This year the “YVR Food Fest” has returned for a second run. Originally known as the “Food Cart Fest”, this summer food fuelled event has rebranded and stretched out its presence. This year it ran from June 27th to July 3rd 2017. This week long event included a handful of dinner series, a series of food related talks, and the assembly of trucks and vendors in a dusty lot. The latter we found the most enjoyable.
To skip the reading and watch my five minute recap of the weekend’s worth of events visit my YouTube channel: MaggiMei
All events were ticketed, including an admission fee to enter the gathering of food trucks and restaurants as offsite vendors. I only attended the outdoor food festival part. Three days worth of waking up early and walking to the Olympic Village. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday; all three days had similar concepts, but their own theme. And with their theme came the promise of shows and exhibitions that matched. Although I seemed to have missed them all by coming early, eating my fill, and leaving shortly after. For example I didn’t see any grills out smoking for the “cook out” on Canada Day. And confused the use of the word “showdown” for Sunday’s “street food showdown” to mean a competition to see who was the best vendor onsite. Whereas it actually referred to your ability to try that which was voted the top and favourite in their category. But there was a bit of competition during Monday’s “big brunch” event, where you were asked to vote for your favourite breakfast inspired dish. But two hours into the latter and there was no sign and sight of the advertised Caesar competition, breakfast sandwich cook off, or cold-brew kegger. Just as well, with the heat and limited shade it was better to eat your fill and seek shelter.
For the “Canada Day Cook Off” we arrived early and were caught up in the confusion of poor organization. It was the first day and they still had to work out the kinks (they were notably better the second and third day to come). Staff in yellow event branded tees were quickly orientated and thrown into their roles, but you could see that they and the for-hire security team were still confused over things to come. Seeing as the event serves alcohol, they enlisted security personnel to check IDs and stamp hands as proof of legal drinking age before you entered.
We arrived at 11:45pm and had to wait until 12:15pm to be let in. Even though the event was advertised as starting at 12pm, so without addressing the gathering crowd that began blocking bike lanes and pedestrian walk ways, there was an assembly of people checking their watches every 30 seconds (myself included). And when one of the gates finally opened and people were allowed into queue for ticket check-ins, there was chaos. One group of people from one gate were allowed in, while the rest of us who got here earlier and formed our own line were forced to wait and watch them flood by. When both gates were finally opened there was no organization. People pushed their way through to the check-in, only to be told that they would have to get their IDs checked by security to be allowed to drink. This was the case for us. So as I returned back to check in, after getting my ID okayed, I was again sent back to get the stamp that the security personnel failed to grant me the first time around. By then a line had grown in front of him, and I found myself interrupting and budging. (But I wasn’t lining up twice). We eventually got int alright.
For those who bought “taster tickets” their entry came with a miniature takeout box of two drink tickets and 8 yellow chips. Each yellow token was equivalent to $2.50 and every blue chip: $5. The exchange rate was on par. You redeem them in for food and drink from any vendor. One token at $2.50 didn’t give you much, as vendors only prepared taster portions for $2.50. Therefore, if you were planning on sharing, it was easier to simply get a full item to share, than to split a bite sized sample. Although some were better than others in this regards, and I found that $2.50 on Day 2 went further than anything available on Day 1 or 3. Notes on that to come.
Given the extended wait in uncovered sun, we immediately exchanged our drink tickets for chilled cans. Beer and a cocktail mix to help cool us down. We then walked through the market looking for what peaked our interest the most, stopping to partake in cheese, jerky, and soda water samples along the way. There weren’t as many vendors as I thought there would be. Six tables or so lined up to the right and the same amount of food trucks to the left. The list of who showed up changed from day to day.
Given our desire to keep it cheap and share $20 worth of tokens between three grown adults and one infant we decided against the sample sizes today, and instead got full servings for easier sharing: 3 and a half ways. The most alluring vendor was the “Come Arepa” truck, offering Venezuelan street food, of which I am unfamiliar with. Arepas are white corn bread pockets, that I easily likened to pitas but pillowy-er with more chew. It was crunchy on the outside and soft and steamy on the inside, flavoured depending on its filling. They are split open and stuffed with a bevy of different meat and vegetables. Each combination of ingredients with its own unrelated name. We shared the “fancy” with chunk chicken, white cheese; and what they called an “avocado salad”, which was more like mashed up avocado/guacamole with little to no seasoning. It was one overflowing creamy bite after another. Tasty, but it was the help yourself squeeze bottle of sauces that made them memorable. The “hairy” was shredded beef with cheddar cheese. This one had a more familiar taste and a lot more punch to its seasonings. But once again, it was the green salsa on the side that elevated the flavour with some freshness and tang.
Some dishes are petite enough to eat and walk with, but with plenty of picnic tables available you need not stand and eat. But instead pick up a few items, bring it to a table, eat, leave, and repeat. A few wooden picnic tables and benches had umbrellas shielding you from the sun. But for those who preferred dining in the shade, event runners had set up a tented area for you to do just that. Though here it meant eating over barrels for tables and sitting on bales of hay for seats. Not the most comfortable or aesthetically relevant.
Having finished our $20 meal we then retreated back out into the park. Only for me to return tomorrow for what I felt was the best day out of the three.
On Sunday for the “Streetfood showdown” there were double the number of food trucks participating, meaning there were more options and shorter waits in lines. And each truck came prepared with decent sample sizes menu items, each well worth $2.50 for a more rounded out taste. On this day we were able to dedicate one token to each stop we made, even repeating the ones we liked enough, coming back for seconds.
