plenty of silky fat to melt in your mouth. Grilling the outside of the bun added a nice layer to the dish and I would recommend it over the plain steamed bun. I had several of these pork belly buns as they were rather addictive. For vegetarians, they will make tofu buns but I can't comprehend why someone wouldn't enjoy the pork belly.

The Yakitori Ramen was prepared with a chicken broth, edamame, bamboo shoots, a poached egg and slices of chicken, though Chef Bing indicated he is unsure whether it will end up on their truck menu. The broth had an excellent spicy kick to it, and the noodles were tasty. It was a very satisfying bowl, except that the thin, chicken slices were a bit too big, and using the plastic spoon to cut the chicken was tough though the chicken itself was tender. Using smaller pieces of chicken would have made it easier to eat. For vegetarians, they make a miso broth and will substitute oyster mushrooms for the chicken.

For dessert, there was Coconut Rice Pudding, a vanilla creamed sticky rice pudding. This picture is before the dishes were completed, before they were topped with local clover honey, poached mango slices, and lemon peel.

It is clear that much care has been invested in their recipes and food preparation, and they are still very open to suggestions and recommendations. The staff members I spoke to seemed both positive and passionate, excited to begin this new endeavor. Kudos to Chef Bing and I wish him and his partners the best of luck with their Fugu Truck.


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