Monday, April 23, 2007

Wok Wagon Express

Wok Wagon
450 Columbia St. West
Waterloo, Ontario

Every time I pass by Columbia and Fisher-Hallman / Bearinger, I can't help but to take a quick look into the parking lot, see if I can spot the "Wok Wagon". Eh, no, not the store, I am talking about the little white truck with the "Wok Wagon" logo and contact info.

The first time I ordered something from Wok Wagon (the restaurant) was several years ago. I grabbed the menu and expected to see items like "Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls". Well, they did have that. But there were also authentic Chinese dishes. I ordered "Almond Soo Guy" (almond chicken) w/ rice to go. I remembered I was on a tight schedule that day, I parked my car in the park and was planning to stuff myself w/ few bites of whatever so I could go to the next appointment. But man! It was good. (I am sure I didn't feel so just because I was hungry; I ordered this dish several times afterwards and it was just as good). The juicy chicken breast strips wrapped in crispy(outside) fluffy(inside) batter. The sauce, vegetables and rice were also nicely done. How come no one's ever mentioned this restaurant before? Is it because it barely qualifies as a restaurant (no seating, "take out" only)? Ever since this trial, Wok Wagon becomes "officially" on our Chinese take-out list.

What really makes Wok Wagon unique is not just the good food, but their "Kitchen-on-the-go". One year we celebrated J's B-day by inviting friends to our place and had Wok Wagon catering for us. The initial contact didn't go smoothly. Since the minimum order was $150 ($200 on weekends if I remember it correctly), I thought I might as well order all the items people might be interested. When I was on the 8th item, the guy taking the order interrupted me PROMPTLY, in an AUTHORITATIVE manner, "We can't serve this way. The food won't be hot enough if you order so many different items." "....(shocked for 5 seconds)...I'll call you back in 10 minutes." "OK." I did call back in 10 minutes, here's the final list:
- Honey Garlic Ribs $9.25
- Spicy Garlic Beef $9.25
- Imperial Pork $7.95
- Lemon Chicken $8.25
- Treasure Nest (seafood served in a bowl made of crispy fried potatoes) $12.95
- Cantonese Chow Mein $9.50
- Vegetable Fried Rice $5.50
- Spicy Tofu $6.50
I didn't order Almond Soo Guy due to allergy concern. Also, the Honey Garlic Ribs might be made in advance so it wasn't counted as a (hot) stir-fry item. (At least I wasn't interrupted this time so I guess I didn't "max out" the stir-fry limit.)

The truck arrived slightly ahead of schedule. It pulled into our driveway. Truck stopped, doors opened. The chef got off from the driver's side then went into the "kitchen" and got ready to cook. A girl walked out from the passenger's side; she was responsible for the paper work (billing), asking for serving bowls and passing the dishes to us. Btw, you could opt to rent their dishware or purchase the disposable ones. We figured it was just a friends' get-together. Worst comes worst, we have stainless steel mixing bowls and deep baking sheets. : p

After we got their permission, we took turns to visit the kitchen and saw how the chef worked in this compact kitchen. For so many dishes, it only took her less than 30 minutes to start, cook, clean-up and time to take a group picture w/ us. Not to mention all the dishes were still piping hot after the truck left our driveway.

Although some friends showed up late, as usual, and missed the show. People in general were quite happy w/ the food. The funny thing is, almost every dish had its own "fans", even the relatively generic chow mein and fried rice. Decent ingredients, a hot wok and fast action are key elements of good Chinese food. Wok Wagon achieves that with their kitchen on the wheels.

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