By the time lunch rolls around and a large cup of coffee has worn off, it can be hard to ignore the inviting aroma surrounding the new Star Ginger Food Truck. The second food truck to park itself on the UC Davis campus, Star Ginger — which opened in mid-October and is located at the Silo Union — offers a menu of sandwiches and rice bowls for students in a rush, with a unique twist on Southeast Asian cuisine.
The Star Ginger food truck is the product of a recent partnership between UC Davis Dining Services and nationally acclaimed local chef Mai Pham. Born and raised in Vietnam and Thailand, Pham owns Lemon Grass Restaurant, Lemon Grass Asian Grill, and Star Ginger in Sacramento. She has also authored several award-winning cookbooks and is a frequent speaker and guest chef at national culinary conferences such as those at the Culinary Institutes of America.
Most of all, she is passionate about bringing the authentic Vietnamese food that she loves and grew up with to America.
For some time, UC Davis Dining Services had wanted to bring Pham’s unique cuisine to UC Davis. They decided that with the growing trend of mobile food trucks, a Star Ginger food truck would be the perfect way.
“This was an opportunity for us to be able to take a dynamic menu offering and figure out a way to offer it on campus given the limited physical food space on campus,” said James Boushka, marketing director for UC Davis Dining Services.
But for Pham, the concept of a food truck was the perfect way to sell her Southeast Asian Cuisine.
“The food truck reminds me of street food in Vietnam — it’s casual, fresh, inexpensive and, of course, quick. It’s an American version of Asian street food and encapsulates all the things we love about casual dining today,” Pham said.
On one core menu, Star Ginger offers three different types of Banh Mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich often served on a baguette, for $6. Each sandwich is layered with carrots, daikon, cilantro, and jalapenos and then stuffed with a choice of five-spice pork, Thai barbeque chicken or lemongrass tofu. The other core menu offers four different types of rice bowls for $7 with a choice of jasmine or white rice.
The food truck atmosphere has an energetic yet relaxed vibe. At one end of the truck a student employee takes students’ food orders; at the other end students stand around chatting as their order is quickly being prepared. Everyone seems relaxed and at ease, happy enjoying being outdoors and with friends during their lunch and break from classes.
Aileen Choe, sophomore English major, said this was her first time trying the food and she was very satisfied.
“I really like the Banh Mi sandwich, especially the sauce. It’s so flavorful,” Choe said.
To accompany their meal, Star Ginger also offers students the choice to pay an extra dollar for a Thai iced tea, which without the meal would cost $2.50. Lauren Renville, sophomore English major, said she really likes this feature.
“It’s really worth it and such a great deal. For just a dollar more, I can get a drink that I love with my meal instead of just water,” Renville said.
In recent years, due especially to shows such as the Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race”, mobile food trucks have rapidly gained in popularity. According to a recent consumer survey done by the National Restaurant Association, 59 percent of adults say they would likely visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered one, up from 47 percent just one year ago.
Although UC Davis is the first university to have a Star Ginger food truck, Pham has plans to bring Star Ginger to other universities as well. Pham said she loves the concept of having a food truck with her recipes on a college campus.
“I especially love working with campus dining because I love the energy level [of college]. Also, the truck to me is very close to my heart because the employees are all students. So it is really about students for students,” Pham said.
But will Star Ginger be the last food truck to open its doors on the UC Davis campus? Most likely not. Boushka said future plans are being made to bring other cuisines to students via mobile food trucks. As to what type of food to offer, he acknowledged that Dining Services would love students’ input.
“We are discussing what kind of mobile food truck that the campus community would like to see. If anyone has suggestions for a mobile food truck that they would like to have, send us a feedback form on our website or even post on our Facebook channel for the Silo Union,” Boushka said.
For now, the Star Ginger food truck seems to be an instant success. The key aspect is that it combines great food with quick service, Pham said.
“This food truck is about real, simple, honest cooking that is quick and affordable to students,” Pham said.
CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.