By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Food trucks continue to be popular in Seattle. There are annual festivals, street fairs, and food competitions dedicated to the food truck scene. In fact, the variety of mobile cuisines has grown a lot over the years with some evolving into brick and mortar restaurants.
While the introduction of new foods to Seattle can be challenging, these Southeast Asian-themed trucks have embraced this unique way of presenting distinctive flavors to the city.
Buddha Bruddah (buddhabruddah.com) was opened in December 2014 by Mark Mizer and his wife, Drea, after being inspired by Mizer’s mother, La-Iad Ann Mizer, one of the pioneers in bringing Thai food to Seattle back in 1982.
It had been a dream of Mark and his mother’s to open another restaurant again after closing several Thai restaurants due to an economic shift in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Ann passed away in December 2013 and never saw her dream come true, but a series of events led to Mark and Drea to making the food truck dream happen and carrying on a part of Ann’s legacy.
“We didn’t want to just be a Thai truck, but we definitely wanted to pay homage to the family history, so there are Thai dishes on our menu,” she said.
Buddha Bruddah’s concept is a mixed plate, taken from the traditional Hawaiian mixed plate or plate lunch. They were inspired by their favorite travel destination and wanted to incorporate “a little bit of the best of everything, all on one plate.”
In fact, all their food is made from scratch and not only has Thai and Hawaiian influences, but also Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.
Their signature chili sauce bar is a fan favorite. Recently, Buddha Bruddah took home the first runner up prize in the Taco Libre competition with their Asian tacos.
One of the newest food trucks to the scene is Bumbu (bumbutruck.com), serving Indonesian dishes like chicken satay with peanut sauce and mie goreng jawa (Javanese stir fried noodles).
Owner Hilda Hilman came to the United States as a student over two decades ago, and realized it was difficult to find an Indonesian restaurant in Seattle.
“When I was homesick and craved food from home, that’s when I started to cook some of my favorite Indonesian dishes,” Hilman said.
“I desperately wanted to introduce Indonesian food to the U.S. Unlike cuisines from other Southeast Asian countries, I was frustrated that Indonesian food was rarely available or known here. That’s what inspired me to start the food truck,” Hilman said.
Due to Indonesia’s diversity, its food carries vibrant and colorful flavors infused by many foreign tastes, using a lot of spices and herbs. Hilman incorporates these type of flavors in her dishes, which also often include coconut milk and peanut sauces.
“These different flavors are why introducing Indonesian food has become a passion of mine,” she said.
Hilman said that her biggest challenge introducing Indonesian food to new audiences is maintaining the authenticity with the limited access to ingredients that are hard to find or unavailable in the area.
“Jamie Oliver once said, good food is a global thing. There is always something new to learn and to taste. You will never know you like it until you try it,” Hilman encouraged people.
Like Oliver, Hilman is somewhat of a TV celebrity due to her winning appearance on Food Network’s Chopped.
“It was a humbling experience for me to compete with high caliber chefs on a national TV show like Chopped. I didn’t believe it myself when the producer called me! I didn’t think I had the experience or the qualifications to compete on the show. But winning it made me proud that I can bring Indonesian flavors to the surface. And of course, it has helped boost the business,” she explained.
She hopes to open a brick and mortar establishment in the future, but is content with the food truck and reaching more customers in different locations.
Cheang Kit Yoo is the son of the owner of Malay Satay Hut in Bellevue, where Yoo learned most of his cooking. Malay Satay Hut had a location in the International District that closed in 2014.
The Chinese Malaysian-born chef took an interest in cooking because he loved to eat.
Branching out from his father’s restaurant, Yoo hoped to start a food truck at a lower cost, rather than a brick and mortar spot. That’s how Seattle Mamak (seattlefoodtruck.com/food-trucks/seattle-mamak) came about.
Yoo wants people to know that his food is MSG-free. His signature dishes are the Hainanese chicken and rice, nasi lemak (coconut flavored rice with curry chicken), and chow kuew teow (fried rice noodles).
Similar to Indonesia, Malaysia is a diverse country with a multiethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society. Malaysian cuisine is influenced by Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic, and even British cultures due to the country’s history of foreign trade.
If people are skeptical of trying new food, Yoo will try to better understand his customers’ backgrounds in order to ease them into foods or flavors they might already be familiar with.
The next time you’re out and about in the city, be sure to keep an eye out for one of these trucks that are bringing out the unique Southeast Asian flavors.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.