By: Debra Liu
The people of Taiwan LOVE their food. In Taiwan, everything you do involves food in one form or another. When you walk out the door in the morning, the scent of egg-stuffed scallion pancakes and breakfast rice rolls fill your nostrils. In subway stations, there are entire food courts with noodle shops, mango shaved ice vendors, bakeries, and more. For most people living in NYC, particularly Manhattan, Taiwanese food is not that easy to find.
Siblings Diana and Thomas Yang are trying to fix this problem. First order of business: open a Taiwanese food truck. What better way to expose people to Taiwanese cuisine than via a moving food-feeding vehicle – pure genius! They opened Bian Dang (which means “lunch box” in Mandarin), the first Taiwanese food truck in NYC in 2009 and since then, have been feeding hungry New Yorkers – sometimes 200 people a day – in five locations Monday through Friday.
“A lot of people don’t know our food or have never tried it and I think that’s what sets us apart from other food trucks,” says Diana. In addition to the food, the truck also stands out because of its exterior aesthetics – baby blue and adorned with white and pink flowers. The flowers are plum blossoms, the National Flower of Taiwan, a flower known for its resilience during harsh winters.
The recipes for Bian Dang’s delicious offerings are passed down from Thomas and Diana’s grandmother. The most popular items are the Fried Pork Chop over Rice and the Fried Chicken over Rice with pickled mustard greens and their famous minced pork sauce. They also sell Tea Eggs, hard boiled eggs infused with black tea leaves, spices and soy sauce. In Taiwan, Tea Eggs are common fixtures at convenience stores like 7-Eleven; approximately 40 million are sold each year. For those who want the best of both worlds, Bian Dang has an off-the-menu option called “Porken”, which is half pork chop/half fried chicken over rice.
Diana’s favorite Bian Dang food item is the Zong-zi, which is basically a Chinese tamale stuffed with rice, pork belly and vegetables wrapped in bamboo leaves. What’s even more amazing about the food, besides how tasty it is, is that it’s extremely affordable, with items ranging from $1 for the Tea Egg to $8 for the Fried Fish Cake over Rice.
“There are some die-hard fans. I remember a couple years ago, I couldn’t find parking, and they’re like, ‘You know what? We’re going to meet you at the other location. We’re going to stand there and hold a spot for you,’” Diana told me a few weeks ago when we had a chance to meet up.
What’s in the future for Bian Dang? Bian Dang now has a sister truck, the Moo Shu Grill Truck which serves small mooshu wraps, essentially a Chinese taco. Thomas and Diana hope that one day there will be a little block in NYC with Taiwanese food, just like there’s a Chinatown, a Little Italy and a Korea Town. The Bian Dang truck is the “vehicle” to making that dream happen.
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