Locale Profile: Lotus Pepper

Motif has introduced a new sort of Locale: Food Truck Profiles! We’re looking at a new Food Truck each month leading into the warmer season to get you ready for Food Truck Fridays in the summer. Also be on the lookout for Motif’s upcoming Food Truck awards!
Slapping a sandwich together at home is one thing, but crafting a truly majestic grinder is another. For me, the real beauty of a sandwich comes in a blend of its toppings with contrasting textures and temps: warm-hot meat with cool, crisp veggies and a sauce slathered about that adds an explosion of flavor. Though I didn’t expect it, that’s what I got – and more – at Lotus Pepper, the only Vietnamese food truck in the area.
It’s called Banh Mi on the Lotus Pepper menu, a term that translates literally to “bread wheat” yet has come to refer to all manner of breads, especially baguettes, which were introduced to Vietnam by the French during six decades of colonial control. The cuisine that came out of that era is a dynamic fusion of the two cultures. Colloquially, Banh Mi refers to a “Vietnamese Sub,” a mix of Vietnamese ingredients served on a small, flaky baguette. Lotus Pepper’s bread actually comes from a Vietnamese bakery all the way up in Boston; you just can’t find it locally.
In the case of Lotus Pepper’s Banh Mi, you get cucumber, carrot, daikon pickles, cilantro – all of which are noticeably fresh – and your choice of meat. For mine, I opted for the BBQ pork at the suggestion of co-owner Thang Huynh, “The pork is everyone’s favorite.” He’s young, charismatic and talkative, recognizing and welcoming at least a dozen students who walked by, many of whom ate from the truck when I swung by on a Tuesday afternoon. Lotus Pepper was at its usual spot around 180 Thayer St in Providence, right in the heart of the Brown University campus.
“Around 85% of our business comes from Brown students, and the other 15 from faculty,” Huynh explained, laughing. Lotus Pepper operates almost year-round, with the only off-season being the six or so weeks that Brown is on winter break. Plenty of students opt for Lotus Pepper or Mama Kim, which frequents the same area, over one of the many stationary culinary options on Thayer. As students rush between classes or from one commitment to another, food trucks like Lotus Pepper offer a faster alternative to sitting down in a restaurant.
“Brown students are really open-minded to trying different kinds of food, and they seem to like some of our healthier options on the menu.”
Thang started Lotus Pepper with his mother, Young, three years ago (almost to the date, on April 12, 2013).
“She’s my partner in crime,” he smiles. “She came up with the idea. She’s always loved cooking and everyone in the family would always ask her to do parties.” When I asked about the name, Thang explained that the Lotus was a national symbol for Vietnam, a flower that grows in muddy water before rising just above the surface to bloom. It’s a symbol for purity, peace and optimism for the future; a fitting choice for an ornate blossom adorning the side of the white truck whose petals have been replaced with red chili peppers. They love representing Vietnam, but they also love adding a little kick.
From inside the truck Young Huynh proudly urges Thang to talk about their secret sauce. Right next to a nearly empty bottle of Sriracha was an unmarked jar of Lotus Pepper’s secret sauce, which might as well be a namesake with its murky appearance and spiciness. It definitely had a tremendous amount of red pepper flakes, along with some kind of oil and vinegar, but beyond that I couldn’t fathom a guess. When I asked, Young smiled sweetly. “Many have tried to copy it, but nobody comes close,” she said. I had the sauce on my Banh Mi. Sure enough, its flavor profile packed a wallop. It alone is worth returning for.
I also sampled a crispy spring roll, or Cha Gio, which included a mix of ground chicken, taro (root veggie not unlike a potato), carrot, celery and cabbage wrapped up in rice paper and fried until golden. These were simply divine, with just the right amount of spice.
I was also able to snag a fresh summer roll, or Goi Cuon, which included shredded lettuce with bean sprouts, mint, vermicelli (a kind of pasta noodle like spaghetti) and shrimp wrapped in clear rice paper, served with a spicy peanut sauce. I’m always intrigued by the soft, gooey texture of a summer roll.
Perhaps the greatest strength of a truck like Lotus Pepper is its ability to please any kind of palate: you can get the fresh- and veggie-focused, or the deep fried goodness, or a sandwich with a little bit of everything, or even a mixed bowl with rice and meats. I’ll definitely be returning next time I am in the neighborhood.
You can find Lotus Pepper on most weekdays from Noon to 7pm around 180 Thayer St, Providence, but also at other events like Food Truck Fridays and flea markets.
To learn more about Lotus Pepper, find them on Twitter: @LotusPepper or Facebook at LotusPepper. To see the current locations of Lotus Pepper and other local food trucks, visit motifri.com/food-truck-locator, brought to you by FoodTrucksIn RI (foodtrucksin.com), a Providence-based company allowing users to find local food trucks in over 1,300 cities.

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