Growing up near San Jose and eating dim sum with his family, Alex Chu developed a passion for the cuisine. But it wasn't until he worked as a dim sum server that he learned how to prepare and present the steamed buns and delicate dumplings.
"I learned how to cook all the items," Chu says. "I learned how to handle them. I also learned their English names, which I didn't know before because I always ate with my family. And I learned what was popular with everybody else and not just what I liked." That helped the 22-year-old recent USC graduate when he developed the menu for The Dim Sum Truck (Twitter: @dimsumtruck), one of the latest additions to LA's expanding fleet of nouveau food trucks.
If you had access to the VIP area at last week's Street Food Festival, you could have sampled the Dim Sum Truck's har gow and shu mai. For the rest of the world, the truck soft-opens next week and will officially launch on Feb. 27.
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The menu is an array of dim sum standards and a few fusion dishes, all of which sell for under $4. Three shu mai (pork, shrimp and mushroom dumplings) or har gow (shrimp and ginger dumplings) for $2.50; two bao (barbecued pork buns) for $3; sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf for $3.50; and a mildly sweet egg custard tart for $1.50. They'll also offer a lunchbox option: two shu mai, two har gow, one bun of your choice, a side salad and one dessert for $8.
Fusion dishes include Chinese chicken salad ($3.50), spicy tofu mullitas ($3) made with chili black bean sauce and Monterey Jack cheese and Peking duck tacos ($3) made with roast duck steeped in a vinegar-based marinade and topped with a hoisin-based sauce and a piece of crispy skin.
All the food for The Dim Sum Truck will be prepared in the morning on the day it's to be sold and then steamed or fried on the truck. "We do have a traditional steam table and the traditional metal steamers," Chu says, "though we're not serving [the food] in the steamers." But for Chu, it's as much about community as it is cuisine.
"I still think back on going to dim sum with my family," Chu says. "It's something that brought them together. But it's not very accessible to people who live on the Westside. I live there now and it's always been one thing that kept me from eating dim sum as often as I'd like to. Most of the dim sum restaurants are in the San Gabriel Valley, but a dim sum truck can reach people out in Venice, Santa Monica, Silver Lake and the valley."