Richard and I headed up to Lilac Fest a couple of weekends ago to kick-start the summer festivals circuit. Although I personally find most of these street festivals a bit blasé, they are an awesome opportunity to make lots of food-related discoveries.
After the initial successful pilot, food trucks are now here to stay, with their numbers reportedly rising up to 30 by the end of summer. It seems like food truck frenzy has taken over the city, with a new one popping up every week. Lilac fest had a plethora of food trucks so it was the perfect opportunity to review a few more trucks from the day before…
Snoberry: Shaved Ice-Cream
The first one that caught my eye was the latest offering from the folks over at The Noodle Bus, which explains the following photo:
But no one can beat the one Asian gang sign to rule them all:
(Kiran’s so jealous of my style -Richard)
(I am. –Kiran)
But, I digress…
Snoberry serves up shaved ice treats and allows up to two toppings per cup. The toppings range from the classics like blueberries, to the more exotic like “mochi” and “lychee burst”.
What is shaved ice, you ask? The “formal” Wikipedia definition describes it as a “large family” of ice-based dessert made of fine ice shavings or finely crushed ice and sweet condiments or syrups.”
Basically, it’s a fuckin’ snow-cone…aka kala khatta in India or Ais kachang in Southeast Asia
And not a good one at one. The texture of this shaved ice was that of shredded wheat. The texture basically turned me off the dessert completely. Plus, a real shaved-ice treat would actually be dripping with syrup and other condiments (like red beans or peanuts) that you can scoop or suck on. Instead, Snoberry’s version just blurs the line between a frozen yogurt and snow cone, and unfortunately, the end result isn’t very good. (I tried it and was rather ambivalent to it – it’s not really much like a snow cone, as the flavour is imbedded in it rather than in syrup form like the types that Kiran is familiar with. It’s more like those ice crystals that you get on the lid of an ice cream container when you over freeze it – vaguely milky-flavoured, but a relatively dilute taste. Sure it’s a bit overpriced, but the main thing that made it shitty was the horrible combination of flavours that Kiran picked – sorry, peanuts and chocolate don’t go with mango ice and lychee bursts. –Richard).
(It was a fuckin’ delicious combo. –Kiran)
The Happy Truck
We were looking for a solid meal, and the bright and cheery Happy Truck caught our eyes and stomachs. We were also intrigued by their po’boy offerings with decidedly non-traditional po’ boy ingredients like satay sauce, tempeh, and beef.
I decided to get the temphee (sic) po’boy (that was pretty much my only option) which was a cornucopia of ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily see often but nonetheless excited me somewhat in my loins. The big “mystery” ingredient for me was tempeh (deep fried fermented soybeans) which turns is something that has been consumed in Indonesia for centuries. The tempeh was supplemented with a generous (and I mean fuckin’ generous) load of shredded/marinated cabbage, pineapple chunks (?!?!), carrots, and cucumber, all topped off with satay sauce and dollops of sambal.
The above ingredients sound delicious on paper, but unfortunately, where the po’boy failed was in delivery and execution. I didn’t know how to eat the fuckin’ thing. The bread was cut through on both sides so there was no way to hold the sandwich without ingredients oozing out and dripping onto your lap. The above would be forgivable if the sandwich was mind-blowing, but it wasn’t, thus exacerbating my dislike for the po’boy.
The Happy Truck, eh? The name certainly appealed to me, and the people running it inside seemed happy enough. Ok, worth a try, right? Their off-beat offerings were a strange mix of Asian-inspired flavours (from samosas to Southeast-Asian satay) centered around a “Po’ boy” that was the Southern-States standard in name only. It was more like a Viet/Thai style sub (though the bread was certainly po’boy-like), filled with satay beef, cabbage, seemingly cooked cucumber, pineapple pieces, hoisin sauce, and slathered with a generous helping of peanut-y satay sauce.
It was certainly an adventurous combination, but I can’t say that I was a fan of it. The sweetness of the pineapple and hoisin sauce combined with the strong peanut flavour of the satay made it taste like I was eating a PBJ sandwich – that happened to also have beef and cabbage in it . Seems like it might appeal to people who like the PBJ hotdog at tubby dog though . I also had a spring roll, which was almost like an Asian-style sausage roll – unlike many spring rolls, there was no vermicelli or vegetable fillers – only pure, pot-sticker-style meat. On the plus side, the Happy Truck accepts credit cards, which was rather welcome.
Purple Pastry Chef
The set of cupcakes that were on display in front of the little van caught my eye as we were walking by, and the cheerful ladies manning the little van seemed pretty down-to-earth, so I figured it would be a good place to grab some dessert. The flavour selection was very unique (cinammon, rosewater, and mojito were among the offerings that day), and each cupcake was exquisitely decorated and packaged in individual windowed boxes. We were informed that everything on the cupcakes was edible (including the well-crafted butterflies that adorned several cupcakes) – except for the straw that adorned the mojito cupcake (which was what I ended up ordering).
The cupcakes were almost too adorable to eat – but eat, we did. Unfortunately, I’d say they made better decorations than desserts – the cake itself was nice, if unremarkable, but the icing was too viscous for my liking (almost like marzipan) and the flavour was mostly one-dimensional – sugary (there were wisps of rum/mojito mix but it was pretty muted). Luckily, it came with a slice of key-lime that I bit into in between bites of cupcake that helped cut the sweetness and added some zing. The sugar mint leaf on top was actually also really good, but it wasn’t really big enough for me to get a piece of it with every bite of the cupcake. They weren’t that cheap either ($3.50 or $3.75, I think?), but I don’t doubt that a lot of care went into each and every cupcake so the price was somewhat understandable. –Richard
I went with the white chocolate and rose water cupcake, which like Richard’s selection, was absolutely gorgeous to look at. However, like his, mine was also better admired than eaten. The icing was too thick and sweet for my liking and the cake wasn’t really all that special. I attempted to eat the rose petals, but ended up just coughing them out.
It was pretty disappointing to have something that delicious looking turn out to be not that delicious, but such is life. #firstworldproblems. -Kiran
4th Street was lined all the way with food trucks and amongst the new and interesting ones we saw were:
Which essentially seems to be Edo Express on wheels:
Then there are other trucks like The Naaco Truck that weren’t at the Lilac Fest, but which I am SUPER-excited about as white people need to know there’s more to Indian food than butter-chicken (which 95% of India Indians won’t be able to afford anyways):
Food truck mania is definitely taking over the city. I can’t thank Nenshi’s office enough in pushing this concept through City Hall. Calgary’s a pretty cool place, and although it will take us a while to be as trendy, hip or cool as Montreal, we will get there (in a couple of decades or so!). I personally think Calgary’s main problem is how young of a city it is. A lot of people don’t realize that we have grown to a million in the span of only 60 years, whereas a lot of the major cities around the world have two or three CENTURIES worth of history.
As the food truck scene explodes, there will be an increased scrutiny on the quality and price of the offerings. BUT, ultimately, regardless of the food quality, the concept of street food is only going to help revitalize our City.
Looking forward to what summer brings in our local food scene.