Ottawa, ONT: Food Truck Fever

The Grade 11 student team PerAsian SenSation at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School created this noodle, mango chicken wrap and potato in pastry. Photograph by: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Citizen

By Ron Eade | Ottawa Citizen

The Grade 11 student team PerAsian SenSation at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School created this noodle, mango chicken wrap and potato in pastry. Photograph by: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Citizen

Why are there so darned few streetfood trucks in the nation’s capital?

It’s a question that’s been nagging lovers of easy, fast and user-friendly finger victuals since the city lowered a moratorium on new street-food vendors 15 years ago. And it’s a policy that Grade 11 culinary arts students at a high school in Barrhaven want to see overturned.

To that end, among their assignments this term at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School was to craft their own clever concepts to sell interesting and healthy food on the streets, and explore compelling reasons why the city should let more vendors in on the action.

Guest judges were brought in to listen and taste for themselves what five groups of students had in mind. Among them, Barrhaven ward councillor Jan Harder was so impressed she promised to return with city officials to brief students on the whys and wherefores of Ottawa’s restrictive, if not anachronistic street-food vending policy.

“I’m pleased and intrigued by what you brought forward,” Harder said, after listening and tasting their good eats.

Students argued that creative street food – and that doesn’t mean more sausages, hotdogs and chips – presents an competitive opportunity to serve diverse, interesting culinary creations that reflect Canada’s multicultural society. They were graded on the creativity of their food idea, how well the food was prepared, presentation before the class and how persuasive they were in making their case.

Calling themselves Sweet Flame, one group served crimson chili chicken kebabs with Indian spices and a light, white polvorone cookie popular in various cultures made with powdered milk, flour, sugar and butter.

Another with the moniker Seasonal Stix made kebabs marinated in yogurt with a spicy kick, and beef skewers served with cilantro, green pepper and yogurt chutney reflecting their Indian and Arabic cultures.

A particular fascinating proposal was for an iWow truck (a take on festive Japanese cuisine and a play on the Japanese word, iwau, which we were told means celebration) offering yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick) and yaki-onigiri (a grilled rice triangle). An interpretation of their recipes appears on page F6.

Others were PerAsian SenSation offering a mix of Persian and Asian Thai noodles, mango chicken wrap and potato in pastry; and Middle East Feast with a new creation they called shingers (that’s shawarma fingers, get it?) with a refreshing combination of watermelon on pita and feta cheese on the side.

“While the food itself was fabulous, your points in favour of food trucks were good,” Harder praised. “I want you to challenge the city on this, to ask why can’t this go forward?

“I’ll bring them to the school to explain why we have the rules we do and how we can work with these rules to have multicultural food trucks.”

Also judging their work was school principal Patsy Agard, myself, and Jacqueline Jolliffe, founder of Stone Soup Foodworks, whose distinctive green soup truck is parked at the University of Ottawa (during Winterlude, she heads for the canal). In business since February, Jolliffe says business is brisk selling everything from, well, soup to tacos. “I’m already paying myself in the first year, so that’s a good thing.

“I think the students here have a really good sense of what good street food is – the space required, the deliciousness and the ease of eating it. Most of the food was hot, which was good, and they presented really creative dishes with nicely designed trucks.

“It’s too bad it is so difficult to make these trucks a reality right now.”

The point of the project was to capitalize on the growing popularity of street food vendors offering an eclectic mix of nutritious good eats. In fact, food truck fever is sweeping the United States and illustrated on such TV shows as Eat Street, said teacher Kent Van Dyk, a certified Red Seal chef who set up the culinary program at Longfields-Davidson Heights.

“We in Canada haven’t embraced it as much, mostly because of restrictive bylaws, so we wanted to create some concepts to help convince city councillors.”

Phillip Powell, Ottawa markets manager, says the city is currently rewriting its licensing bylaw and may even launch a trial project allowing new food trucks and carts with an emphasis on fresh, local and healthy ingredients. But staff are nowhere near ready to try something new just yet.

Since 1996, the city has not issued a single new street-food vendor permit for anywhere in what was essentially pre-amalgamation Ottawa. And whenever an existing licensed vendor decides to quit, the city can decide to eliminate it.

Of course, a varied mix of food, colours and street food themes is a staple in some American cities like New York, Los Angeles and Portland, where myriad vendors have become something of a tourist attraction.

