Restaurant News & Reviews

Food Truck Review: Chirba Chirba will make you want to ‘Eat! Eat!’

The Sweet Soy Glazed Pork Belly and Chinese Spinach Bun from the Chirba Chirba Dumpling food truck.
The Sweet Soy Glazed Pork Belly and Chinese Spinach Bun from the Chirba Chirba Dumpling food truck. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Chirba Chirba has gone through some pretty major changes since the jaunty yellow food truck with the Buddha-like laughing Chinese dumpling logo first hit the road five years ago. The original four owners, who had become friends while at UNC and started out by hosting dumpling “pleating parties” at The Cookery, are down to one.

Nate Adams has bought out the other three partners over the years, as their career paths took them in different directions. Adams, who describes himself as “the only white guy” of the original four, grew up in Taiwan – a background that goes a long way toward explaining Chirba Chirba’s continued success. Clearly, the guy knows his dumplings. Earlier this year, he put a second truck on the road to keep up with the demand.

And while the selection of filling options changes from time to time (the pork and edamame dumpling that was billed as a specialty in the early days hasn’t been on the menu recently), their most important selling point remains the same. The dumplings are still house-made (truck-made?), and they’re as good as ever.

Most of them are made by the Chirba Chirba crew. The lone exception on the current menu is the Juicy Bun, a purse-shaped dumpling that lives up to its name with a succulent savory-sweet pork filling. The shape and filling are both reminiscent of the famous Shanghainese xiaolongbao (soup dumpling), but these are meatier and not quite as soupy. Homemade or not, they’re a keeper in my book.

Still, I can’t imagine hitting the truck without an order of Chirba Chirba’s own Bayside Chive dumpling. I’d even nominate this one, with its classic pleated crescent shape and its traditional filling of minced pork, Chinese chives, carrots and cabbage, as the truck’s signature dumpling.

I’d also have a hard time passing up the Poultrygeist, which gets my vote for cleverest name. It’s filled with chicken, turkey, kale and just enough ghost chile to put your taste buds on alert without giving them too big a fright. And the Persuasive Argument for a Vegetarian Diet Award goes to Garlicky Greens: kale, collards, roasted garlic, mushroom and tofu.

Choosing is made easier by the fact that you can split your order. Get a dozen – half of them Bayside Chive and half Juicy Buns. Pick a sauce (four options, from traditional Chinese black vinegar to sweet and sour pineapple curry). And give serious consideration to getting at least a portion of your order fried. It’s well worth the 25 cent upcharge.

An order of six make a good light appetizer, but go ahead and spring for a dozen. Even then, you might find yourself going back to the window for more. As long as you’re at the order window, might as well grab a steamed bun, filled with a couple of slabs of sweet soy-glazed pork belly and Chinese spinach, then lightly griddled. And you absolutely have to try the sweet Chinese sausage, sliced thin and fried up into addictive crispy-chewy curls.

At least that’s what I did. After all, the truck’s name is Mandarin Chinese for “Eat! Eat!” That does mean you should go back for seconds, doesn’t it?

Chirba Chirba

Prices: steamed dumplings $6.75 (6 pieces) to $19 (18 pieces); pork belly pocket $4

Website: chirbachirba.com

Twitter: @ChirbaChirba

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