On a recent rare drizzly Sunday, Food Cart Fest still managed to draw a decent crowd to the Olympic Village. This was especially impressive considering there are many music and cultural festivals this summer that also involve food trucks, while this weekly gathering focuses solely on eating and drinking.
As light rain turned into a downpour, the die-hards soldiered on. Most sought shelter in the tented central eating area, but some took advantage of the lull to hit up trucks that often have long lines, such as Tacofino, Le Tigre, Roaming Dragon, Mom’s Grilled Cheese, and Vij’s Railway Express. A few upbeat people continued to battle one another at the Ping-Pong tables, and children played in the dragon-shaped bouncy castle or had their faces painted.
While the focus of the festival is the 20-plus food carts, there’s also some entertainment. This year’s fest features an open-air Eastside Flea Market where you can buy all sorts of crafts (think succulents in repurposed books), clothing, and artwork, as well as the Sunday Local, a licensed live-music area ($5 per drink). Persephone Brewing Company’s Goddess Golden Ale was on the beer menu (the fest spotlights one local brewery a week), as well as Moa Brewing Co.’s Noir (a dark lager from New Zealand) and Maui Brewing Co.’s Big Swell IPA. Cocktails such as Tom Collinses were available, as well as local wines such as Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery’s 2013 Pinot Blanc and Mission Hill Five Vineyards’ 2014 Rosé.
As the rain eventually slowed and the sun began to show, my friends and I dashed for the carts. I had long wanted to try the pad Thai ($10, with chicken or tofu) from Super Thai, so this was my chance. The dish is flash-cooked in a wok right in front of you and arrives steaming. While the sauce had a decent mix of salty, sour, and sweet, the dish was modestly portioned and needed more noodles (which were overcooked) to balance out the other ingredients.
A pie from Aussie Pie Guy was also a bit of a disappointment, primarily because it was small for the price ($8). The hot pastry was flaky and buttery, but be sure to take it out of its bag quickly before it softens. We went for a rich elk version, and the slow-cooked gamy meat worked well with the earthy and sweet flavours of Portobello mushroom, squash, and mashed potato inside.
A jerk-chicken roti ($10) from the Reef Runner truck slaked the appetite but wasn’t particularly noteworthy. The filling consisted of curry chicken and potato, with a spoonful of jerk sauce thrown in. The spicing needed to be dialled up considerably—there was little to none of the heat that characterizes this Jamaican seasoning.
Particularly lovely, however, was a crepe from Chouchou Breton Crêpes, a truck with both sweet and savoury options. We waited at least 10 minutes to place our order, since there was only one person manning the truck. We chose the Happy Ever After ($10), which featured goat cheese, cooked pear, honey, walnuts, and raw spinach. The crepe itself was perfect: thin and delicate but still with definite substance. We also really liked the combination of the sweet pear with the creaminess of the goat cheese and the crunch of the nuts. Our one quibble was with the raw spinach—presumably, it was there for colour, but it added an unnecessary bitter note.
Another standout was a bulgogi taco ($5) from Disco Cheetah, which specializes in Mexican cuisine with a Korean twist. The beef slices were tender and flavourful, and were topped with kimchi slaw, house-made chili sauce, and perilla leaves. Each bite had a satisfying amount of heat and mixture of textures. A wedge of lime gave the taco some extra zip.
For dessert, choices included artisan popsicles from Johnny’s Pops, rustic fruit pies from the Pie Hole, and from Slavic Rolls a pastry cylinder coated in cinnamon sugar and filled with your choice of spreads, such as Bavarian cream. Even though we were full, it didn’t take long to come to a consensus: ice-cream sandwiches ($6.25 each) from Brown Paper Packages Ice Cream.
The treats were rock-hard, so we had to wait a while for them to soften. Once they did, eating them involved strategy, since the amount of ice cream dwarfed the size of the cookies. (We alternated between using a spoon and opening really wide.) The Pink Lemonade version was a big hit, with refreshing lemon-raspberry ice cream sandwiched between two crisp vanilla sugar cookies.
By that point, the sun had come out in full force and the lineups were lengthening. We contemplated a round of Ping-Pong, but with so much food in our bellies, we didn’t think our reflexes could keep up. All in all, it wasn’t a particularly cheap afternoon out—expect to spend about $20 per person on food—but it was a fun and tasty one, even in the rain.
Food Cart Fest 215 West 1st Avenue (between the Cambie Street Bridge and the Olympic Village), every Sunday until September 6 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is $2.50 per person, or free with a nonperishable-food-item donation to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society. (It’s also free for Vancity members, children 13 years and under, and seniors 65 and over.) See the Food Cart Fest website.