Published by The College of Liberal and Professional Studies
Food Truck Review: Amy Visits KoJa
Long before the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race or the notoriety of trendy Korean taco trucks in Los Angeles, Penn’s culinary tradition has been dominated by mobile kitchens. With food trucks lining the sidewalks of nearly every major street on campus, student and staff can take a culinary tour of the world in just a few blocks. Recently, my colleague, Eli Lesser, Director of Penn Summer Programs, and I embarked on a journey to experience the gastronomic delights of Korea and Japan at the KoJa truck on 38th and Walnut Streets.
Now, I should preface my review by saying that I am no novice when it comes to these two cuisines. In fact, I spent most of my childhood living in Korea and Japan, and if there is one thing I learned about it was street food, so I fancy myself somewhat of an expert. Although some people might be intimidated by these foods, the great thing about the Koja truck is that they have something for even the most discriminatory and wimpy tastes. As a side, I got a real kick out of teasing Eli for his inability to handle spice, but my point of reference might be skewed since my Korean mother dips her hot peppers into hot sauce.
Koja’s menu is pretty extensive and each dish has the option of beef, chicken, tofu, or pork, so it is very friendly for vegetarians and carnivores alike. The Korean offerings include Bulgoi (a marinated meat dish), Hot & Spicy Noodles, Kim bap (similar to maki rolls but with meat instead of fish), and Kimchee soup. On the Japanese side of the menu, you can find Yakisoba (fried noodle dish), Udon (soup-based noodle dish), and a variety of stir fry options.
On this particular afternoon, it was cold and raining outside so I ordered the Daegi Gogi, a spicy Marinated Pork dish that is served with a huge helping of rice and two Korean dumplings called Mandoo. By no means was this the best Daegi gogi that I have ever eaten and it pales in comparison to the masterpieces my Halmoni (grandmother) used to make, but on a damp Philadelphia afternoon it definitely hit the spot! The meat was cooked to perfection and the combination of onions, cabbage, and carrots added a nice balance of flavor. The spice level was adequate for me and in my opinion completely manageable for an amateur. My only complaint would be the Mandoo (dumplings). In the past, KoJa used to fry these babies and they were crispy and flavorful pockets of goodness that offered a good textural contrast to the rest of the meal. But now that they steam them, they are too mushy and not nearly as tasty.
Despite that minor detail, I would highly recommend taking short expedition to the KoJa, where for a mere $5.00 to$7.00, you can experience an essential part of East Asian culture!
More: Eli Visits Koja