By Andrew Mccredie | The Providence
It’s the tastiest tour in Vancouver, and one that celebrates the city’s world-class street food scene.
Dubbed the World’s Best Food Truck Tour, this moveable feast, according to guide Michelle Ng, visits “five of the best of the best” food trucks/carts in Vancouver.
On a recent sunny Friday, Postmedia photographer Richard Lam and I tagged along on the tour, meeting up with Ng and two couples from the U. S. at the tour’s starting point — the Japadog food cart at the corner of Burrard and Smithe.
“During the 2010 Olympics we had a three-hour lineup here at Japadog,” Ng begins after informal introductions are out of the way. She then provides an entertaining history of the founding and subsequent runaway success of the exotic hot dog cart.
As the owner/operator of Vancouver Foodie Tours, Ng says she lives to eat, and admits ‘food rules my world.’
Nods of agreement indicate she is preaching to the converted, and when the tray of Kurobuta Terimayo dogs appears, we all belly up to the alter. As there are four more food carts to go, portions aren’t as large as the regular fare, so all it takes is a few bites to finish off what Ng refers to as ‘hot dogs, sushi-style.’
Tour participant Dawn Redice, of Virginia, is suitably impressed.
“Love how they’ve taken an American concept – the hotdog – and really built upon it with the combination of all the flavours,” she says
Dogs done and napkins tucked away, the tour sets off southeast on Smithe in search of our next food cart. But along the way, Ng stops us at a cart-free intersection.
“Vancouver has set the goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020,” she tells us, pointing out the separated bike lanes, a hybrid taxi speeding by and the green roof of the nearby law courts.
From there were up the steps to the second level of the courts’ outdoor plaza, where Ng finds some benches in the shade. With still no food truck in sight, what’s going on?
Turns out this is the part of the tour where Ng provides the history of Vancouver’s street food scene, which began, she tells us, with a city councillor’s idea in 2008. That was followed by a pilot project that drew 800 applications for 17 spots, and slowly but surely it has grown to the point that today there are some 130 licensed food trucks.
Far from being antsy to move on, the tour participants are fully engaged in Ng’s lesson, and questions fly about the relationship between food trucks and about health issues surrounding the industry.
Ng wraps up the stop with some brief observations and information about the architecture visible from our vantage point — the art gallery, Robson Square, the law courts and the Shangri-La tower, “Vancouver’s tallest — and we’re back on the food trail to the corner of Robson and Howe, where lunchtime crowds are beginning to mill around the handful of food carts lining Howe Street.
Our destination is Eat Chicken Wraps, a husband and wife operation that operates under one of the rarefied ‘gourmet food truck’ licences. Ng introduces us to Sammy and Dan, noting that Dan is an accomplished chef who has worked with the likes of Rob Feenie.
Despite the lineup for food, Sammy has our food waiting, and hands a tray to Ng who brings it over to our small group.
“Hoisin Chicken wraps in a crispy Chinese green onion pancake,” she tells us.
Again, these are not full portions, but then again not small either. Still, our group makes short work of the wraps, however as the familiarity between us has grown, we each share, between bites, our thoughts on the dish. This interaction between tour participants would continue for the rest of the tour, and provided a nice friendly atmosphere. Besides, talking about the food you are eating is just as much fun as eating it.
From there it was a hop across Robson to Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck for what Ng referred to as ‘rehydration time.’
That came in the form of a ginger mint lemonade from Mom, its cooling and tart flavour really providing relief to the hoisin wrap we’d just eaten. Alas, there is to be no gooey grilled cheese for us, but one of the couples make a mental note of the location for future dining.
That’s three food trucks done, and a couple to go, and we find both those just a couple of blocks away at the busy intersection of Georgia and Granville.
First up is the remarkable Soho Road Naan Kabab, a rolling Indian eatery complete with not one, but two, tandoori ovens. Owner/chief naan maker Saarp was inspired by the street foods from childhood home of Birmingham, UK, and describes his fare as ‘more British Indian than real Indian.’
Call it what you will, the butter chicken naan kababs are amazing, made all the better by the fact that the hot naan is literally seconds off the oven wall when it hits your mouth. Again, much chatter and thumbs up from the participants.
From there it was a 15 metre or so walk to the fifth stop on our itinerary, and one that celebrates the best of BC food – fish.
The Kaboom Box serves up only ocean-wise seafood, and despite our mouths still savouring the buttery naan, the sight of Ng carry the tray filled with hot smoked salmon fillets topped with toasted candied pecans and cranberries has us gathering around our guide for a brief description and an oh-so-brief taste.
Talk now begins to focus on the best of the bunch, but just as we agreeing not to agree, Ng announces there is one last, special stop on the tour. Right then, we all say, where to?
Turns out we’re off to one of the newest trucks on the streets, but not one of the newest operators. Tacofino, famed for its Tofino-based truck and fish tacos, has a new truck in Vancouver, and a few blocks away we find it on Burrard Street. But not before an impromptu pop-in to the Rosewood Hotel Georgia lobby, where Ng reveals some of the hotel’s fantastic and open-to-the-public art collection.
Turns out the Tacofino stop is all about desert, and in the form of its famed Chocolate Diablo cookies.
And with that spicy ending, the tour is over.
For Viriginia’s Dawn and Rich Radice, in Vancouver for three days before embarking on an 11-day cruise to Alaska, they’ve absolutely loved their first-ever food truck tour.
“We went to some really good food trucks,” Dawn says. “The food was cooked to perfection, and the combination of flavours.
“The portions were perfect too. I don’t feel really full, just satisfied.”
Rich, an engineer, is equally impressed.
“I liked how Michelle told us about aspects of the city too, from the bike lanes to some of the more interesting architecture.”
Texan’s Joaquin Reyes and Brie Horigan are also first-time food truck tourers, and also loved the diversity of the tour
“I had a fantastic time,” enthuses Reyes, “I was pleasantly surprised about how the tour was about more than just food. We learned about (the food truck) owners and the city.
“I also like how the tour is organized with the food trucks, so when we’d walk up our food would be pretty much ready to go.”
Adds Horigan, “Yeah, it was definitely a broader experience than we expected. And they’re really smart about the proportion size.
“And I want to really come back to Tacofino and try a fish taco.”
IF YOU GO
The World’s Best Food Truck Tour runs rain or shine from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (until Nov. 30, resuming April 1, 2014).
Cost: $49 per person; kids under 12: $39 (includes all food tastings at five food trucks)
Distance covered: 1.6-kilomtres for a total walking time of 25 minutes
What to wear: Comfortable clothing, shoes and rain gear depending on the weather
Meeting place: Japadog food cart at 855 Burrard St. (at Smithe St.)