Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Times at Eat Mobile,
Portland's Food Cart Festival!

I am extremely envious of PDX vegans. Yesterday I learned that there are some 500 food carts in Portland. I find that astounding, and I couldn't quite wrap my brain around that figure. But according to Oregon Business, as of January 2010, there were 461 mobile food carts registered in Multnomah County, with 33 applications pending. And lots more have sprouted up since then. Many of these delightful little bargain eating establishments are super vegan-friendly, and a dozen or more are completely vegan. Portland's food cart businesses are so ubiquitous and have become such a large part of Portland's food scene, that there's even a entire blog devoted to this gastronomic subculture and an annual Food Cart Festival sponsored by Willamette Week.

Well, living in Eugene does have its privileges. I am only a two-hour drive from Portland, where the International Assocation of Culinary Professionals Conference was held this past week. Vegan chef goddesses Fran Costigan, Bryanna Clark Grogan, and Julie Hasson were in attendance, and as part of the conference, were invited to attend the Food Cart Festival. So when Fran said she was coming to Portland, I was excited to have the chance to see my longtime friend, and when she mentioned the Food Cart Festival, I thought it sounded like great fun!

But fun doesn't even begin to describe this culinary adventure. After Fran introduced me to Bryanna and Julie, we set out by foot to find the festival, which was taking place beneath the Morrison Street Bridge. It took us a bit of a while to figure out that it was on the east side of the bridge, so we walked quite a way (roundabout, I might add—as we were searching for it), 'til we found it. The weather was gloriously sunny with a bit of a crisp chill in the air that felt considerably warmer as we walked over the Morrison Street Bridge.

When we arrived, there were very few people there yet, as IACP attendees were given a one-hour advance opportunity to enjoy all the offerings before the 1,200 plus ticket-holders were admitted. So we scurried around sampling all the vegan goodies we could get our hands on before the floodgates opened. Here you can see Julie with hands full of yumminess.

Julie and husband Jay recently opened their own food cart, Native Bowl, which features healthy vegan fast food made from scratch. The entire menu sounds enticing, and I cannot wait to try her Couch Bowl made with grilled tofu, sesame bean sprouts, Kochujang sweet and spicy sauce, jasmine rice, organic lettuce, carrots, scallions and toasted sesame seeds, the next time I'm in town.

Our first stop at the festival was at Mono Malo Tapas. ("Mono Malo" means "Bad Monkey" in Spanish.) Their vegan-friendly food cart features Montaditos, bite-sized toasted bread slices with various savory toppings. When all was said and done, their grilled garlic and herb portabello with romesco sauce turned out to be one of my festival favorites. After my first taste, I went back for several more.

The friendly folks at Sawasdee Thai Food offered up tasty samples of vegan fried rice and their Tofu Pad See Ew, a dish made with broad, flat rice noodles, also known as "river noodles."

Asaase Ital Palace, one of only two totally vegan food carts represented at the festival, had little bite-size morsels of their delicious spicy jerk faux chicken.

Always in the mood for Indian Food, I was happy to see the vegetarian food cart Bombay Chaat House at the festival. Their Aloo Channa (potatoes and garbanzo beans with onions and spices), was delicious.

Easily the most dangerous food I tasted was from Whiffies Fried Pies. The name alone was enough to send shivers down my spine. But since they were sampling two vegan pies, I had to give one a try.

Surely fried pies must be an invention of the American South. If deeply fried food is your thing, then Whiffies Fried Pies are sure to please. Although I could only eat one bite of their vegan Peanut Butter Creme pie, I can see how less health-conscious foodies would flock to this food cart. In fact, it's so well-loved, it won this year's People's Choice Award!

The remaining awards were given by a panel of culinary professionals, including editor-in-chief Antoinette Bruno, Scott Givot, the president of the IACP, chefs Kamal Mouzawak and Brad Farmerie, Jeff Miller, the president of Travel Portland, and writer Deborah Madison. Awards went to Garden State, PBJ's, Moxie RX, and The People's Pig. I'm not sure we tasted anything from any of these carts (I know we didn't have any pork), but a day later, it's all becoming such a blur!

