May 23, 2012

The Taste Bud: Traveling Kitchen mixes it up — Korean style

My girlfriend raved about the Traveling Kitchen. I heard the legend from others as well. And then one day, I stumbled upon this rolling contradiction, which specializes in — no kidding — Korean tacos and burritos.

OK, before I say anything else, let me say this: What? Korean tacos? Isn’t that like saying you specialize in Vietnamese linguini? Or Chinese grits? Or, god forbid, home-style sushi?

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I will say that I had to try this interesting fusion of Eastern cuisine and, well, Mexican food. I mean, nobody likes a taco better than yours truly — I would eat tacos for every meal, given the opportunity. (Hmmm. Bacon tacos? I may be onto something here.)

So I met my aforementioned girlfriend, Cynthia, down at Fifth and Market streets on a recent Wednesday (a spot where the rolling Kitchen regularly travels) for lunch, and you know what? This really is good stuff.

Essentially, we paid $10 for four tacos — I ordered one each of the spicy pork and teriyaki chicken, and she chose one chicken and one bulgogi (beef). The friendly owner, who goes by the name Victor, cheerily and quickly served up our food.

Cynthia noted that the two-taco portion is just about right for a midday meal, and then suggested it would be fortuitous if the Louisville Dessert Truck should happen to roll by as a way to fill in any gaps.

“This makes me want a little bit of chocolate,” she said after finishing her last bite of bulgogi taco.

This just in: Waking up in the morning makes Cynthia want chocolate. So does breathing.

Anyway. Here’s the rundown:

Chicken teriyaki tacos feature chopped chicken, diced tomatoes and onions, cilantro and sesame seeds, over rice. It has a mild spice and a very pleasant teriyaki flavor.

The spicy pork (which is probably the Traveling Kitchen equivalent to daeji bulgogi) includes chopped pork, diced tomatoes and onions, cilantro and what appears to be a small serving of Sriracha sauce, over rice. It is equally tasty, and only mildly spicy, so don’t be afraid if you prefer milder flavors.

Finally, the bulgogi is served with chopped beef, diced tomatoes, onions and peppers, and cilantro, over rice.

The upshot here is that each boasts has its own individual flavor, which speaks to the seasoning/marinade used on the meats — for instance, beef bulgogi typically is marinated with a blend of sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, onions, pepper and ginger. In addition, you can add kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage) to any item upon request, which obviously brings a whole new kind of flavor to the table.

What I find interesting is that this essentially is a way to make eating Korean food more accessible and easy — if you sit down to eat a traditional Korean dinner, you’re going to have a table full of items to pull together on your plate, and it isn’t exactly conducive to walking a few blocks from your office on a 30-minute lunch break. But the Traveling Kitchen changes this, even going so far as serving each order in a covered Styrofoam container, so there’s no chance of spillage.

Also, the tacos aren’t as messy as you would think — a traditional Puebla taco from a taqueria, for instance, tends to go everywhere when you bite into it, and often succulent juice will run down your arm as you eat. Perhaps the rice at the bottom of each Traveling Kitchen taco soaks up and holds onto some of the moisture?

And to top it off? The Traveling Kitchen proudly boasts that it uses local ingredients. What could be better than Korean food in the form of a Mexican sandwich that is made with Kentucky ingredients? That’s right, not much trumps that.

Although, I’m going to test out that bacon taco idea. Stay tuned — there may be another food truck in Louisville soon.