Yet again we started off quenching our thirst with some cold beverages. This time they also had large jugs of mixed fruit drinks. We would use both our drink tickets on two cups of their strawberry lemonade.
As for food, I allowed my partner, with his specific tastes, to choose what he liked and what we would share each. He kept in his comfort zone with items found on a bar menu and plenty of Mexican. Everything below, cost us just the one yellow token.
We had a pulled pork tacos from the “Victoria’s” table. They served their tacos opened face with meat over flour tortilla. You help yourself to toppings like tomatillo salsa and cilantro. They were tasty enough to have us returning for a chicken one with onions.
We had more pulled pork in our slider from the “Flying Pig” booth. They attracted additional attention by way of the full pig that they brought out to the event. The slider buns were fresh, sandwiching tender and well seasoned meat.
I got the most value from the “Brazilian Roots” truck. This is a new food truck that made their debut during this event. They offer dough products made out of cassava. “Cassava” is a starchy tuberous root of a tropical tree. Here they specialize in using it to make wraps, which they fill with various ingredients. They are simply folded in half, looking like a quesadilla, and eaten like a taco, with mouth cocked sideways. This is the “Macuxi” with sesame crust, Black Forest ham, cheese, and butter. You get a lot for $2.50. Three slices of ham and two slices of cheese that fully cover the entire surface of the crispy, crunchy cassava wrap. I liked it better without the ham to distract with its saltiness. The cheese was plenty with its gooey texture.
The “Jalapeño maple bacon” was my partner’s favourite of the market. It was available from the “Papi’s Mexican Grill”. $2.50 is a little steep for a strip of bacon, but is sure was delicious. Thicker cuts with candied edges for a crispy chew and a sweet finish.
From the same stall we had a half a cob of steamed corn dressed in Mexican cheese and spices. What looked like salty feta was a creamy cheese with a crumbly texture and a lumpy surface. It was super tasty and I would have had more, if not for the fear of having corn kernels stuck in between my teeth for the rest of the day, with no dental floss in sight.
My partner liked the chicken souvlaki, “meat on a stick” from the “Carte Diem” truck. He liked the gentle seasonings and how moist the chicken was. A really strong selling point for him, as he finds most chicken souvlaki from other Greek restaurants over cooked and their chicken dry. I actually found this dry and the pepper in the rub the only standout flavour.
The “Serendipity” ice cream truck had hand dipped vanilla cones. But not just the commonly seen milk chocolate, but your choice of dips in maple, orange, mint, banana, or even white chocolate. And on top of that you get your choice of toppings to be sprinkled over. Oreo, peanuts, kit Kat, pretzels, Reese’s pieces, vanilla wafer, potato chips, m&m’s, and pistachio. If it were me I would have gone with the two oddest sounding pairings like banana and chips, and would have probably found it amazing. My more traditional partner was more than content with the classic milk chocolate and rainbow sprinkles pairs, so that is what we had. It melted quick, and not just from the sun, but for ice cream in general. The chocolate shell held everything in place until you pierce it. And from there rivers of melted vanilla dripped down its side and in between your grasped fingers. It sure was tasty, I just wish we could have finished it before we were forced to give up on trying to.
I had a mini sampler sized ice cream taco from the “Say Hello” vegan ice cream truck. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a fair bit of ice cream and crisp wafer. Really creamy with a nice richness to it, something I don’t often get from ice cream without milk. But I was most surprised at was their ability to find such a tiny ice cream scooper to round out these perfect mini scoops of ice cream.
Day three was all about brunch. “The Big Brunch” had relevant restaurants and trucks coming up with some creative interpretations on breakfast favourites.
The “Bread & Cheese” truck had a long line from the start. We figured it must be good so ordered one of everything that they were offering. The “Bacon breakfast English muffin” also had white cheddar, arugula, garlic mayo, and a tangy red sauce. I don’t know that I tasted the latter, but it was great nonetheless. Everything I wished an egg mcmuffin was, was here, in this.
Similarly was how great the hash browns were. Crispy on the outside with the perfect golden brown hue. And their spicy ketchup gave you a great punchy end note.
The “French toasties” was a slice of bread cut in half and prepared cinnamon French toast style. Topped with macerated strawberries, maple syrup, whipped cream, and bacon bits. It was tasty, but the bread was fairly soggy, where I was looking for crispy ends to go with my salty and sweet.
From “Victoria’s” one of the Mexican restaurants, we had their “Chorizo Benny” and “Pancake. The benny was a perfectly poached egg over a sausage and potato mix, with caramelized onion and their own house made hollandaise sauce. It had one of the most golden orange coloured yolk’s I have ever seen. It was rich and creamy, adding a different element to the chunks of chewy potatoes and mildly spicy sausage. This was a well balanced start to the day.
Their pancake was one that successfully combined the salty and briney nature of olives with the sweetness of chocolate chips and a luscious dulce de leche. And for some freshness they included a few slices of banana on top. This was a great serving size to keep you coming back for more.
And lastly we completed our walking meal with a healthy pile of their “breakfast nachos”. Take everything that would go into a breakfast burrito, and instead scramble it then top it over Mexican style tortilla chips. I just needed more salsa and sauce on the side, to dip the undressed chips at the bottom with.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great idea, I just wanted more advertisement, organization and follow through from them. But that is what their third year is for in 2018: to get better and bring on more food trucks and restaurant vendor. So mark it on your calendar and look forward to it next year! Don’t deny your cravings.
YVR FOOD FEST
215 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver BC