Street Food: NYC Cravings
At first I didn't understand how the brother-sister pair who owns NYC Cravings landed on the name. To my mind, the word "cravings" suggests a sweets truck, not hearty Taiwanese fare. Even co-proprietor Diana Yang admits "the name itself doesn't tell you that we sell Taiwanese food." They plan to start calling the truck Bian Dang—"lunch box" in English—sometime next year. Yet, one taste of Diana and Thomas Yang's menu reveals how apt the name actually is. Sweet, salty, and fried, these dishes do not respond to rational culinary desires. One hankers instead.
The pair graduated from Baruch in 2008. "There were all of these Halal carts around the school, and one day Thomas said to his friend, jokingly, that he was going to start a food cart." The truck launched in April of 2009, vending "pretty much the Taiwanese food we ate growing up. We use our grandmother's recipes."
I decided to start with two appetizers: the steamed pork dumplings and the Buddha's Delight ($3 each). The first was a crowd-pleaser, no doubt—accessible and yummy. The meat in these two-bite dumplings was sweet, moist, and tangy, with a well-calibrated splash of vinegar.
The Buddha's Delight, comprised of bamboo shoots, fried tofu, dried bean curd sticks, yellow flower vegetables, and wheat gluten, served cold, was a bit more divisive. This dish is arguably a little boring and way too oily, but I loved the variations of texture and the light sweetness of the bean curd. It wasn't my favorite, granted, but it was a solid vegetarian option in the midst of so much meat.
As for mains, I dug into the Taiwanese-Style Fried Pork Chop ($7) and the Tianbula ($8), or fish cake, both over rice with pork sauce.
The pork chop was the only one I thought actually went overboard on the fried/oily/cravings front. A bit too fatty with visible pools of grease, the meat lacked the wealth of flavor that serves as a lifeline for many of NYC Craving's other dishes. Even the pork sauce that accompanied the rice—a combination of stewed pork bits and punchy, aromatic vegetables—didn't quite save it for me. Give it a shot if you're a huge pork lover, but I've heard better things about the truck's take on the original white meat: Taiwanese-style fried chicken.
Lastly, the Tianbula was a real treat. Upon opening the container, a just-what-I-wanted fish smell rose up from the patty. It's flavorful in a way that is at once completely obvious—think fried fishy-fish sandwiches—and surprising. The starchiness takes away some of the fishier flavors, and the pork sauce underneath compliments the Tianbula perfectly.