Berkeley eats: Off the Grid, The Chairman Truck

For those who aren’t familiar with Off the Grid (OTG), it’s basically a gathering of food trucks/street food vendors that moves around San Francisco and occasionally other cities around the bay. The one in South Berkeley (the only one I’ve been to) is basically 4-6 food trucks lining a cordoned off street with a few event tents and many chairs out. The trucks come on a weekly basis to this venue and the trucks rotate so one truck might be there one week but it won’t be the next.

This post is mainly to highlight my favorite food truck at OTG: The Chairman. It’s this bright red truck that’s hard to miss and it definitely helps that they serve a reinvented version of gua4 bao1 (割包), a Taiwanese sandwich of sorts. It traditionally consists of braised pork belly, pickled vegetables and, according to this blogger, since I’m hopeless at tasting and naming spices, “ground sweet peanuts, coriander and occasionally hoisin sauce” all this between a white, puffy, slightly sweet bun. Each one is really quite small, half a 4-inch diameter circle, give or take. I’ve never been a huge fan of pork belly or hoisin sauce, but The Chairman’s reinvented gua bao is amazeballs. Like really though.

The Chairman offers each sandwich in two forms: steamed and baked. The steamed form comes in the more traditional white buns and the baked form comes on hamburger-like buns that’re, according to their website, “baked with a light sugar glaze for a golden brown crust and a fluffy center.” They’re both equally good, in my opinion; it really depends on what you’re in the mood for. I can usually only eat one full baked sandwich or 2-3 steamed sandwich.

I’ve tried the steamed Tender Pork Belly with turmeric, pickled daikon & green shiso and both steamed and baked Spicy Chicken with toasted sesame puree, pickled carrots and cucumbers & cilantro sandwiches.

Like I mentioned, I’m not a big fan of pork belly. It’s always tasted too fatty and oily and soft to me (but I think that’s its appeal?! I have no idea). But the sandwich was yummy. Surprisingly, the pork belly itself wasn’t a detracting factor and I really liked the pickled daikon. I couldn’t pick out the turmeric or green shiso, but I’m sure my tongue tasted them without me knowing about it. At least I’m aware of my ignorance about spices and flavoring. As much as I liked the tender pork belly sandwich, I don’t think I’ll be getting it in the near future since the other sandwich I’ve tried is at least twice as tastebud-pleasing…

That said, the Spicy Chicken definitely my favorite. The chicken is juicy and warm, and they give you a ton of it so that when you take a bite, it’s often spilling out from the other end (I always make sure to take a fork). The chicken is just the right amount of spicy that leaves a burning sensation in my mouth minutes after I’ve finished the whole thing. The pickled carrots and cucumbers are extremely refreshing and cool and help balance out the spice; to me, they taste tart and sour and sweet at the same time and they add a nice crunch to the sandwich since the chicken and buns are soft. I’ve never picked out the same of the sesame puree or cilantro, but like I said before, I don’t have a good enough palate to be able to taste all the layers of my food, nor do I really care. All I know is that it all tastes wonderfully. I especially like how both bun types are slightly sweet. Adds more depth to the sandwich.

Baked Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Baked Spicy Chicken Sandwich

OTG: website ; locations ; vendors
The Chairman: website ; locate ; menu


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