Chomp Chomp - Orange County
Inherently, I like the idea of food trucks. Of eating outside. Of the impermanence of it all. There's something romantic here, something that answers the basic hunting and gathering instincts of the human animal.
But more than that, I like how much easier it is to get to know the individuals making your food. These loncheras, whether newfangled or old-school, have passionate, dedicated, and proud people behind them. Find me a food truck entrepreneur who isn't easy to talk to and I'll show you a failed one.
Chomp Chomp is no exception. They offered me an extra basket of taro and lotus root chips eventhough they didn't have to. Building customer relationships, perhaps more important than the food, are core driving (pun intended) principles.
For me, however, Chomp Chomp is different from the rest because it represents the flavors that I grew up eating. These are the tastes that formed my food sensibilities and obsessions. As a kid, I ate rendang and sate with peanut sauce. As an adult, I made the pilgrimage to Singapore, the Mecca of food in my world, to eat at hawker stalls. But as I said before on my last food truck review, I got tired of the Twitter tracking, the driving, the chore of the chase. I didn't seek out Chomp Chomp so much as I ran into it at Irvine City Hall's parking lot, where one food truck is invited to sell daily near Bill Barber Park.
If Chomp Chomp were a brick and mortar, I would've tried them sooner. I would've discovered early on that their sate's peanut sauce (sambal kacang) is pretty damned spot on, with all the depth of homemade. More importantly, that it comes with virgin white cubes of lontong, compressed steamed rice cake traditionally with sate. Though the chicken sate ($5), grilled chicken skewers, could've been bigger, longer, and firmer (that's what she sa...no, not the time), and also more charred, the spirit of the original dish is there. And so is the flavor, with shades of cumin and turmeric in the marinade.
While I appreciate the reverence and retraint in their sates, I like the creativity and a playfulness in other dishes. Singaporean food culture, a delicious mish mash of Malay, Chinese, Indian among others, is more apt to reinterpretation than most.
Their hot dog ($4)--a surprisingly potent and spicy hot link splayed down the middle and laid down on sweet, Hawaiian-bread-like bun--has a sweet, sticky, and flourescent chili sauce drizzled in zig zags and a base layer of more peanut sambal. The slaw they applied did little to add to the flavor barrage and became just unnecessary roughage.
My favorite dish, however, turned out to be something I am pretty sure is an original, not really Singaporean or Indonesian as it is just playing off the familiar flavors of the region. Here is a dish that knows that coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and fruit is used in a lot of South East Asian desserts and repurposes them on something distinctly un-Asian: French toast ($5).
I liked how the coconut flavored frothy whipped cream dollops the top of a butter-soaked and eggy griddled bread and tastes more naturally fit for the task than maple syrup. And I like how, even as the toast already works by itself, the medley of cubed star fruit, lychee, mango, jackfruit, pears and papaya brings it home...in both senses of the word.
If I only had one request for Chomp Chomp, it's for a lot more Singaporean hawker standards. I hope, for instance, they consider taking on laksa, noodles swimming in that distinctive coconut-milk rich, curry hell broth. The danger of a sloshing boiling liquid in a moving vehicle notwithstanding.
Various locations in OC, check website or Twitter
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