In California, one very popular three-truck fleet under the Kogi BBQ banner actually tweets its locations every day to alert fans via social media where they can find such delights as kimchi quesadillas, steamed pork belly and shortrib tacos.

YAKITORI QUICK STICKS

Makes: about 9 kebabs

For the teriyaki sauce:

– 1/4 cup (50 mL) soy sauce

– 1/4 cup (50 mL) mirin

– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sugar

– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) corn starch

– 1/2 cup (125 mL) water

– For the honey garlic sauce:

– 3/4 cup (175 mL) brown sugar, packed

– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) corn starch

– 3/4 cup (175 mL) water

– 3 tablespoons (50 mL) soy sauce

– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey

– 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

For the chili sauce:

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) sesame oil

– 1 dry red chili pepper, seeds removed and chopped

– 1 clove garlic, grated

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ginger juice (or fresh gingerroot, finely grated on a rasp)

– 3 tablespoons (50 mL) ketchup

– 11/2 tablespoons (22 mL) soy sauce

– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sugar

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) rice vinegar

– 11/4 tablespoons (17 mL) corn starch

– 2/3 cup (150 mL) water

For the kebabs:

– 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 3/4-inch (16-mm) cubes (total, 24 pieces)

– 5 green onions cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) lengths

– 1 medium onion, quartered layers separated and cut to 3/4 inch (16 mm)

? ? 12 medium-size shrimp, peeled and deveined

? ? 2 sliced fresh pineapple, diced to 3/4 inch (16 mm)

1. Soak 9 bamboo skewers a least an hour in water.

2. In separate small saucepans com-bine respective teriyaki and honey garlic sauce ingredients; bring to a boil, stir well, then remove from heat and set aside. For the chili sauce, in a small frying pan heat sesame oil and toast the dried chili pepper and garlic over low heat, about 90 seconds; transfer to a small saucepan with remaining chili sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.

3. For the teriyaki kebabs, thread a piece of chicken on a bamboo stick, followed by a section of green onion; repeat to skewer four pieces of chicken on each. Grill until chicken is done and the meat is only lightly charred, then baste with teriyaki sauce, return to grill about 30 to 90 seconds, then baste again with sauce just before serving.

4. For the honey garlic sticks, repeat procedure as above with the addition of pineapple and onion, basting with the honey garlic sauce.

5. To make the chili shrimp skew-ers, spear 1 shrimp, green onion and onion segment as above, then continue with three shrimp on each of 3 skewers. Grill 2 or 3 minutes, or until just done, basting as above with the chicken kebabs.

6. Serve with yaki-onigiri and soboro beef (recipes here).

Source: Adapted from recipe by Grade 11 team iWow with Marika Buzza, Jenna Harvey, Brandon Lee, Rebecca Borsa.

YAKI-ONIGIRI GOURMET RICE TRIANGLES

Makes: 6 servings

– 3 cups (750 mL) cooked short-grain or sushi rice

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) melted butter

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) soy sauce, plus more for brushing

– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable oil

For the topping:

– 3 tablespoons (50 mL) mayonnaise

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) soy sauce

– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) green onion, chopped fine (to garnish)

For the soboro beef:

– 7 ounces (200 g) ground beef

– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sugar

– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) soy sauce

– 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) mirin (rice wine)

Optional:

– 6 small pieces of Cheddar cheese

1. Make topping in advance by com-bining mayonnaise and remaining ingredients; set aside in refrigerator.

2. To prepare the soboro beef ahead, in a non-stick frying pan brown ground meat, then add all remaining ingredients and simmer until liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

3. For the cakes or rice patties, in a large bowl combine the cooked rice, butter and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of the soy sauce. Do not overmix. Divide rice into 6 equal portions and, using plastic food wrap to handle the sticky rice, gently shape into triangles. (For an optional fun twist, you may want to embed a small nugget of cheddar cheese in the centre of each rice cake.)

4. In a large heavy frying pan, heat vegetable oil. Fry the rice cakes on one side until golden, then flip. While the other side is cooking, brush the already-grilled side with a little soy sauce. When the side currently cooking is brown and crispy, flip it over to allow the side with soy sauce to brown again, then brush the justcooked side with soy sauce. Repeat until all cakes are golden brown.

5. Serve rice cakes with mayonnaise topping, followed by thin layer of soboro beef and a sprinkle of chopped green onion.

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