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11 Catt. 1: In re Sang on Wheels

2012 July 2
by CATTLEYA, J.

CATTLEYA, J., delivered the opinion of the Cart. JEREMY, C.J., delivered a dissenting opinion.

We granted cartiorari to Sang on Wheels (“SoW”), a self-described “Laos/Asian Fusion style food truck.” The Justices of the Supreme Cart generally approach fusion with skepticism, as we have tasted many fusion failures. See, e.g., In re TaKorean, 1 Catt. 4 (2011) (combining Korean and Mexican cuisines); In re Seoul Food (The Korean Superbowl Case), 3 Catt. 1 (2011) (same). However, SoW’s menu doesn’t fit into the modern understanding of fusion cuisine. Rather, its dishes are a more traditional type of fusion, the result of different ethnicities living together and influencing each other’s foods, and not the random mash-up of different culinary styles in a commercial kitchen. For example, drunken noodles – an item on SoW’s menu – is a dish that reflects the influence of Chinese immigrants in Laos. Presented with the opportunity to try proper fusion food, we eagerly lined up in front of SoW’s truck.

Sang on Wheels

We, of course, ordered the drunken noodles. SoW serves its drunken noodles with either (1) tofu; (2) chicken; or (3) shrimp. With these three options before us, it should come as no surprise that we opted for the shrimp (over the chicken over the tofu). See In re Red Hook Lobster Pound, 2 Catt. 1 (2011) (“[N]o one in their right mind orders shrimp over lobster.”); In re El Floridano, 2 Catt. 2 (2011) (“[N]o one in their right mind orders [tempeh] over [pork].” (internal quotation marks omitted)).  SoW’s drunken noodles cost $8. For an additional $2, you can pair the noodles with either a/an (1) Laotian egg roll; (2) papaya salad; (3) so-called “Asian empanada”; (4) Thai iced tea; or (5) sticky rice with mango. Each of these five items costs between $3 to $5 a la carte, so whatever you choose, you’re getting a good deal. We chose the papaya salad. We review the papaya salad in a companion case, In re Sang on Wheels (The Papaya Salad Case), 11 Catt. 2 (2012).

I. STREET FOOD

As an initial matter, we note that drunken noodles are not street food according to this court’s case law, even though drunken noodles are served from street carts in Asian countries. Street food is “the kind[] of food[] that can be cooked in front of you and [is] meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks, while standing up.” In re Eat Wonky, 2 Catt. 5 (2011). We have denied “street food” status to other dishes involving a form of noodle. See, e.g., In re Basil Thyme, 8 Catt. 1 (2012) (lasagna was not street food). We have also denied it to many rice-based dishes, which are similar to noodle-based dishes. See, e.g., In re fojol bros., 8 Catt. 3 (2012) (meat with rice); In re Hot People Food (The Sassy Chicken Case), 7 Catt. 2 (2012) (same); In re NY Famous Kabob, 7 Catt. 3 (2012) (same); In re Salt and Pepper Grill (The Chicken Tikka Masala Case), 8 Catt. 2 (2012) (same).  Because drunken noodles are not street food, the dish is not entitled to the presumption that it should be affirmed; the noodle dish must prove its own merits. See In re Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2 (2012).

 II. DRUNKEN NOODLES WITH SHRIMP

When SoW handed us an order of drunken noodles with shrimp, my eyes grew wide. The dish looked delicious, really delicious. Succulent pieces of shrimp. Large pieces of broccoli and carrots. Fresh Thai basil leaves. A very generous serving of flat, wide rice noodles. All smothered in a spicy-looking sauce. I was not the only one who was impressed with what I saw. A young lad in line asked what we had ordered when he spotted the dish in my hands. “We’re getting that, ” he informed his companion, leaving no room for discussion.

Drunken Noodles with Shrimp

If only our eyes did the eating that day, this Supreme Cart would affirm wholeheartedly. However, the dish looked better than it tasted, and so we must affirm in part and remand in part. SoW’s drunken noodles did many, many things right, but one big thing – the taste of the sauce – was off.

