Never fear, new food carts are on the way. Two new Asian carts have appeared in the southwest campus area, and a third is in the works.
The first, Saigon Sandwich, brings the popular Vietnamese banh mi sub-style sandwich to Madison's streets at last. Currently parking from 11 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m. weekdays near the corner of North Charter and West Johnson streets, the cart utilizes a fill-out-your-own-ticket system for customizing your order. Within the customary crusty baguette, there's a choice of main protein (barbecued pork slices, chicken, Vietnamese meatball, pork chop, tofu, or the special combo (barbecued pork and steamed pork roll).
Additional add-ons are mayonnaise, paté, sweet carrots and white radish, cucumber slices, jalapenos, fresh cilanto and dehydrated fried onion. The veggies here are only lightly pickled, and even the jalapeno doesn't pack too great of a punch. Saigon Sandwich -- whose logo cleverly adopts the shape of its own trademark baguette, with a bite out of it -- also delivers in the Madison area weeknights from 6-7 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. all 608-225-6798. For updates, see its Facebook page or via Twitter @SaigonsandwichW.
A second Asian venture has at least partly repainted the former Dandelion cart and is serving near the corner of University Avenue and N. Mills Street at noontime. The part of the menu that is posted in English features pork buns -- they're huge, for just $1.25 each -- and what they're calling "Chinese burger," which is what I take to be roujiamo, another Asian street food standard. In fact the Chinese characters painted on the side of the cart match the Chinese characters for "rou jia mo" (at least as listed on Wikipedia -- I don't know Chinese characters off the top of my head).
The result is something closer to a pork sloppy joe. The finely shredded pork is braised to the point where it's almost a minced mash, in a variety of Asian spices -- here, the flavor is reminiscent of five-spice powder, but quite mild -- and served in a split flatbread that's somewhat chewy. This cart's version comes plain; roujiamo sandwiches can often include toppings, and these might benefit from a little something besides the meat and the mo (the flatbread); but, at $2.50, it's also hard to complain.
Another section of the menu is written in Chinese characters on a piece of paper taped in the cart window. A Chinese student ahead of me in line kindly translated two of the three items -- a noodle dish ($3) and soy milk ($1). The cart was doing a brisk business with Asian students -- long lines had formed shortly after noon both days I visited.
The mostly blue cart has not yet been named.
Finally, the Electric Earth Cafe cart on Library Mall is changing hands, and in 2014 will be vending bulgogi-based Korean tacos. However for the time being the cart is serving the Electric Earth sandwich menu, with the bulgogi tacos advertised on the side.