Food trucks share a very democratic business model. Variety is inherent to the very idea – you can go to the same location and eat different food each time, or follow a food truck and discover new places. But what really endears the idea to me is that the relatively low startup cost allows for a much more diverse cast of restaurateurs from all walks of life.
The boundaries of this motley community reach at least as far as East Asia, where this business model is far from a novel concept. The South Korean city of Seoul is steadily becoming world-reknowned for its amazing street food. Its sidewalks are a garden of culinary delight, with food carts of all kinds filling any open space, selling food ranging from the traditional (gimbap) to the absurd (google twister dog). But, thanks to the Triangle’s wealth of food trucks, we now have our own taste of this Korean street food faire with Bo’s Kitchen, a rather unassuming white food truck that is nonetheless brimming with Seoul.
Bo Kwon, the owner/operator of Bo’s Kitchen, is from Seoul. He went to school there, earning a degree in Business Administration while working part-time in kitchens to pay the rent. He moved to Raleigh to join his wife, who had already been working here, and together they bought a used delivery truck from a linen service company and converted it to serve as a mobile kitchen. As I stand with Bo beside the truck in question, he points up to the order window. “There didn’t use to be a hole there,” he says. “I cut it out and built the counter myself.” In fact, you can still see the original door used by the laundry service, though I’m not sure where it leads.
This is all part of the charm of Bo’s Kitchen; everything is homemade, by either Bo Kwon himself, or his family who help him run the truck. Bo is a very friendly, happy guy, usually recognizable by the big smile on his face as he talks with his customers. He runs the window, taking orders or delivering food to the crowd while his wife and mother-in-law prepare the dishes behind him.
Though it is labeled as ‘Korean Street Food,’ the dishes are full of very nutricious marinated meats and fermented sauces like the traditional Gochujang, a red chili pepper paste which is full of vitamins, protein, and natural probiotics. The spring salad and cucumber used in their dishes are exceedingly fresh and combine with the grilled sweetness of the meats to taste surprisingly light despite the ample proportions.
The menu at Bo’s Kitchen offers a choice between three different traditional Korean meats: Steak Bulgogi (marinated ribeye), Spicy Pork, and Spicy Chicken. Each order costs $9 and comes with either rice (served with sesame oil, a spring mix salad, and fried egg), or bread (served as a sandwich with mayo, cucumber, spring mix, and cheese). The bread is very soft and chewy, and makes for a tasty, sweet barbecue sandwich that really sticks to your ribs.
Bo’s Kitchen marinates all their meat according traditional Korean recipes. Bulgogi, translated literally as “fire meat,” refers to a heavily marinated type of grilled steak. Traditionally, the marinade is a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, and pepper, which makes for a unique, spicy/sweet barbecue that can sometimes resemble teriyaki, though I hesitate to make that comparison. Their Spicy Pork is known in Korea as Jae-Uk Bokgum, and their Spicy Chicken is Dak-Bokgum Tang. For those who are curious, in Korean, “bokgum” basically means stir-fried, and “tang” means it is a kind of stew.
One of their best-selling menu items is their Mandu (Korean dumplings). For $6, you get a plate of four mandu, stuffed with your choice of bulkogi, pork, or kimchi, on a bed of spring salad. The mandu are all homemade, so their popularity is a double-edged sword. “All the time, we are making these,” Bo tells me, “while we are talking or watching TV.” They also make their own kimchi, the cornerstone of Korean cuisine, made with napa cabbage fermented in chili paste and fish sauce. “Every Korean knows how to make kimchi,” Bo says. “We grow up around it.”
Bo’s Kitchen is a regular truck at breweries like Nicklepoint, Raleigh Brewing, and Gizmo. They also offer lunch for a few workplaces, dinner for some apartment complexes, and I’ve run into them at various festivals. So, check their website below or follow them on Facebook & Twitter for updates to their location.
One of the best parts about going to a food truck is that it allows us to expand our palates, to experiment with unusual culinary creations and try foods which would be otherwise unavailable. It broadens our cultural perspective by allowing us to connect with unique food and the unique characters who bring it to us. But if the experience at Bo’s Kitchen has taught me anything, it’s that we all enjoy a good plate of barbecue from time to time.
[Originally published in the Triangle Downtowner Magazine]