Smile Politely

Stango Bites is tasty Zambian cuisine on wheels

The author's order at Stango Cuisine: ginger juice in a plastic bag, a beef handpie on a brown paper bag, a white styrofoam container of beignets, and three somaosas with a side sauce.
Stango Cuisine; Photo by Remington Rock

May through October, I have Stango Cuisine almost every Saturday. Mainly that’s because I work at the Urbana Market at the Square as part of my day job, but on the other hand, it’s because I really love their food. After starting the morning with Nitro Cup, I like to treat myself to a hand pie and/or beignets for a little noon pick-me-up. So when it came time to give the new truck by Stango Cuisine a proper review, I jumped at the opportunity.

Not only can we find Stango at the farmers markets, but we can also dine in at their restaurant Stango Cuisine in Downtown Champaign on Walnut Street — right next to Martinelli’s Market — as well as the food truck, Stango Bites. Diners won’t find large portions or the same extravagant Zambian platters at the truck, but what I found when I went was a selection of some of Stango’s best offerings. I ordered four staples, Stango’s bites that made me a repeat customer.

Starting with the to-go drink, Stango’s ginger juice ($5) was an elixir that gave me a much-needed boost. Whether I’ve been up since 4:30 a.m. for market duty, or I’m recovering from a nasty cold, or I just have a craving for the zesty drink, it satisfies. If you’ve ever heard the “why is it spicy?” sound bite, then you’ve heard my inner thought at every first sip. Chef Mubanga Chanda freshly squeezed the ginger and packaged it in a pouch that made me feel like I’m drinking a forbidden Capri Sun. The taste was so spicy in a delicious ginger way that if I’m not careful I will have gulped it down in 30 seconds or less. It was a simple drink, basically just tasting like ginger concentrate with some water. However, it’s like a cure-all to any ailments whether physical or mental. If Stango were to sell it by the gallon, I would have no hesitation in stocking up on some. 

The other Stango staple is the hand pies ($5.39). I could choose from beef, chicken, or veggie for my filling — and trust that there was no wrong decision. I’ve had all three and usually make my decision based on what isn’t sold out, but for the sake of this review, I chose the beef pie which is usually my first choice. On the menu Stango described the beef hand pie as “a savory flaky pastry shell filled with beef and spices. Like a turnover.” Yep, that’s exactly right. It was a gorgeously soft pastry shell that was flakey and filled with spicy — but not hot — seasoned beef. These are one of my partner’s favorites as well, with me often having to buy several of the delectable snack for him. Nothing says love quite like a Stango pie; take my word for it. These were so delicious without being overwhelmingly filling, so having one of each filling is not an out-of-hand suggestion.

Three fired Zambia samosas in a takeout container.
Samosas from Stango Cuisine; Photo by Remington Rock

Like the beef pie, there were also filling options when it came to their other VIP bite, the samosas ($4.99). Since I went with the beef pie, I decided to go for the chicken samosas, which were deep fried, crispy-shelled goodness. The Stango menu described them as “deep fried to perfection” and, boy, were they right. There three pieces per serving came with an addition of lovely dipping sauce. I honestly couldn’t tell you what was in the sauce, but what I can tell you is that it was the perfect companion to the savory, juicy contents of the samosa.

The samosas were a great bite to share, but they’re also great to fill up on by yourself. Like the hand pie dough, I could detect the variety of spices and herbs Stango generously used, like curry and garlic. Zambian samosas are a staple of the cuisine, and it’s safe to say that Stango has them down pat.

Three beignets in a white styrofoam box, and one of them has a bite out of it.
Beignets from Stango Cuisine; Photo by Remington Rock

Dessert time! Let’s just be up front for a second: how could someone not love beignets? Delicious, fried-to-golden-perfection beignets. Stango’s beignets came three to an order for $6. They were the perfect ending to my Stango small bite-palooza. As I go on about these, yes, I do realize that everything from the food truck is deep fried, but is there really any other way to do such items justice? No! It’s comfort food, so treat yourself to it. The beignets were gorgeous, sweet, soft pillows of dough with a liberal dusting of powdered sugar. Not to mention that by the time I got to them, they were still warm. While there isn’t much to a beignet itself, perhaps it was the simplicity that make them a grand ending to such straightforward albeit complex flavors of the items enjoyed above.

While I recommend visiting the brick-and-mortar Stango for their complex dishes like Emma’s Platter, Gizdodo, or curry, I strongly recommend visiting the Stango Bites food truck when you spot it. A diverse, no fuss food truck such as this one is such a gift to this community, and I find the confidence and experience they have in their cuisine to be palpable. Self-described as Champaign’s best Zambian is not an overshoot, it’s true.

A brown food truck named Stango Bites has five photos of menu items below a short menu of Zambian street food dishes by the Champaign restaurant Stango Cuisine.
Stango Cuisine on Facebook

And while I had a somewhat tricky time tracking them down around town, I still find it to be a worthwhile experience. It’s comfort food that doesn’t feel overindulgent, and the complex flavors never feel like a deep-fried waste. However or wherever it is that you support them, it doesn’t matter; I just strongly encourage that you do.

Follow Stango Cuisine on Facebook to get their food truck whereabouts.

Stango Bites food truck

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