I remember the moment I spotted the boxy red coach that rolled into sight and set up shop.
It was a breezy summer evening a year or so ago. We, some friends of mine and I, were all relaxing at our favorite neighborhood bar when I caught sight of the food truck through the window getting ready to serve the crowd who were all beer buzzing and hiding in the free air conditioning.
"They're called Bam Bam," informed the bartender. "Not too sure what the food is like but they say it's a blend of Mexican and Korean. I think."
Always up for a new member of the mobile eatery nation, we waited patiently for the two guys inside to prep and gear for our orders. Eventually one guy began writing on the chalk board next to the pass window:
Yakisoba Noodles (steak, chicken, pork, tofu)
And...that was pretty much it. Simple little menu which I actually liked because when food trucks get mighty ambitious with their offerings, sometimes their point of view gets a bit lost in taste translation. Plus can you imagine cramming endless ingredients and components into such a tight little area? I've seen it being done before and, boy, what a mess. These Bam Bam guys seem to know what they were doing so when they announced that they were ready for service we queued up and asked what was good.
|If I say it three times will magic Korean tacos appear?|
"Oh everything here is good," assured the bearded man with the thick South American accent at the window. "It's Asian and Mexican fusion so we have traditional yakisoba noodles and house made kimchi paired with Latin spiced meats mixed with cilantro and all sorts of good stuff."
I ordered the steak burrito and waited for the outcome. When it arrived it was about as big as my leg, reminding me of the Mission Style burritos that I got back in San Francisco. And biting into it? Holy mother of wow. Incredible. There was a mesmerizing syncopation of Eastern and Western style flavors and ingredients that just worked on so many levels. The noodles were chewy and seasoned well, the protein had a distinct Latin influence pop and the kimchi, oh man the kimchi!, just brought it all together and made for a very memorable dish.
My friends got the tacos. Again, amazing.
But it wasn't until we ran into Bam Bam again that we got the yakisoba (fried buckwheat) noodles that sent us over the edge and knew that these guys and this truck were a welcome contender for our palates and business. Just simply put, the noodles paired with any kind of protein is a personal favorite. It all just makes sense. 'Fusion' is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the culinary world, some of which works and others, eh...not so much. Bam Bam works.
Like silly works.
For that reason alone we grabbed a chance to hang out with owner and chef Fernando Sanchez to discuss the ways of his wizardry and get a glimpse on what it's like to serve up some of the best food to come out of a little red truck.
Or any color really.
|Legend status? I'd be okay saying Fernando is on his way...|
"I was born here in Tucson but I was raised in Mexico," says Fernando, writing up the daily specials on the board before opening up recently at Borderlands Brewery. "My passion for cooking started at a very young age. I used to love cooking with my grandmother.
"I actually graduated with a degree in Marketing from the University of Guadalajara, in Guadalajara Mexico, but my real passion is cooking. It's really what I love most in life. I learned to cook Asian food from a Korean friend of ours and it just kind of took off from there."
I am here to say we are glad he switched careers because, boy, I can't imagine him doing anything else.
|Steak Yakisoba in full glory|
Through countless trials and much errors, eventually Fernando and his team came up with some combinations that perform together in a seemingly effortless style. You wouldn't think that Mexican style pulled pork would pair well with a spicy pickled kimchi but its there that you would think wrong. It does. A little too well.
Like I said, Bam Bam's food is just a shy away from total surrender to addiction.
"Asian cuisine is actually my favorite style of food," Fernando notes. "We just wanted to bring something unique to Tucson that you really can't find in restaurants here.
"This kind of fusion is really popular in California, especially Los Angeles, so I studied what one of my all-time favorite chefs, Roy Choi, does to get the flavors mixed correctly. He is just so talented and creative. Eventually things fell into place and we knew we had something special."
|Lucky customer ordering it up|
When we first got hold of Bam Bam, Fernando was a bit more mobile. If he wasn't parked in front of some of our favorite bars he could be found in various food truck round ups and the occasional farmer's market or sporting or social event.
Recently Bam Bam was a fixture downtown, inhabiting the space between The Rialto Theater and World of Beer on the busy nights of Thursday through Saturday. Turns out, the surrounding restaurants got fed up with Fernando stealing their business so they politely asked him to set up somewhere else. When that didn't work they took further (legal) action to run him off.
Do you see why I'm not a huge Downtown Tucson fan?
Anyway it all worked out for the best because now Fernando and Bam Bam can be found on 4th Avenue at the Flycatcher most weekend nights, a business marriage that he is most happy about. So when you see a bright crimson food truck after catching a show there, be sure to walk on over and fuel up on their fantastic fusion cuisine.
|Korean tacos (I didn't take this picture, came from the internet...sorry)|
As Fernando started taking orders from hungry patrons lining up, he had this to say about being in the food truck business here in Tucson:
"It was really hard when we first started years ago because food trucks in Tucson weren't really popular, not like it is today. It was even harder for us because we were doing such different food than anyone else. You know sometimes people are afraid to try something new but...everything has worked out okay because people seem to like what we do."
Oh yes. We do.
|If you park it, they will come|
"I think today," Fernando continues as the crowds gather, "Tucson is a city with a great variety of food and amazing restaurants. The quality and diversity of the food is what got us the UNESCO designated world city of gastronomy. We are really proud to be a part of that."
With such delicious food to be bestowed to us here in Tucson via Bam Bam, I had to know what he considers his signature item.
"It would have to be the Korean tacos. They're just like...perfect to me."
And what do you consider the crowd favorites?
"Oh, probably, yeah, the tacos. People really love the burritos too. And the yakisoba noodles as well."
So...all of it?
Fernando just smiles.
|We went back for seconds|
The food is incredible and deserves to be a part of our UNESCO nod. The menu is so tight though. Like I said earlier, that doesn't bother me, at all. Or anybody else really. But with so much attention getting thrown his and Bam Bam's way I had to know if they were planning on expanding any time soon.
"Not at the moment," quipped Fernando as he tried to get orders out, you could see that was the last thing on his mind. Dumb question if you ask me. "We would like to keep our menu simple like it is now. But we do have specials from time to time. You just need to keep up with us online to see where we are and what we are serving up special that night."
You can follow Bam Bam on Facebook or Twitter...and I highly suggest you do both.
|Can I has some more please?|
On the rare occasion that Fernando isn't working or cooking, he says his favorite downtime activity is "spending time with my wife and kids" which I am sure is a scarce concept to him seeing as he is usually on the move.
And what about the future of Bam Bam? Most food trucks or small business entrepreneurs usually have a five year plan of some kind and I just had to know what was his goal for the near future.
In the midst of grilling meat and tofu and boxing up orders to the line of patrons, all Fernando could get out was, "Oh yeah. I can totally picture myself opening up a small restaurant."
I guess we'll just have to wait a bit for that to happen because the truck part totally seems to be working out for him at present.
|Even in a different light, it's still crazy good|
Until that time that Bam Bam becomes a brick and mortar here in Tucson (you're going to stay in Tucson...right?), we all will be on the lookout for the funky red truck with the smiling Buddha on the side reminding us that all good things come in small packages. And on wheels. And equipped with a flat top grill. And jammed with noodles and kimchi.
When you do see the lil' red wagon of badassery, do yourself a favor and, like, just order one of each. Because, apparently, the whole menu is a crowd favorite.
We know its ours, for sure.
Now I'm hungry. Where is he parked again tonight?
See you there...
|Thank you Fernando...you rule!|
Camera, Typing and Eating
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
The Day After Cinco de Mayo, 2016