Decor

Gourmet Street Eats, a la Food Cart

Tina Fineza and Jason Apple, of Roaming Dragon food truck. - Alfonso Arnold photo
Tina Fineza and Jason Apple, of Roaming Dragon food truck.
— image credit: Alfonso Arnold photo

Street food has been enjoyed pretty much the world over since, well, since there have been streets.  While late in catching on in Vancouver, the pilot program has been proven and the wheels hit the road a few years back.

While the metaphor might appear mixed, a far greater diversity exists amongst some of the most mobile and memorable meals in Vancouver – all served in minutes with a smile by some truly passionate people.

It was in 2010 that the repressive roll-outs of year-round tube steaks and roasted chestnuts was overturned by a city council in full flavour of more diverse and healthier ‘street food’ options. Ever since, gourmet entrepreneurialism has hit the streets and a culinary culture a la ‘carts’ and food trucks been born.

With the addition of 15 new food-cart vendors in May 2013, there are now 115 upwardly mobile lunchtime options on the menu. Moreover, with menu options globally inspired and locally sourced in many cases, Vancouver has been named the third-best street food city in North America by Travel + Escape.

Top tasting notes in that category go to Portland, Ore., where nearly 500 food carts are at your service, many of them gathered into “pods” – a term that makes sense given the West Coast locale and nature of the operations themselves. Gathered in pods, there is not only strength in numbers – there is choice.

One red, one blue: Gourmet Syndicate co-owners Jason Apple and Jory Simkin get by just fine with a pod of two in the heart of Vancouver’s core at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow – albeit two of the most acclaimed and creative food trucks on the map.

With their first, The Roaming Dragon, Apple helped vanguard street food in Vancouver with a standout offering of “authentically inauthentic” Pan-Asian cuisine. The second vehicular venture for Gourmet Syndicate – Vij’s Railway Express – was a hit before it touched the road. If you are going to run a curry truck, there is really no better restaurateur to have standing behind the menu than Vancouver’s Vikram Vij.

Apple wisely pairs the trucks whenever possible. To be able to offer a sufficient array of choice to lure a crowd on rainy days is a definite boon for Apple’s twinned trucks. After all, weather is a factor for any restaurant owner – exponentially more so if those meals are served on wheels.

Bringing the right talent to the table has been key to the Gourmet Syndicate strategy. When the much-celebrated Roaming Dragon food truck’s Pan-Asian menu was due for a revamp, Apple turned to a talent who has helped define small plates in Vancouver for over a decade.

“You have to distinguish yourself by being outside the box,” says consulting chef Tina Fineza. “As a street food vendor in any city the only way to succeed is to be the first to do something, being wacky and being friendly. You bring together people from all walks of life, so you have to appeal to the masses.”

Growing up in the Philippines, where exotic foods defined everyday life at the family table, Fineza’s finesse with global cuisine was evidenced early – but not her original focus. Only after graduating from university with a film degree, did the big picture reveal itself.  Wandering by the Dubrulle Culinary Institute, she witnessed the passion at work in the kitchens, enrolled and never looked back.

For nearly two decades, she has been a not-so-secret weapon in top kitchens across Vancouver, including her inaugural stint working with Chefs Rob Feenie and Frank Pabst at Lumiere in 1995. From there, it was on to Star Anise and then Diva at the Metropolitan, before Fineza found a five year fit as chef de cuisine at Bin 942, running strong with one of the most eclectic and enticing menus in Vancouver.

Returning from two years of travelling Asia in 2006/2007, she brought her research home and gave it wings with the opening of The Flying Tiger – giving Vancouver its first cutting-edge menu of Asian street food.

From that point onward the word was out – Fineza’s flavours punched far above diner’s expectations – and she has since set up shop as one of the city’s most sought after culinary consultants. From Les Faux Bourgeois, Habit and La Taqueria to Commune Cafe, Terra Breads and Baru Latino, her most recent venture features modern Mediterranean sharing plates at East of Main Cafe.

“This is what I want to do now – help people fulfill their dreams,” says Fineza. “Some people want a restaurant. They have a goal and a dream, but they don’t know how to materialize that, so that’s where I come in.”

When approached by Apple in 2011, she bit at the opportunity to reignite her passion for Asian street food – with the only stipulation being to stay true to the original concept of “inauthentic authenticity”. The Roaming Dragon might have a fixed location weekdays, but this vanguarding food truck’s menu has always offered a truly globe-trotting experience – truly flavourful and fun food to go.

For the revamp, Fineza dug deep with a return to roots that serves up Pan-Asian from every point on the map.  Amongst the new favourites on the menu since 2012: Indonesian Beef Rendang Poutine, Malaysian Spicy Chicken Tacos, Chinese Pork Sliders, Vietnamese Sloppy Duck, a Japanese Tuna Tataki Sandwich and the Thai Dragon Burger. Every one of the dishes shine with the spice of a life well-travelled and truly committed to matters of taste.

Indulge has three of those recipes to share in this issue, along with a Lychee Basil Lemonade that has been the ultimate thirst-quencher for The Roaming Dragon since the start.  With spring well underway and summer’s heat around the corner, it may just hold pole position in your blender for some time.

Here are a set of recipes that will either inspire your summer kitchen – or send you searching for the real deal, real quick at The Roaming Dragon. Bear in mind that everything in The Roaming Dragon food truck is freshly prepped offsite and pulled together onsite in a kitchen quite likely far smaller than your own. If your pantry is needing an item or two, take a tip from Fineza and plan a visit to Fujiya, T&T or Gourmet Warehouse.

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