Bay Area buf­fet

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE - ON THE ROAD star2@thes­tar.com.my By MARTY THYME

IHere’s food that pulls Sil­i­con Val­ley technophiles away from their com­put­ers. T TAKES us a while to find one of those fa­mous food trucks that of­ten have queues of 50 peo­ple or more, but we fi­nally track one down.

Lucky us, we find one of the most well-known ones in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area and it would be serv­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley that day. The bright red Sam’s Chow­der­mo­bile parked in front of the grey Cisco We­bex of­fices in Santa Clara looks as out of place as the three-year-old girl and baby in a stroller amid the tech geeks lin­ing up for their lunch.

Ser­vice is quick. A guy in the truck takes your or­der and your name, and calls out on a mega­phone when it’s ready for pick-up. The most ex­pen­sive thing on the short menu is Sam’s Lob­ster Roll. I try not to make the con­ver­sion into ring­git as I pay for the large French roll filled with the meat of half a small lob­ster and a whole claw, but when I taste it, I know the US$16.50 (RM50.75) is worth it. The Baja fish ta­cos and the clam chow­der are also good.

A no-name non­de­script food truck comes by a lit­tle later and stops 50m away in front of the Mcafee build­ing next door. Af­fec­tion­ately, if un­flat­ter­ingly, called a roach coach, it draws the junk food snack­ers with its deep-fried bur­ri­tos, corn dogs and candy. Next to it, peo­ple are step­ping up into a truck for mixed rice. It’s self-ser­vice and af­ter choos­ing their dishes, the cus­tomers come out­side to have the box of food weighed. There was a strong smell of gas com­ing from the truck when we were there but the ven­dor didn’t seem both­ered when we men­tioned it to him. Since there was noth­ing about a food truck ex­plo­sion on the lo­cal news the next day, Chow­boy must still be pootling around Sil­i­con Val­ley.

Cater­ing trucks have been around for a long time, ser­vic­ing of­fice work­ers in lo­ca­tions that did not have restau­rants nearby. But it was part­ners Mark Manguera and chef Roy Choi who took these rov­ing food providers to a new level when they set up The Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck in Novem­ber 2008 in Los An­ge­les. They used Twit­ter to get the word out and it drew 300 to 800 cus­tomers ev­ery­where it parked.

With Kogi-ma­nia firmly in place, more and more trucks started rolling in, and this form of food ser­vice be­came an LA phe­nom­e­non. The trend then went national and nowa­daysa­days even es­tab­lished restau­rants have set up their own food trucks to serve haute cui­sine in sty­ro­foam boxes amid less stuffy set­tings.

If you don’t catch one of these mo­bile food ven­dors, there’s plenty to whet your ap­petite at sta­tion­ary food out­lets as well. Drift­wood Deli & Mar­ket in Palo Alto is fre­quented by cops, con­struc­tion work­ers and col­lege stu­dents (Stan­ford Univer­sity is nearby). It serves a long list of hefty gourmet sand­wiches in many com­bi­na­tions and you can even build your own. I had read that when you go to Drift­wood, you’d bet­ter know what you want be­fore you get to the counter be­cause like the Soup Nazi char­ac­ter on Se­in­feld, owner Steve doesn’t tol­er­ate dawdlers. But when I asked for a Pas­trami Melt and a turkey sand­wich, he pleas­antly asked me my bread, cheese and gar­nish pref­er­ences and wasn’t at all im­pa­tient or hos­tile. My sis­ter and I had the sand­wiches in a toasted Dutch crunch roll. Also called Tiger bread for its striped crust, it is widely known as a North­ern Cal­i­for­nian/ Bay Area sand­wich bread and has been around since the early 1900s or the 1960s de­pend­ing on which source you read. What­ever the date, I’m glad I got to try it be­cause its flavour­ful crust and tex­ture are re­ally spe­cial.

An­other Cal­i­for­nian spe­cialty by way of Santa Maria is tri-tip steak. The cen­tral coast town was orig­i­nally set­tled by Mex­i­can cow­boys called vaqueros, who in­vented a unique grill to cook the steak and a clever way of carv­ing it to make it ten­der.

What used to be a cheap cut of beef that was only good for long, slow cook­ing be­cause of its chewi­ness be­came pop­u­lar – as with many foods, ingredients and kitchen tools – af­ter big-name chefs started serv­ing it in their restau­rants, con­se­quently boost­ing its pop­u­lar­ity – and price. On Tri-tip Tues­days, St John’s Bar & Grill in Sun­ny­vale serves sand­wiches with slices of this grilled meat for al­most US$10 (RM31.20) each!

Mex­i­can food at its best is also found at La Bamba in Moun­tain View. Not to be con­fused with the sit-down restau­rant chain with the same name, this taque­ria has more of a “shack” ap­peal with just one ta­ble in­side and a bar where you eat stand­ing up. Most peo­ple come for a take­away and the fel­low at the bur­rito and taco sta­tion deftly makes two at a time, each with just one hand. The bur­ri­tos are huge: stuffed into a large flour tor­tilla are

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