Archive for the ‘street food’ Category

Street Cart Cuisine: Think Global, Eat Local

November 19, 2009

Due to last minuteitis (recently afflicted but may be chronic condition) and email error (note to self: figure out spam filter so important stuff doesn’t get sucked into spamland) I missed the boat — well not the boat actually but a hot air balloon — on the World Street Food confab last week at the CIA (think foodie folk, not spy guys).

Instead of driving up to Napa to eat cart cuisine from around the globe with the likes of street food guru Jonathan Gold, I had to endure a constant stream of twitters about hot hawkers from Lima, Istanbul, and Barcelona sent by food savvy souls such as ruth reichl, cooking with amy, and seattle tall poppy. I tried not to be green with envy about the finger-licking food they were feasting on, though the thought of a hot air balloon ride just made me feel green, period. I like to consume my street food on terra firma thanks very much.

So, in keeping with that well-worn slogan Think Global, Act Local, I decided that instead of pouting at my misfortune I’d simply conduct my very own spontaneous street eats survey on my doorstep in the multiculti East Bay.

Faithful readers may recall I’ve chronicled groovy street grub found in Sydney, San Francisco, and the Eat Real Festival in Oakland.

Now, on demand, (well, a couple of friends did ask): some picks for locavores or out-of-towners when they next pass through Berzerkeley and that happening hub of ethnic eats Emeryville (look on a map, it’s super close to both Berkeley and Oaktown.)

And we’re not talking taco truck tucker here, people. Some serious chophouse chow — with enough worldly influences to keep this armchair traveler happy — hitting the streets in my neck of the woods.


Chef Gail Lillian, inspired by falafel bars in Amsterdam of all places, takes the fabulous falafel to new culinary destinations. A huge fan of this Middle Eastern staple, I was delighted to find the lovely lime green Liba cart parked across the street from Pixar Studios.

Gail, who’s run a cafe in Oakland among other culinary jobs, makes the falafel from scratch in the commercial cooperative Artisan Kitchen in neighboring Richmond. She serves these crisp chickpea patties with unique add-ons like chimichurri herb paste, harissa hot sauce, and dill & cardmom pickle. Equally intriguing side salads draw on different ethnic origins, and include olive-orange relish with thyme, red cabbage with black sesame seed, and roasted eggplant in tomato sauce. And there’s complementary condiments like rosemary peanuts and tomato ginger chutney. Makes for a hearty, flavor-filled, and lip-smacking lunch of mostly organic, local ingredients. Liba’s fare can be custom made for the vegan or gluten-free; falafel salads and sandwiches run $7.25.

Mon., Tues., & Thurs. in Emeryville. Wed. & Fri., Potrero Hill in SF.
For up-to-date info including hours and exact locations, follow the falafel lady’s twitter feed.

Jons Street Eats

Also trucking around Emeryville, Jons Street Eats, where I waited last week for what turned out to be a generous slab of nicely seared tuna that formed the basis of the $9 ahi roll, a creamy concoction served on a sweet bun with daikon cabbage, wasabi aioli, and cilantro.   This extremely delish and very messy offering — grab some napkins on the go — is created by former Fork chef (acclaimed & shuttered San Anselmo eatery) and CIA graduate Jon Kosorek, who opened his nomadic restaurant a few months ago when a bricks-and-mortar establishment fell through.

The day I stopped by he was dishing up duck tacos for $7 and a butternut squash bisque & green salad for $6.

Think gourmet grub on the go more than snacky street eats for the offerings from this cart, which includes a short, seasonally changing menu, prepped ahead and prepared on the spot, hence the wait. Word to the wise: Most street food vendors welcome folks ordering ahead.

Check Jon’s twitter feed for exact E-Bay only locations, but popular spots include Stanford & Hollis in Emeryville on Wednesdays & Fridays and Piedmont & Pleasant Valley in Oakland on Saturdays.


Kate McEachern, a former managing editor at design mag Dwell, now goes by the title Chief Cupcake Officer.  She delivers sweet treats from a dot-covered converted taco truck she calls her mobile cupcakery. Kate says she’s the worst intern in Chez Panisse history. But while at Cal she did wow folks with her baked goods. So Cupkates was born.

Her cupcakes are made with high quality ingredients like Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and Guittard chocolate, along with local milk, eggs, and butter. She sells her generously frosted desserts for $2.75 a piece. The day I stopped by for a chat and a bite an endless stream of students made their way to the truck to order a cupcake or two or three in classic flavors such as double chocolate and red velvet.

