Try something new at Vancouver's hot food trucks

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      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.

      Comments

      14 Comments

      jonny .

      Jun 6, 2012 at 12:41pm

      Most Vancouver food trucks are obscenely over priced. The portions are very small, and you will usually spend at least $10 and still be hungry after. I expect to be filled for $8 for a lunch, or up to $10 if it is high quality food. I get mad if I drop $10 for lunch and am still hungry or the quality is poor.

      I have not tried the ones from this truck, but in general pupusa are YUM!!!

      0 0Rating: 0

      Freedomfro

      Jun 6, 2012 at 1:43pm

      I have to say, I walked by the French truck a couple of weeks ago -- even made eye contact with the two people hanging out of the window, because they had no customers. They didn't even smile. Their truck is green with no signage or even a ghetto paint job to show passersby what they are selling. They need to get out of their vehicle and start sampling and creating buzz for what they do -- since their location is good, not great.

      PR

      Jun 6, 2012 at 2:52pm

      Yup, the prices generally don't seem worth grappling with trying to eat on the street or while standing up. For a couple bucks more I can find a joint with servers and a roof. Speaking of which, our 340 days of rain per year might also explain the lack of clamoring line-ups.

      EG

      Jun 7, 2012 at 11:22am

      I will tell you - you get so much bang for your buck here - and the food is some of the best in the city - highly recommend trying a little taste at the El Salvadoran Truck it's worth every penny and more.

      Toronto Girl West

      Jun 7, 2012 at 11:29am

      Vancouver food trucks suffer from a couple of problems that don't seem to affect their Portland counterparts. For starters, they can have varying operating hours. I happen to live in Coal Harbour but work further away. On one occasion, I took a day off and planned a day that included a visit to a well-known food truck. Imagine my surprise when I arrived only to find it not there!!! The owners of the truck had not even tweeted that they would not be present.

      That is not the only time something like that has happened as well. Just the other day, I suggested to my husband that he try a particular food truck that starts selling at 11:30 every day. Well he arrived and discovered it wasn't there. Turns out they decided to have a late start that day.

      It's very hard to plan a trip to a food truck when they're not dependable.

      Ideally, food trucks should have cheaper offerings, reliable hours, and at least for my purposes - be open late and on weekends. It seems to me that the concept of having food truck campuses (like they do in vacant Portland parking lots) is ideal. But for some reason the City of Vancouver is reticent to go that way.

      Stephanie Borns

      Jun 7, 2012 at 11:35am

      Sigh.
      Look. You just are not getting this food truck concept right at all.
      You don't choose who gets to operate a food truck and then regulate the crap right out of it.
      You say - hey foodtrucks! we allow those! And let the competition begin.
      The result is low prices, insanely creative menus, delicious food and don't worry - any food truck that makes someone sick won't stay in business more than a week.
      I'm a Canadian living in the U.S. - check out Austin or Portland's food truck scene. You are being way too Canadian about this and in this instance being overly Canadian just doesn't work.

      tweet

      Jun 7, 2012 at 12:15pm

      I want to eat at the food trucks but I can never find them when I have time to try them. Unless there is a better food truck blog for Vancouver, most of them are pretty lame in updating their info or writings. The city should step up and improve what they list on their site. It's a win-win for them if the carts succeed. No brainer here.

      Another thing, get decent signage and designs so we can tell what it is you are selling from several feet away. Thus people don't have to hold up the lineups while they ask questions about your food if the info is not stated. Not all of us have a leisurely hour lunch.

      Think from the side of the consumer who doesnt know what you are offering. One of the best ones I've seen is from FInest from the Sea. Their menu explains it all.

      earlnelly

      Jun 8, 2012 at 10:08am

      can't agree more that Portland's "pod" set up for food carts works.

      in the event that a cart you're looking for is closed or out of stock, there's bound to be another 10+ choices within a one block radius. i suppose that's what they're (sort of) doing at the Art Gallery.

      Donna E

      Jun 9, 2012 at 10:55pm

      If you want to know when & where the food carts are download the Eat St mobile app. You can also check online here: http://eatst.foodnetwork.ca/vendors/browse/
      The only problem is sometimes the vendors forget to update their status...

      I really ejoy our food trucks but I don't eat at them often because the prices are somewhat high for what it is. Yes, the quality in most cases are good but I expect lower prices for eating standing up and no table service. Portland trucks are cheaper than sit down restaurants... Many of our full service restaurants are similarly priced or even lower during lunch specials.

      earlnelly

      Jun 10, 2012 at 10:39am

      expensive? - you got that right.

      almost criminal that the bacon place sells wraps for $9.