First, what SoW did well:

1) SoW did not skimp on ingredients. There were several pieces of shrimp in our serving, plus lots of fresh vegetables.

2) SoW gave us a lot. A whole lot. Our food tray overflowed with a heaping of noodles.

3) SoW is a great deal. Not only did we get a lot of food, but we got a lot of food for a reasonable price.

Now, what could have been better:

1) The shrimp. The pieces of shrimp were mealy, suggesting that they were overcooked or not fresh to begin with.

2) The sauce. This stir fry dish is typically made with fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic, Thai chili peppers, and Thai basil. It’s usually spicy rather than sweet. But SoW’s version tasted more like duck sauce, and it was very sweet. It was not what we expected. We wonder whether SoW purposely sweetened its sauce with sugar to appeal to the American palate, in the same way that Thai restaurants in the area have become too Americanized. We would have preferred a spicier rendition.

A disclaimer of sorts:

For the sake of fairness, I state for the record that SoW was the last of several food trucks (excluding dessert food trucks) that we visited at a food truck festival. We did not show up to SoW’s window with empty stomachs. If we had, I probably would have gobbled up the entire serving of drunken noodles without noticing the too-sweet sauce. But because my stomach was already satiated and my blood sugar levels were stable, my taste buds were able to focus on the fine details. Although I stand by our conclusion in this case, I note that hungrier stomachs might enjoy SoW just for the generous portions, regardless of the sweet flavor profile.

III. CONCLUSION

SoW’s drunken noodles with shrimp held a lot of promise. This could have been an excellent food find. SoW did several things very well (especially the portion size), but the dish ultimately fell short because the sauce was American sweet, instead of hot and spicy.

AFFIRMED in part and REMANDED in part to Sang on Wheels for revision.

JEREMY, C.J., dissenting.

In committee, I had originally voted to affirm in part and remand in part, as my sister does in her thoughtful opinion. However, upon further reflection, I must change my decision. I would remand the case in its entirety to SoW for revision.

Initially, I would part ways with my sister’s determination that SoW’s drunken noodles do not constitute “street food.” First, we have held that our Eat Wonky, used to determine whether a dish is “street food,” is “not intended to affirmatively define the entire class of ‘street food,’ but is rather intended only to be a multifactor test to guide and direct our analysis.” In re Hot People Food, 6 Catt. 4 (2012). While SoW’s drunken noodles certainly do not meet each element of the Eat Wonky test, this is a dish which, as my sister notes, has traditionally been served as street food in other parts of the world. Indeed, we have held before that food that has traditionally been understand to constitute “street food” must necessarily satisfy our own definition of “street food.” Cf. In re Street Vendor Near National Mall, 9 Catt. 5 (2012) (considering the humble half smoke). I would find that SoW’s drunken noodles do constitute “street food” and, as such, are entitled to the presumption of affirmance. However, in this case, I would find that presumption to be rebutted.

I agree with my sister that (1) “SoW did not skimp on ingredients,” (2) “SoW gave us a lot,” and (3) “SoW is a great deal” (i.e., we received a lot of food for a reasonable price). I will add that the dish was quite a beautiful dish. But, in the end, I cannot say that I really enjoyed the drunken noodles, and taste remains always the most important factor in our adjudication. As my sister notes, the shrimp was mealy, and the sauce was cloyingly sweet. Yes, SoW “did not skimp on ingredients” and “gave us a lot,” but I could do without a heaping helping of mealy shrimp in stir-fried duck sauce.

I was excited to try SoW’s drunken noodles. In the past, I have greatly enjoyed Lao cuisine. I can say without hesitation that Lao cuisine is one of the most unique, most interesting, and most exciting cuisines I have had the pleasure to sample. And so SoW’s drunken noodles were a true disappointment. As my sister notes, we heard argument several hours into a food truck event. I am hopeful that my experience was an aberration. Our Rules of Procedure allow us to reconsider a previously decided case. In this case, I may do just that.

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