Kate is currently enduring a bit of grief from Berkeley parking police, despite having a permit and following parking signage rules. Nonetheless, the chipper cupcake maker is still on the beat, tweeting and facebooking about where you can get your daily sugar fix on her regular Berkeley and Emeryville routes. (Thanks to fellow blogger Frances Dinkelspiel, who wrote about Cupkates on the hyper-local Berkeleyside, for passing on this street eat tip.)

Judging by the long line at Jon’s and the steady stream at Liba and CupKates, this trio of trucks have already developed a loyal following in a short amount of time (the carts have only been rolling around the E-Bay for a few months at most). It remains to be seen if hungry folks go in search of street eats in the rainy season, of course, but in the gourmet ghetto perhaps it will take more than a little wet weather to dampen the enthusiasm of food foragers.

On my list to check next: The Pie Truck. Do you have a fav East Bay street cart to add to this list? Let me know below.


San Francisco’s Street Eats Scene

October 30, 2009

magic.curry.kartOkay, so I’m a little obsessed with street food right now. First it was Oakland. Then Sydney. Last night it was time to check out the sidewalk scene in my old stomping ground San Francisco.

It was the call of the Creme Brulee Cart that beckoned me across the Bay on a night when there was no crossable bridge. (Anyway, it’s probably more authentic to show up for cart food via public transit vs. driving into town, don’t you think?)

But the venue for the street eats forum struck me as incongruous at first. I mean, The Commonwealth Club in downtown San Francisco is hardly a renegade, fly-by-night kinda operation, is it? Turns out a division of the club, Inforum, is designed to appeal to 20- and 30-somethings and spark “provocative dialogue and debate.”

Who knew? While the crowd skewed older and the discussion was thoughtful if relatively tame, it revealed some intriguing details about pavement cuisine.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Charles Phan looked into opening a street cart in Oakland, got put off by all the bureaucracy, and opened a Vietnamese restaurant on Valencia Street in San Francisco instead. Good news for devotees of Slanted Door, Out the Door, and newcomer Heaven’s Dog.
  • News accounts have focused largely on the assumption that the street food trend is booming because the economy is not and so folks are in search of cheap eats. That’s only part of the story. The street cart scene is also growing because lots of talented cooks — some professionals, some not — are un- or underemployed.  Steven Gdula, the freelance food writer behind Gobba Gobba Hey, turned to making baked goods (gobs are portable round cakes filled with cream originally from Phili and a little like a whoopie pie) because the bottom fell out of the media biz.  The man behind the Magic Curry Kart, Brian Kimball, announced he’s being laid off today from his job as a psychotherapist.
  • There’s a mighty fine sense of community among many street cart folk. They often band together to share their goodies on the go and generate some buzz and bucks at one location and readily promote each other’s offerings. The Gobba Gobba guy started flogging a fellow cart pusher’s pickled beans in a story shared last night. (At this point in the conversation, a jar of beans emerged from the audience and was immediately passed around for a taste test.)
  • In perhaps the ultimate display of street solidarity, at the post-discussion sample fest down at 111 Minna Gallery, street vendors sported t-shirts and signs that read: Free Murat: Street Food is Not Terrorism, in support of their fallen comrade, Murat Celebi-Ariner, the vendor known on the street as Amuse Bouche, by all accounts a charming French guy who sold muffins at 24th Street BART in the morning.  Murat Celebi-Ariner, was picked up by Homeland Security’s ICE agency on a visa violation and his deportation is imminent, according to a visibly distraught Gdula, who counts Celebi-Ariner as an early supporter of his sweet street treats.
  • While not every food hawker is a master chef, some gastronomy professionals like Mission Street Food‘s Anthony Myint, clearly pride themselves on showcasing their  techniques and talents in nomadic restaurant settings. We’re talking fancy food way beyond what the typical taco truck dishes up.
  • For some gourmands on the go, it’s important to give back to the community they serve. Mission Street Food contributes all profits to programs feeding the hungry. Kimball plans on reaching out to low-income communities and disadvantaged kids.
  • It’s tough out on the street, dodging health inspectors and police (who mostly want to make sure that sidewalks aren’t blocked and who, true to stereotype, appreciate the baked goodies), dealing with permits, insurance, and health & safety concerns.
  • Without Twitter, Facebook, and food blogs, this beloved food movement probably wouldn’t have taken off so fast or grown so large. Every cart vendor on the panel was helped along, early on, by social media. The Creme Brulee guy has 8,575 Twitter followers and counting as I type.
  • This bricks-and-mortar-less business looks like it’s not going away any time soon: Each week a new cart starts making the rounds In San Francisco, says panel moderator Tamara Palmer, a contributor to SF Weekly‘s street cart coverage.
  • Sampling street eats in a crowded bar/gallery with other cart-crazed folks is a lot of fun. Loved the caramel ice-cream from relative newbie Smitten Ice Cream. The delicacy of the Brussels sprouts canape from Mission Street Food was divine. Curry and creme brulee brothers didn’t disappoint. And the Soul Cocina concoction, that a couple standing in line willingly shared with me (thanks you two fellow food lovers), sung with so many different flavors it made me happy. Exactly what was in those little paper holders? Dried lentils, puffed rice, tamarind, pickled veggies, maybe? Can anyone fill in the missing ingredients for me?

