At Seymour and Georgia on a recent Tuesday afternoon, a suit-wearing woman marched up to Guanaco food truck, jerked open her to-go container, and accusingly declared, “You forgot my pork.”
Jose Manzano, 35, the El Salvadoran truck’s owner and front man, calmly replied, “No, no. The pork is inside your pupusa, with beans and vegetables.”
“Oh,” said the woman, looking frustrated. “Well, do you have any ketchup?”
No. Manzano didn’t have ketchup (seriously?) for her pupusa, an insanely delectable Salvadoran comfort food that’s a bit like a Latin American version of a stuffed chapati. Instead, he directed her to the homemade salsa in her box. She grouchily marched away.
Angry ketchup woman isn’t the first customer lacking experience with Central American cuisine, Manzano said later in a phone interview, which may explain why business has been up and down since the green and red truck opened on May 1.
Guanaco’s Manzano is not alone in flogging dishes that may be unfamiliar to Vancouverites. In May, three young men with ties to countries far away joined the city’s burgeoning food truck scene, hoping to sell the city something new. They’re competing against nine other new vendors (a total of 12), and 91 veteran vendors, plus more to open in Vancouver parks this summer. For these three food-truck novices, so far, the uptake is not what you’d expect.
Given the exotic theme at Guanaco, you’d think Manzano and his family would be overwhelmed with lineups. So far, they’re not. It can’t be the food. The side plate–sized corn pupusas come steaming hot off the grill. Filled with four cheeses (a family secret) and triple-refried traditional sieva beans, with optional zucchini or marinated pork, they make a tidy-sized lunch for $8.50 with chewy yuca fries and curdito, a spicy fermented coleslaw.
For dessert, the $5 platanos fritos won’t win any beauty contests; five golf ball–sized chunks of deep-fried plantain come blistering hot, with sour cream for dipping. Sweet, sour, salty, crunchy, soft, and chewy, these brought me back twice—and literally kept me awake one night as I recalled their crunch.
Similar to Manzano’s experience, Mathieu Gicquel, 35, hasn’t been blown away by line-ups at his simple green food truck, Ze Bite. The converted delivery van parks right in the heart of the business and tourist districts at Burrard and Cordova Streets. Inspired by growing up alongside three generations of Gicquel restaurant owners in Brittany, France, the former So.Cial at Le Magasin chef features a menu that’s also influenced by his frequent travels to northern Africa.
“I wanted to offer a taste of France in one bite,” he explained in a phone interview, noting that chefs in Brittany often borrow flavours from Morocco and Tunisia, much like Vancouver chefs borrow flavours from Asia. Later he said (you have to imagine this in a thick and jolly French accent), “We’ve been getting about 30 people a day, which is not enough to run the business. But we’ve only been open since May 17. Just two weeks and I’m already complaining!”
Again, it’s not the food. Gicquel spends his evenings marinating beef in red wine and herbs de Provence for his stunning $11 boeuf Bourguignon. On the day I visited he ran out of smashed new potatoes, so he served the dish on a bed of lemony couscous—transforming the rich, tender stew into a lighter, more complex experience. It worked. So did his $10.20 chicken tagine, with sweet bites of apricot and almonds throughout.
At the opposite extreme, Pig on the Street (on Howe Street between Robson and Georgia Streets) has been selling out of its bacon-bouquet wraps on about half the days it’s been open since May 1. Vancouverites—known for vegetarianism and yoga—can’t seem to get enough of these reimagined British-style bacon sandwiches.
The sandwiches are absolutely delicious and not nearly as naughty as they could be. Jamie Oliver doppleganger and Cornwall native Mark Tothey co-owns the truck with his Canadian wife Krissy Seymour, both 31. They source their bacon from ethical Fraser Valley producers at Gelderman Farms; most cheese from Agassiz’s Farmhouse Natural Cheeses; and much of the grain that goes into the housemade bread is milled by bicycle at Roberts Creek by the Flour Peddler.
Most of the fat is rendered out of the bacon by the time it reaches the $9 wraps, said Tothey. The flavour of the meat shines through even in the Piggy Blues wrap, where it’s up against wickedly pungent blue cheese.
Oddly for a bacon-themed truck, the No Piggy wrap is the most decadent vegetarian sammie I’ve had in Vancouver. Thick slices of grilled halloumi cheese get a generous dousing of mild arugula pesto, shredded goat cheese, grilled Portobello mushrooms, perfectly ripe tomato, and fresh arugula leaves. It’s a hefty meal.
As much as Pig on the Street deserves its crowd, so do Guanaco and Ze Bite. Hopefully Vancouver foodies will venture beyond bacon this summer. Gringos should bring their own ketchup.
For location and hours for Guanaco food truck call 604-812-1497 or follow @guanacotruck on Twitter; for Ze Bite call 604-812-1497 or follow @eatzebite; and for Pig on the Street, see pigonthestreet.com/ or follow @pigonthestreet.