On the Line: Chad Aldrich and Makara Ung Of The Coconut Truck, Part One

It takes two to make a thing go right
It takes two to make a thing go right
Photo by LP Hastings

Co-workers. Luxe lonchera co-owners. Parents. Chad and Makara are a duo with shared responsibilities, accomplishing tasks as a unified team. Always on the go, we were lucky enough to capture a few moments of their time to work on our questions.

Why Cambodian food? Makara Ung: There's an abundance of Thai and Vietnamese food in OC. Cambodian is a cuisine that represents a balanced mix of all Southeast Asia, from stir-fries to curries to herbaceous salads. Chad Aldrich: If anyone has tried Thai or Vietnamese, the flavors will be familiar, yet Cambodian food has its own unique flavors and techniques. As far as the food truck, after searching for a place to lease and failed attempts to buy an existing location for two years, we decided to bring these flavors to the streets.

What do you recommend for first-timers? MU: The sweet soy pulled pork sandwich with crispy shallots and cilantro sauce.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. MU: Food trucks are expensive. But as we've learned the overhead can be comparable to a restaurant. CA: A lot of people think it's a cool or laid back sort of a job, but a great deal of work goes into it. It's a 24/7 job much like running a restaurant.

Where does your name come from? MU: The use of coconut cream or milk in Cambodian dishes and the fact that we sell fresh coconuts. CA: It's also kind of catchy and easy to remember.

Most frequently asked question by guests. MU: Believe it or not, "Oh, it's a sandwich?" Or we also get, "What's taro?"

Let's talk about those sides. CA: The hand-cut, loaded taro fries topped with sweet soy pulled pork, crispy shallots and cilantro sauce are popular. Some are apprehensive, but once they try it they're hooked.

Most undervalued ingredient: MU: Oyster sauce; I put it in everything. It can make a boring vegetable into a umami bomb. I even put it in my spaghetti sauce. CA: Salt. Too much or too little can make or break a dish.

What restaurant industry experience (or applicable skills) do you have? MU: None. But I'm always the one that does the cooking for the family gatherings. CA: Not a lot. I've been a dishwasher and line cook.

Where was your most recent meal? MU: We eat out a lot, especially now that we're so busy. We ate at Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking recently and it was amazing. The oysters were so fresh and the pan roast was so good. CA: Brodard. Every time I go I order something new and it's always good. Believe the hype.

Most indispensible kitchen utensil. MU: A sharp knife. CA: And a knife sharpener.

What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working on a food truck? MU: The amount of hours beyond just working on the truck and the fact I have to have my hair up in a bun does nothing for my bone structure. CA: It's a constant hustle.

What is your long-term goal: Expand your fleet, become a brick-and-mortar, or? CA: A brick-and-mortar would be nice if the location and terms were good.

What was the first meal that you made that you were proud of? MU: Banh xeo, which is an Asian crepe filled with shrimp and pork or other proteins. It's served with fresh lettuce and herbs and tuk trey or fish sauce. Getting the crepe perfectly crisp took me about two years to perfect. CA: I made Makara Hamburger Helper with boxed mashed potatoes on one of our first dates. I thought I was a Top Chef. She was kind enough to choke it down. I was raised on boxed food, but I've come along way.

One food you can't live without and why: MU: Chips, simply because they make me happy. CA: Makara's banh xeo; it has every flavor profile you could want: crispy, salty, sweet, savory, umami. And you can make it spicy with fresh chilis. I want some now.

What would be your last meal on Earth? MU: Tom yum, xo fried rice (from Little La Lune) and papaya salad. CA: All those things and some greasy fried lot cha noodles with bbq pork belly, some loaded taro fries and our coconut shrimp sandwich.

To learn more about The Coconut Truck, visit them at www.thecoconuttruck.com.

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