And the final take-away message for the night, words to live by: Follow your passion. Do what you’re good at. Do it well. Good things will follow.

Sydney Street Food

October 14, 2009

On my last evening in Sydney I took a quick swing through the Night Noodle Markets, downtown Sydney’s own street food fair, and part of the Sydney International Food Festival.  Hyde Park north, a fig-tree filled swatch of grass in this southern city’s central business district, is a prime setting for stalls selling, well, all kinds of noodles from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as Japanese pancakes, Chinese dumplings, Turkish gozleme, peanut butter ice cream, and French chocolates (go figure).

Under the umbrella of the Crave Sydney event, a month-long celebration of food, outdoor art, and entertainment, the noodle markets are a welcome pit stop in a park that’s more frequently used as a thoroughfare for busy commuters, hangout for inebriated teens or odd bods, or place where couples canoodle.

As with similar events around the world, it’s smart to show up early (the market begins at 5 p.m. to catch the after-work crowd), snag a table, and take a spin around the stalls to see what looks and smells best before buying. (My friend Lou, who has spent time in Singapore, was underwhelmed by our first flat noodle dish and coveted those from another vendor we discovered later on.)

We found folks only to willing to point us to a favorite hawker’s stand, so if you want recommendations on the ground, just ask. Such due diligence means you may skip the inevitable long lines for food and drink. (This being Sydney, booze is also on offer.) Stay until dark to soak up the lantern-lit ambience as you slurp noodles and sip a local brew while bats fly overhead.  (Be warned: Travelers looking for an authentic Asian-style hawker market — and prices to match — will likely be disappointed by the whole chardy-drinking crowd.) And while there was pleasant piped music in the park, the promised live entertainment didn’t appear while we were there.

But these are minor complaints. Munching on salt and pepper squid skewers, sharing some pad see ew, and savoring a cheese and spinach gozleme fresh off the griddle with friends in an urban green oasis: Can’t think of a better way to wind up a visit to my hedonistic hometown.

A Shout Out for the Eat Real Food Festival

August 29, 2009

A roasty toasty day by the bay and foodie folk swarmed Jack London Square in Oakland to sample cheap-yet-chic street eats dished out of food trucks and pedal carts at the Eat Real Festival, an outdoor event where small bites sell for five bucks or less. Thanks, in part, to Twitter, grabbing good food on the go that won’t blow the budget is all the rage in the streets of San Francisco and beyond.

Last week, SF held its own street eats event. This weekend, it’s Oaktown’s turn, led by Anya Fernald, who headed up last year’s Slow Food Nation soiree. In the mix: Farmers, foragers, canners, cooks, chefs, and civilians, who stood in line to sample some of the best of the Bay Area’s mobile food. The mood on the street wasn’t preachy or political but more like a party, with wee ones running through a water fountain, grown ups lounging on the lawn listening to hot licks or, later, watching foodie flicks. And lots of adults sipping local brews out of jam jars as an antidote to the blazing sun.

What’s not to like?

It was a tad too hot for moi to queue for tacos, pizza, or even the Sexy Soup Cart Lady. On a friend’s recommendation, I made a beeline for the sweet treats at Aisu Pop, where handcrafted popsicles in flavors such as kaffir limeade & avocado and honeydew wasabi were moving like hot cakes. Too late: Sold out! Not to worry, I moseyed down to the next ice- cream peddler, where I tasted the subtle charms of sweet corn ice cream before settling on a scoop of Mexican chocolate from the good people at Pepito. Delish. Also refreshing, a Latina pushcart vendor’s watermelon spears doused with lemon juice, salt, and a few shakes of chili for a little kick along with the cool.

Cardum Harmon and Cid Williams made a picnic in the shade as they noshed on sustainable barbecue and burgers. Their take: Why not bring the street eats back every week?


Live locally? Swing by Sunday from 10-5. Go hungry. Bring cash. Eat real.

Photos: Sarah Henry