After that shot of sugar and oil I was more than ready for a shot of Tropical Green Smoothie from Sip. Made with kale, spinach, orange, pineapple, coconut oil, agave, and ice, this refreshing beverage alone, was worth the price of admission. I seriously couldn't get my fill.

Julie couldn't wait to show us Potato Champion's cute little Spudnik cart. Touted by many as the best fried potato sticks in Portland, their vegan Belgian frites-style potatoes were served with a tangy homemade gravy that's made with vegetable stock, balsamic vinegar, and onions. Here Fran shows off her dish, which we shared, because neither of us could imagine devouring the whole portion on our own.

The biggest bowl of guacamole I've seen in a long time, (and perhaps ever), belonged to the vegan-friendly Taqueria Los Gorditos, which I've read has just opened a full sit-down restaurant. Their awesomely extensive vegan menu lists gorditas, tacos, tamales, huaraches, nachos, burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas, mulitas, and empanadas that are made with grilled veggies, Follow Your Heart and Daiya Cheese, Tofutti Sour Cream, Soyrizo, and SoyCurls. We sampled their vegan Sopes along with their tempting guacamole and sassy red sauce.

It was at about this time that the event opened to the public, and hungry foodies quickly started forming lines.

Fortunately, we'd already had our fill of food and fun (mostly food). Well-intentioned plans for dinner were at this point placed permanently on the back burner. Between finding our way to the festival and making our way back to the west side of town, wandering into Peets Coffee and then into Whole Foods, my trusty pedometer said that we clocked more than 12,000 steps. And after all that grazing, I'd say it's a good thing (for me) that we did! I never dreamed there were so many wonderful food carts in Portland. Now more than ever, I look forward to my next excuse to visit the Rose City.

From left to right: Bryanna Clark Grogan, Julie Hasson, Peter Reinhart (the "Leonardo da Vinci of bread"), Fran Costigan, and me!


Angel said...

WOW! I can't believe how many food carts there are in Portland. It sounds like you had such a great time. Thanks for sharing. I haven't been to Portland since I was little, and now I'm inspired to visit.

VeganMarr said...

Sounds like you have a fabulous time!! What fun! And what self-restraint re that fried thingee!!!

The Vegan said...

What a delicious report of your day's events that was! As usual I leave your blog feeling very hungry.
I'm very glad you had a wonderful time!

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Hey, Gail! It was so fun to meet you and hang out with you! Great post on this event and fabulous pics. I was so stuffed afterward-- it's a good thing we did all that walking! I look forward to hosting you up my way someday!

Anonymous said...

Wish I could have been there. It looks like you had so much fun! Those tapas sound really delicious.

Anonymous said...

What a fun event! Wish we had something like that in our city. The green smoothie sounds really yummy. Thanks so much for sharing.

The Veggie Queen said...

Wow, it sounds like great fun with some of my favorite people. I had wished that I didn't have to go to Seattle to work. But I needed to do something to pay for my great time at the IACP conference.

Love the photos of Julie and Fran. Just reading about Julie's Couch Bowl is making me drool.

Thanks for this great post.

Fran Costigan said...

Gail, darlin, thank you for capturing the feel (and full) of our getting together. Photos and content are super.
I hoped you take the 2 hour drive, wanting to see you after so many years, and also wanting to introduce you to Julie and Bryanna. Only missing link was Jill~We needed that walking roundabout and about. Everytime I take a step now, I hear you saying 10,00 steps or you..yuk! I'm still stuffed. Did not miss not having food on plane. xoxox

julie hasson said...

What an awesome time we had! I love the post and your pictures Gail. It was really fun hanging out with all of you, eating our way from one end of that event to the other. What great vegan options there were!

Hope to see you soon!

vegeater said...

this sounds like Vegan Heaven!