Monthly Archives: August 2010

Boston Food Truck Festival

Ché’s Take

Gentrification takes many forms. On August 7th, I stood in-line for about 45 minutes to get my taste of Fillbelly’s at Boston’s first ever Food Truck Festival (That was the the problem with this festival. Who waits for a food truck?) During that time, I had plenty of time to check out the variety of trucks around me. On the one hand, Fillbelly’s and Boston Speed Dogs were what you’d expect to see; cheap, good food with working class appeal. On the other hand, sharing the space were fancier food trucks that required much more of a capital investment, such as the Lincoln Street Coffee and the Cupcakory. This one event illustrates a class war being fought on American Streets, really more of a skirmish, when we think about the larger forces at work.

The reason that the food truck festival happened without much conflict and the reason that the Boston Gastronauts went to the food truck festival in the first place are one in the same. Food trucks are relatively rare in Boston. The Boston Globe cites “a difficult inspection process, often eight months or more.” These outdated laws probably share space with the statutes that allow you to duel on the Common if it’s Sunday and the Governor is present. Either way, the trucks that have persevered give a miniaturized view of the people who are really trying to start one of these businesses. Even if there’s time and red tape involved, it’s still cheaper than opening a restaurant. In practice this means that the Sausage Guy shares space with an “$85,000” (according to the same article) Espresso truck, at the same event, without any jockeying, because space is not yet an issue.

In New York, a place with many more mobile eateries, the relationship has not been so friendly. A New York Times article last year described the “Turf War” between the new upscale food trucks and the older, more established ones. This piece calls the newer vendors “culinary entrepreneurs, most of them with English as their first language and little fear of police or immigration authorities, [who] are on a mission to bring better street food to New Yorkers, and ready to bring dark corners of the business to light.” This sentence of course, says much more about the older vendors than the newer ones. The established food trucks don’t have the money to make the legal system work for them. The newer food trucks do not support the old way of doing things because going through government channels will favor those with more money and those who are part of middle-class culture. True, most of the food truck laws are based around corruption and exploiting a broken system, but this consideration is secondary for the boogie newcomers. Many of them admit to using the corrupt methods to get their business started, presumably because it’s much faster than the more legal methods. If the newer food trucks succeed and the cities of the United States start strictly policing food trucks, the older working class food trucks will be run out of business by the competition.

Like most class conflicts in the United States, the roots of this situation are not found in the thing itself. It is a cliché to say that the upper and middle classes control the country, and in this case, I find no reasons to argue with common knowledge. Two examples from the world of food trucks can illustrate this point. The first comes from the planet of Brooklyn. For years in Red Hook Park, impromptu food festivals have accompanied the weekend soccer games. At these, people from around the neighborhood would serve all kinds of cuisine from the Spanish-speaking Americas, usually out of the back of vans and from under tarps. The city tried to shut down the vendors because of health code violations, but, because of support from local officials and the newer middle class residents of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the food vendors were allowed to return after they updated their set-up to meet health codes. Usually this meant buying food trucks to replace the tent and portable stove layout. How this is cleaner, with all of a sudden diesel exhaust being spewed into the air, is anybody’s guess. The real end result was that by requiring these vendors to refurbish their setups, the middle-class newcomers and the city government forced their preconceived notions of the food festivals on the people that had created the events.

In the suburbs of New Orleans, the story was much different. After Hurricane Katrina, Mexican immigrants started to move into the city, heavily changing the demographics. Mexican food trucks soon followed. Jefferson Parish responded by amending health codes in such a way that they banned the trucks but left other mobile vendors intact. City officials claimed the move wasn’t racially based, instead saying that the aim was “strengthening zoning standards that have deteriorated since the storm.” And really, there’s nothing more trustworthy than zoning laws. They have never been used to promote segregation and discrimination.

While the first story has a happy ending, and the second story a sad one, the people who actually relied on the trucks to make a living had little say in what happened. Only the most cynical observer would call this democratic. Food trucks have always been seen as somehow equalizing because they’re cheap. That’s not an equation works. If food trucks actually become increasingly successful, which, with the downturn in the economy, they might they will not only attract small money, middle class people that are suddenly out of the job, but big money, franchised food. There’s nothing to stop McDonalds, or, at the higher end, Chipotle and T.G.I. Friday’s, from recreating their foods in a truck, especially when “Fast food…is an impulse buy” as Eric Schlosser writes in Fast Food Nation. Of course I would love to see food trucks come to Boston in a free and equitable way. But until all society can be organized more fairly, promoting fair food truck laws and practices will just be delaying the inevitability of corporate control.

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Grasshoppers, Corn Smut, and Cactus in Somerville: Part 1

The Restaurant

Tu y Yo
858 Broadway
Somerville, MA 02144
(617) 623-5411
Yelp
Website

Tu Y Yo is probably the fanciest restaurant that we’ve been to, so it’s also the most expensive.  However, everything we had was delicious, and if you love Mexican food, this is some of the best that you will find in Massachusetts.  If you’re hungry and have some money weighing you down, this place should be one of your first destinations.

