If you’ve never tried Lao food, a stop at Tuk Tuk Mobile Feast, Seattle’s only Lao food truck, needs to be on your list of to-dos.
Siri Martinet, one half of the mastermind duo behind Tuk Tuk, left Laos as a refugee when she was 12. After settling down in Hawaii, Martinet went to college in Oregon and then moved to the Seattle area. “I did the corporate job, had a family and was a stay-at-home mom for a while, too,” she said.
With an empty nest once her kids grew up, Martinet decided to follow her passion and go to culinary school. Now she’s been cooking professionally for the past 10 years.
The inspiration to open a food truck came when Martinet met Jacob Devaul while they were both working at a catering company. The pair became fast friends, bonding over their shared love for the culinary world and Martinet’s love for her family recipes. In 2018, they quit their jobs and started Tuk Tuk with a goal to share with the Emerald City the food Martinet grew up eating.
“You look around and there isn’t anywhere that we can go as a family to enjoy Lao food, and a lot of people out there feel the same way,” Martinet said.
With rotating specials like sai ua (sausage), tom khem (braised pork) and nam khao (crispy rice), Tuk Tuk’s menu only includes a handful of fixed items. Although small, the menu comprises flavors Martinet’s family used in their cooking in Laos, like the smashed garlic and Thai chilies in the pad ga prao (chicken basil stir-fry; $11), the food truck’s most popular entree.
“You go from family to family, and the same dish would taste different between families because it’s something that’s very unique to that family. These flavors are the things that I grew up eating. It’s what I’m used to, and that is what I’m sharing,” Martinet said.
I’m not usually a fan of runny egg yolk (unpopular opinion, I know), but it was perfect in the pad ga prao. The chicken, ground by Martinet and Devaul in house with basil, spicy chilies, garlic and oyster sauce, is an explosion of flavor. If you try the pad ga prao, make sure to get a little bit of each component of the dish in one bite. The yolk perfectly binds bites of steaming jasmine rice and meat. Oh, and pro tip: Martinet and Devaul recommend asking for a side of fish sauce.
I also tried the sai ua ($8), or the sausage special. On first bite, I tasted a symphony of herbs.
“The Lao sausage is very, very herbaceous,” Martinet said with a laugh.
Cilantro, citrus, lemon grass and shallots took center stage in the sai ua. Like the chicken in the pad ga prao, Martinet and Devaul make the sausages in house by grinding their own pork. They also hand cut the herbs and hand stuff the sausages.
“It’s not something where we purchase a finished product; everything is something that we do ourselves,” she said.
Although time consuming, it’s worth it — the finished product is nothing less than outstanding. Served with sticky rice and jaew mak len (a dip made by roasting shallots, garlic, tomatoes and chilies, smashing them into a paste and finishing with a seasoning of fish sauce and sugar), the sausage is a well-rounded dish that is sweet, fresh and spicy all at once.
“But not offensively spicy,” Martinet said. “Our food definitely has spice in it, but it’s very friendly, and we want it to be accessible and staying true to the flavors that we use [in Laos].”
As Seattle’s only Lao food truck, Tuk Tuk has a following of loyal customers, and Martinet finds her interactions with them the most rewarding. “We know them by name, and we want to serve food that people crave and they’re going to want to come back for,” she said. “We are just two cooks who like to cook. We like to cook and share our food.”
Tuk Tuk Mobile Feast: Location varies, find schedule online; tuktukmobilefeast.com
I’m not kidding when I say South Lake Union is the land of quick and easy lunches. Everywhere you look, you will see someone holding a to-go box of food. Boren Avenue North is a food-truck haven — I counted seven on a recent Tuesday just before 1 p.m. within a two-block radius of Tuk Tuk, and Bentoful happens to be located in the building adjacent to Tuk Tuk’s home on the corner of Boren and Republican Street.
If you’re in a hurry, Bentoful is great. You don’t have to worry about navigating a crowd at a restaurant during the lunchtime rush; just place your order on the kiosk and it’s ready in less than five minutes.
The menu is plentiful. With various sides, bases and entrees, there are easily over 100 lunch combinations to choose from. I picked a large bento box with bulgogi, kimchi fried rice, yakisoba, egg rolls, meatballs and eggplant (the large bento box starts at $15).
The sweetness of the bulgogi meat, topped with sesame seeds and chopped green onion, paired perfectly with bites of the spicy kimchi fried rice. I also really enjoyed the pan-fried eggplant and its hints of sesame oil and pepper.
Once I opened my containers (and as you might realize after reading the laundry list of items I ordered), I realized the large came with a lot of food. If you’re dining solo or just looking for a quick bite to eat, you can easily make your meal smaller by opting for the small or medium bento boxes. Just like bringing a packed lunch somewhere from home, one of my favorite parts of this meal was enjoying the feeling of having my food packaged into nicely compartmentalized containers — easy, portable and delicious.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 501 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-623-3432; clover.com/online-ordering/bentoful-seattle