Vancouver’s food truck scene is hot to trot
Vancouver is Canada’s food capital and it all begins on the city streets where more than 130 food trucks ply their trade with plenty to tempt hungry visitors, from Berkshire pork hot dogs and wild-caught, hot smoked salmon to old-fashioned cheese sandwiches. There’s even an Aussie pie cart.
“We’ve got the liveliest food truck scene in North America behind Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas,” our Vancouver Foodie guide Lisa says as we stride up Burrard Street, all set to tuck into top-notch nosh turned out from kitchens barely larger than a table napkin. It’s a restriction that doesn’t faze the team at Soho Road, who’ve managed to cram two tandoor ovens into a teeny caravan.
Vancouver Foodie Tours operates two-hour daily walking tours of the city’s mobile food scene between April and the end of November enabling visitors to explore the varied culinary offerings of one of the most multicultural cities on earth. Our small group meets on the corner of Burrard and Smithe streets where the food truck revolution began a decade ago when former Toyko ad salesman Noriki Tamura and his wife Misa launched the now famous Japadog van. The Tamuras made the move to Vancouver to open a creperie, only to discover that a curious city bylaw restricted the sale of street food to hot dogs. So the Tamuras got busy pimping the North American sausage-in-a-bun stalwart and, after winning a downtown spot for their van through an annual street food lottery, were an instant hit. They offer some pretty weird but rather wonderful sausage variations: salmon, shrimp tempura, turkey, even a deep-fried bun filled with ice-cream. The signature Berkshire pork variety, topped with fried onion, Japanese mayo, seaweed flakes and teriyaki sauce, is a huge improvement on your run-of-themill hot dog.
Japadog is now a city institution with five trucks and a shop front as well as offshoots in Los Angeles, where the weather is rather more dependable for al fresco caterers and queuing diners.
The success of the Tamuras heralded a relaxing of the “hot dog-only” bylaws in the lead-up to Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics with food vendors of every culinary persuasion lining up to secure a downtown spot. Access to the streets is still strictly controlled; Lisa says new applicants must undergo a formal review process that includes a panel of judges comprising chefs, food bloggers and local business operators.
Early successful candidates included Cindy Hamilton, who cut her teeth catering on the set of Kill Bill. Wanting to spend more time with her daughter, she set up Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck. We find Hamilton’s pretty van parked just off Robson Square near the Vancouver Art Gallery (a second van has just launched on West Cordova Street) where her cheerful kitchen team is busy dispensing simple comfort food and some pretty fancy grilled sandwiches. The most popular is a fistful: homemade meatloaf, mozzarella and marinara sauce on crusty bread. Or you might prefer The Fat Elvis: peanut butter and banana sprinkled with smoked sea salt. Sensibly we opt for the classic cheddar on sourdough, served with a fat pickle and home-made crisps, all washed down with yummy ginger-and-mint lemonade.
Next stop, the corner of Robson and Granville streets, where The Kaboom Box specialises in locally sourced, sustainable fare, such as organic greens, Gulf Island oysters and wild-caught salmon, hot smoked in the tiny van. The sockeye is delicious, served alongside a salad sprinkled with candied almonds and cranberries. There’s also a venison burger and Oyster Po’Boy: local oysters panko coated, fried and served in a burger bun with home-made tartare. There’s also a version of that curious Quebec speciality, poutine, or chips and cheese curds topped with gravy.
By now our small international group is feeling rather replete and it’s become apparent our unhurried stroll between trucks is likely to offset no more than a few kilojoules (be sure to skip breakfast and make no plans for dinner). You don’t want to miss the butter chicken at the tiny, smoking-hot Soho Road Naan Kebab at 700 West Georgia. The name says it all, butter or tandoori chicken (or lamb or vegetable) wrapped in a delicious fluffy,
Vancouver’s legendary Tacofino food truck, left; Cindy Hamilton at her Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck, below