The Manila Machine: Pinoy Delights Take to the Streets of L.A.
When it comes to the oft-debated realm of the new wave of food trucks taking to the streets of Los Angeles, the topic tends to move towards what’s missing. Finding a niche is key for food trucks who hope to join the ranks of the successful food-making four-wheeled Twitterati who draw lines and accolades. What has been missing for sometime was Filipino food, which is what nourishes a segment of our local population but also represents food that is perfect for a truck, since that means exposure to those who are curious about the cuisine.
Satisfying our curiosity is a duo of food-enthusiasts who bring both culinary expertise and cultural savvy on board the Manila Machine. Nastassia Johnson and Marvin Gapultos are perhaps best known in local food circles as being food bloggers (she is Let Me Eat Cake and he is Burnt Lumpia), but they are both also Filipino-Americans with long-time professional relationships with food.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cathydanhphotography/
Recently we headed to Hollywood to catch the truck in the lot of Frosted, the cupcakery that has a weekly food truck day outside their sweets emporium.
Confessing limited (read: one friend’s family baby shower) knowledge of the ins and outs of Filipino cuisine, we let Johnson put together our order so we could have the best tastes of the truck for our lunch. What emerged were filling, savory, and affordable bites that showcase the flavors of the Philippines with savvy American twists that make the dishes portable and accessible.
Filipino food is more about subtlety, and the harmony of sweet, salt, and sour, with less emphasis on spice than in other Asian cuisines. Meat is at the center of many dishes, which means that, for now, vegetarian options are something the Manila Machine is working to bring to the table–or truck, rather.
Lumpia, for which Gapultos named his blog, is like a spring roll, with its fried eggroll-wrapper exterior, and the tender fillings of either vegetable or pork, brightened with a hint of ginger (2 pieces/$2). For a more hearty entree, the adobo chicken is a great choice. The breast meat is braised in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay, and black pepper, and served over fragrant jasmine rice studded with chopped green onion ($6). Yes, you’ll need a fork to work the meat free from the bone, but once you’ve dug in the meat is supremely tender and easily scooped out of the paper basket and eaten, even standing up on a sidewalk.
Finding a way to adapt Filipino food to a truck without going the route of fusion tacos like many of their tasty counterparts, The Manila Machine uses mildly sweet pan de sal (buns) to serve up sliders, like the Tapa (Sweet calamansi beef, achara slaw, and spicy sriracha mayo on a pan de sal roll) which could very well replace that craving you have for a Reuben sandwich ($3).
Please save room for dessert, because the Manila Machine is packing one of the city’s best sweet bites, which is the Ube Cupcake. Though we were at Frosted for this visit and the cupcakes were stashed for dinner service, memories of the surprisingly moist ube (purple yam) cake with the coconut frosting still danced in our head thanks to last month’s Eat My Blog Blogger Bake Sale. The Manila Machine is having up-and-coming baker on wheels Scootabaker make the cupcakes for the truck, and they will be something you’ll remember visually (bright purple dessert!) and on your palate.
Much of the Manila Machine menu addresses the needs of contemporary street eats, thanks to its portability, wallet-consciousness, and the inventive way in which Johnson and Gapultos are sharing the flavors of their culture.