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Nom’s dim sum rolls by on a different set of wheels

Steamed buns, dumplings, chili oil, and no animal products whatsoever

A vegan gua bao made with turmeric sprouted tofu
A vegan gua bao made with turmeric sprouted tofu

Most of us have eaten dim sum off a pushcart, so how much different could it be eating it off a food truck? Depends on the food truck.

When I spotted the Nom food truck rolling across town, there was just enough time for the words “plant based” to pique my interest before a light changed and we sped off in different directions. There may be a few veggie options among the many, many small dishes that comprise dim sum, but it’s a decidedly shrimp- and pork-driven genre. I’d never seen a vegan take.

Nom, the vegan dim sum food truck spotted rolling throughout the county

When I tracked Nom down, it happened to be parked outside La Mesa Wine Works, a joint tasting room (and patio) highlighting a pair of local wineries. But there seems no shortage of places to find it — Nom’s robust schedule sees it booking several appearances a week, whether as part of a vegan pop-up, on a corporate campus during lunch time, or outside a brewery during happy hour. The mobile kitchen makes use of the whole county, too. I’d have been just as likely to see it driving around Vista as North Park.

I can’t be sure a conventional dim sum food truck would find this much demand, but what surprises me more is that Nom thrives on the strength of only three dishes: steamed buns, pan-seared dumplings, and gua bao. You may order each by the pair for $11, $12, and $17, respectively, but the truck makes it easy to try all three by offering the $17 “Nom Nom Nom” combo.

The steamed buns would normally be called char siu, or BBQ pork buns. But, of course, there’s no pork to be found here. Instead, the big, fluffy buns are filled with a mix of the common, wheat-gluten meat alternative, seitan, and a less usual substitute: date. Minced within a soy reduction, these buns may ultimately please or displease you based on how you feel about the subtle, sweet presence of the dates.

That said, I kept coming back for more due to the stronger presence of black garlic and chili oil. Turns out, I don’t miss meat for one second when there’s a rich mixture of umami and heat to behold.

Aegan takes on a BBQ pork steamed bun (front) and pan-seared soup dumpling (back)

Next up, the smaller, pan-seared dumplings, which more closely resemble shengjian bao, or pan-fried soup dumplings. Here again we see seitan, but minced with shitake mushrooms this time, and steeped in a kombu seaweed broth, a.k.a. dashi. Though nothing could burst with fatty flavor quite like pork soup dumplings, this proved my favorite item on the Nom menu. The dashi and shitake blend with seamless depth, and credit must once again be given to the mobile kitchen’s house chili oil, swimming flakes and seeds, and lingering pleasantly on the palate with every bite.

If I needed proof Nom could succeed without adding this spice, I found it with the gua bao. These are the sort of steamed bun sandwiches that somewhat resemble tacos with fluffy tortillas. We’d normally expect a slab of pork belly down the middle of this bun, instead we get some of the best-cooked tofu I’ve ever encountered. Made with sprouted tofu — which basically means it’s more nutritious — its crispy on the outside, meaty and tender inside, and given a boost in natural flavor courtesy of turmeric.

This meat replacement doesn’t remind you of pork belly, and it doesn’t need to. It’s its own thing, dressed with pickled vegetables, vegan mayo, sriracha, and black sesame seeds. It would be a little weird, maybe even disconcerting, to find this gua bao on a pushcart in a traditional dim sum restaurant, even if it’s exactly what one might expect in a vegan context. But from this omnivore’s perspective, it’s better than I ever would have hoped for in a tofu bao, so kudos to Nom, a food truck worth following down that road.

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A vegan gua bao made with turmeric sprouted tofu
A vegan gua bao made with turmeric sprouted tofu

Most of us have eaten dim sum off a pushcart, so how much different could it be eating it off a food truck? Depends on the food truck.

When I spotted the Nom food truck rolling across town, there was just enough time for the words “plant based” to pique my interest before a light changed and we sped off in different directions. There may be a few veggie options among the many, many small dishes that comprise dim sum, but it’s a decidedly shrimp- and pork-driven genre. I’d never seen a vegan take.

Nom, the vegan dim sum food truck spotted rolling throughout the county

When I tracked Nom down, it happened to be parked outside La Mesa Wine Works, a joint tasting room (and patio) highlighting a pair of local wineries. But there seems no shortage of places to find it — Nom’s robust schedule sees it booking several appearances a week, whether as part of a vegan pop-up, on a corporate campus during lunch time, or outside a brewery during happy hour. The mobile kitchen makes use of the whole county, too. I’d have been just as likely to see it driving around Vista as North Park.

I can’t be sure a conventional dim sum food truck would find this much demand, but what surprises me more is that Nom thrives on the strength of only three dishes: steamed buns, pan-seared dumplings, and gua bao. You may order each by the pair for $11, $12, and $17, respectively, but the truck makes it easy to try all three by offering the $17 “Nom Nom Nom” combo.

The steamed buns would normally be called char siu, or BBQ pork buns. But, of course, there’s no pork to be found here. Instead, the big, fluffy buns are filled with a mix of the common, wheat-gluten meat alternative, seitan, and a less usual substitute: date. Minced within a soy reduction, these buns may ultimately please or displease you based on how you feel about the subtle, sweet presence of the dates.

That said, I kept coming back for more due to the stronger presence of black garlic and chili oil. Turns out, I don’t miss meat for one second when there’s a rich mixture of umami and heat to behold.

Aegan takes on a BBQ pork steamed bun (front) and pan-seared soup dumpling (back)

Next up, the smaller, pan-seared dumplings, which more closely resemble shengjian bao, or pan-fried soup dumplings. Here again we see seitan, but minced with shitake mushrooms this time, and steeped in a kombu seaweed broth, a.k.a. dashi. Though nothing could burst with fatty flavor quite like pork soup dumplings, this proved my favorite item on the Nom menu. The dashi and shitake blend with seamless depth, and credit must once again be given to the mobile kitchen’s house chili oil, swimming flakes and seeds, and lingering pleasantly on the palate with every bite.

If I needed proof Nom could succeed without adding this spice, I found it with the gua bao. These are the sort of steamed bun sandwiches that somewhat resemble tacos with fluffy tortillas. We’d normally expect a slab of pork belly down the middle of this bun, instead we get some of the best-cooked tofu I’ve ever encountered. Made with sprouted tofu — which basically means it’s more nutritious — its crispy on the outside, meaty and tender inside, and given a boost in natural flavor courtesy of turmeric.

This meat replacement doesn’t remind you of pork belly, and it doesn’t need to. It’s its own thing, dressed with pickled vegetables, vegan mayo, sriracha, and black sesame seeds. It would be a little weird, maybe even disconcerting, to find this gua bao on a pushcart in a traditional dim sum restaurant, even if it’s exactly what one might expect in a vegan context. But from this omnivore’s perspective, it’s better than I ever would have hoped for in a tofu bao, so kudos to Nom, a food truck worth following down that road.

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