Eat This Now: Indonesian Street Fare at Pennsport’s Sophie Food Truck
A South Philly food truck is providing a home base for immigrant business owners, rallying the community around plans for a beautiful new park, and serving great Indonesian bites.
Head to South Philly’s Mifflin Square Park on a hot summer evening and you’ll see some familiar sights: neighbors chatting on benches and walking their dogs, kids running around on the grass, a food truck taking orders on the south side of the park.
But that truck isn’t your typical mobile food business. Sophie Food Truck — the name stands for South Philly East — is a neighborhood engagement initiative and immigrant business incubator that’s also an exciting new addition to the city’s Indonesian food scene.
Part of Sophie’s purpose is to highlight plans for upgrades and improvements to the park that are in the works over the next few years: a facelift for its damaged sprayground, a new stage and storytelling area, additional shaded seating, an herb garden, a meditation labyrinth, refreshed playgrounds, and maybe even a permanent spot for the food truck.
“We wanted to highlight the culture here and the plan to improve the park, and food has such power to connect people,” said Andy Toy, executive director of the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Coalition (SEAMAAC), the organization behind Sophie. After gang-related shooting at the park in 2015, the coalition of neighborhood groups and civic organizations behind the revitalization efforts want to make the park a destination for residents again.
This summer’s menu comes from chef Yeni Lie and her family. She reached out to SEAMAAC about taking a course to renew her ServSafe certification, which is required for food business owners. When they learned she worked in food, they told her about the opportunity to vend through Sophie, and she started cooking there last fall.
I said, ‘Why not?’ Before I start with my own truck, why not take the experience?” said Lie. “I want to open a restaurant or our own food truck, but I’m still looking for the location.” In the meantime, she and her husband — both restaurant veterans — will operate Sophie through the summer. They also cater year-round under the name Warung Cak Lil.
The Lie family aren’t the only vendors at Sophie: last year, a Bhutanese chef with a sushi background ran the truck; she and her assistant now run the respective in-store sushi programs at Philly’s Giant Heirloom and Sprouts supermarkets. Next season may see new chefs working in the truck depending on who gets involved.
Lie’s menu features Indonesian street food favorites like savory fried noodles, garlicky grilled chicken or lamb satay sticks served with a rich peanut sauce and cloudlike rice cakes, and a brothy soup of noodles, veggies, and bakso, or beef meatballs — the latter of which might seem out of season but serves as an effective way to hydrate and beat the heat.
Or try the Special Combo, which offers a little bit of everything in addition to crisp-fried wontons twisted around little pockets of chicken and accessorized with a thick, sweet sauce and a fiery red sambal. When you’re ready to cool off, sip on an ice blewah — a not-too-sweet, sunset-colored cooler made with shredded melon and soaked basil seeds.
Lie and her family will be cooking in the Sophie truck on the south side of Mifflin Square Park — Ritner Street between 6th and 7th — Wednesday and Friday afternoons (although they’re skipping Friday, July 5th due to the holiday weekend). See the full summer schedule of park appearances and special events at spots like Eakins Oval and Cherry Street Pier here, and check out Sophie’s current menu below.