When Aaron Truong first started cooking for his now-wife, Natalie Truong, there was a learning curve. His parents moved to the United States from Vietnam and Taiwan, and his culinary background generally involved cuisines from Asia. Natalie, on the other hand, comes from a long line of Asian Americans, growing up in California. “I grew up eating Asian food, and that’s pretty much all I ate,” he says. “But my wife was more Americanized, and she loved pizza, tacos, burgers, that kind of stuff.” Knowing his wife particularly loved pizza, he decided to teach himself how to make it for her, using a 24-hour-fermented, Neapolitan-style crust. Later, he started topping his pizzas with the ingredients he grew up with — banh mi fillings, Chinese sausage. After making the pizzas for dinner parties with friends, the Truongs knew they had a hit on their hands.
This is the origin story of Hapa Pizza, the Beaverton Farmers Market stall selling pizzas topped with ingredients like Vietnamese barbecue pork or hoisin. After briefly selling pies in 2019, the couple decided to step back and re-evaluate right before the COVID-19 pandemic began. “At first, it was sort of an experiment — I was just starting out my private practice, and it was really tough to juggle two jobs. But in the last year, we really started to reflect on what we wanted to do,” he says. “Through Hapa Pizza I’m slowly transitioning out of my career as a therapist. As much as I love my clients, there’s something that’s really nice about mastering a craft and having something tangible that I can make and give to others.” Now, Hapa Pizza is back in full swing, and the couple is opening a food truck in 2022.
Hapa Pizza rotates its weekly selection of pizzas, but most of them are inspired by a single dish, adapted to work as a pie. For instance, Hapa’s banh mi pie comes topped with grilled Vietnamese pork, pickled radish and carrots, and cilantro, accompanied by a duo of sauces: sriracha aioli, and a cucumber white sauce. “The key is really the sauces — the fresh cucumber sauce we put on it really makes it pop along with the sriracha aioli,” Aaron says. The chef is also particularly happy with the shop’s pho pie: The Truongs use pho broth to braise fatty brisket, and the remaining broth serves as the foundation for the pizza’s sauce. Then, they finish the pie with classic pho accoutrements: bean sprouts, cilantro, hoisin, green onions. “There’s this hearty, beefy flavor, the crunch of the bean sprouts — it creates this really unique blend,” Aaron says. “When my wife and I first tried it, we looked at each other, eyes huge, like, ‘What is this?’”
At the truck, the Truongs want to offer a larger selection of pizzas each day, but also potentially add other menu items to the list, like poke and papaya salads. Once it opens in mid-2022, the Truongs want the new business to truly be a truck, as opposed to a more stationary cart; they want to be able to be mobile, visiting different communities throughout greater Portland. “My wife and I are really into camping; being simple and mobile really appeals to us,” he says. To start, however, Portlanders will likely have to drive out to Beaverton, where the Truongs have built their following — the two will finish out the farmers market season, and then focus on building and preparing the truck for service in the spring.
For Aaron, Hapa Pizza is a way to explore his Asian American identity in a way he couldn’t as a young person in Oregon. “Growing up in Lake Oswego, I often felt really ashamed of my Asian-ness, tried to erase my Asian-ness in a way to try to fit in. But as I’ve become more involved in the Asian American community in Portland, I’ve learned to embrace my Asian-ness,” he says. “Hapa Pizza is sort of celebration of that. I love these parts of my culture and want to be able to share them. I no longer feel ashamed of it; I want to embrace it and learn to more about my culture through this food.”
Hapa Pizza will be at My People’s Market on Sunday, and regularly appears at the Beaverton Farmers Market on Saturdays at 12375 SW 5th Street. The cart is expected to open in the spring of 2022.