I awoke one morning not so long ago with my first cold of the season. I felt the aches pulsing through my joints, and a flop sweat that had not occurred since my last blissful sandwich binge at Dochos Concessions, sadly this time, no sandwiches were involved. The thing about my profession is, you always come to work. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a lovely case of hemoptysis and your eyes are glazed over like crullers. It’s a blessing and a curse. Your co-workers begin to despise you for coming in looking like its been 28 days later. Yet, still we all push on.
“So”, you may wonder, “what do you turn to for comfort when you’ve reached the point of full communicable exposure?” I think we all agree that there are certain things that make all of us feel better, or at least forget how bad we feel for a fleeting moment in time.
For me, it must be something from my adopted relatives to the east. Just about anything from Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese or any combination therein, done properly of course, will do the trick. Now you probably haven’t heard me say this, but I did a rant on Asian fusion a while back, and while I won’t necessarily retract my hatred full hodgepodging cuisine to excess, I will say this; there’s actually a few restaurants in the Florida food scene doing yeoman’s work. For example Anise Global Gastrobar in Tampa, Hawkers Asian street fare in Orlando, and Pubbelly in Miami.
There happens to be a newcomer over in Tampa starting to build up a rolling boil with enough power from the rock gods to steam balls of flour and water into delightful buns with extraordinary flavor. They call themselves I WANNA WOK, a clever name that matches the cute but deadly logo on the side of their truck, a cross between the comforting fluffiness of panda and the braggadocious spirit of Paul Stanley’s Starman.
All the food items are nods to genres or icons of music. For example a recent weekly special was called the Beasty Boygah, which in my head was half Beef Bulgogi, half Big Mac and half Philly cheese steak.
But I needed spice, and I craved Bao. If I had to specify what I Wanna Wok did best, it would be the Bao selection. This is where the pan-Asian part comes in. Every Bao is like traveling to a different country.
Piggy Marley with char siu style pork belly, pickled radish, cilantro and crushed peanuts was like stepping into a Taipai night market. While the Motley Cue livened up my dulled sense with thoughts of Korean BBQ, as it had been stuffed with charred pork and kimchi. Finally on my tour of Bao, the most surprising of all was the Headbanger’s Bao. Not only did it bring me back to when I used to listen to Use Your Illusion parts 1&2 in class in 1992, but it was great execution of what many a heartless chain restaurant tries to accomplish, yet fails miserably. This might sound crazy, however they actually fried shrimp, tossed it in a sweet and spicy sauce, then allowed the shrimp to remain intact and crispy, while ram jamming a crunchy pungent slaw in as an accompanying gesture.
I was so happy to hear that I Wanna Wok has burst on to the food truck scene in the Bay area, as it is the best place for them to blossom seeing that Tampa was voted the second best city to start a mobile food business. I am even happier that they’re part of the rotating lineup that park at the Tampa Airport cell phone lot, as I can literally see them arrive from my office window. They had the chance to hit up the Downtown Lakeland Food truck rally for the first time last month, and completely threw the good people of Lakeland’s taste buds into the Iron Maiden. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a Little River Band connection that fit.
I don’t want to wait to get sick before I sample more Bao, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll be licking petri dishes infected with mitochondrion spores for the time being.