Andrew’s Take

Our adventure this week took us out to Powderhouse Square. When Ché and I met, we found that Tu y Yo has very wide weekend brunch hours which is awesome, but unfortunately we had to leave and wander around for an hour since most of what we were looking for was only served on the dinner menu. So when we returned later we were psyched to see that they indeed had the insects we were looking for! That’s right ladies and gentlemen we’ve finally reached the inevitable. BUGS! In fact bugs were technically the only meat we had in this weeks meal. Chapulines are just like your everyday grasshoppers they’re just the eatin’ kind. Our options for these grasshoppers were to have them in mini tacos or empanadas. We opted for the empanadas, which were quite delicious. Just like the last few Latin restaurants we’ve visited most of what we ate was also accompanied by delicious sauces. The rest of our meal included a green cactus mole and a crepe with cuitlacoche or corn smut.

The crepe showed up first. Now my experience with crepes is very limited for I am a pancake man myself, but I must admit it was quite tasty. The skinnier crepe isn’t afraid to go where the pancake is rarely taken, to the savory side of things. No sir there wasn’t any syrup in sight. The crepe was served smothered in cheese and a really tasty poblano based sauce. Inside was what we were after though. Cuitlacoche is a fungus that develops on corn. It might not be much to look at but gastronauticaly it presented us with a truly unique experience. Reading the wikipedia entry on corn smut wouldn’t be the best idea before trying it. I luckily decided to do this afterwards. They don’t exactly sugar coat their descriptions of what it is or how it forms, but trust me that didn’t really matter in a meal where we were also eating grasshoppers. The fact that there is apparently such debate over what cuitlacoche translates to amazes me when the only thing they seem to agree on is the part that describes it was “excrement”. I could also go on to point out that we apparently ate corn tumors but again that doesn’t really matter. When I heard fungus I assumed it was going to be like eating a mushroom, and it kind of was. So if you don’t really like mushrooms this might not be for you. The texture is a lot like eating diced mushrooms, but with a certain corny-ness to it. It’s got a familiar vegetable consistency that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The corn smut definitely worked well to fill the crepe, and was extra delicious with the poblano sauce.

Next up was the Nopales en Mole Verde. Cactus served in a green mole sauce with a poblano base. Neither of us has noticed cactus on the menu before so it was a nice surprise when we got there and we just went with it. Now I didn’t say anything at the time but every once in a while I got nervous I was going to get a cactus needle in my mouth. That didn’t happen though, thank god. The cactus was actually quite delicious. A lot of the reviews said it was like green beans or asparagus, but Ché and I felt it was more like okra. Okra sans the seeds that is. I’ve had other “cactus flavored” things before but never managed to actually encounter cactus served as a dish. I feel like cactus flavor is handled a lot like cucumber flavor. It mainly serves as a strongly refreshing taste while the cactus is a little bit “spicier” than the cucumber. When you’re actually eating it though it’s a lot like eating any other green veggie. I didn’t think about it too much but it did give me flashbacks to the bitter melon, but only in the way it looked. The taste was much more satisfying and I didn’t regret eating it at all. This was also, I think, my first encounter with a mole sauce. Ché had me very excited with his description of the ingredients which sometimes include chocolate. I thought that was neat though I don’t think the green mole we had included anything that unusual, although it was very tasty.

The grasshopper empanadas showed up a little later. Which I can only assume is because those little guys aren’t very easy to catch. We kinda sat on those for a little bit. I feel like we were both excited to try them but also a little reserved about the whole bug thing. We eventually dug in. There was the tell tale crunch and you could definitely see what you were eating. The only thing that really bothered me were the legs. If I didn’t chew them right and just swallowed they would get stuck in my throat. It wasn’t as gross as it sounds just slightly annoying. Putting the grasshoppers in empanadas definitely makes it easier to eat, but after the initial bite you realize it’s not as bad as you thought. Of course Ché and I got curious so we dissected the empanadas to get to the goods. The fact was the fried dough was a little heavy and you could tell there was something in there but you couldn’t get a really get a good taste for the little guys. We snagged a couple of the whole grasshoppers out of the empanadas and tried them. They definitely have a distinct flavor. If someone asked me what a grasshopper tastes like I’d say it tastes like a grasshopper. They did have hints of flavor here or there, the kind of flavor that reminds you of something else but your not quite sure what. They were pretty earthy and kind of nutty. As soon as I bit into them, I got this shot of flavor I can’t really describe. I can only assume bugs are like one of those things that tastes like whatever they eat. They’re so small they just absorb the flavor or something. I would definitely try these guys again. In fact the experience gave me flashbacks to what I now believe could technically be considered the secret origins of the Boston Gastronauts.

A few years back when Ché and I were still in school he came by to hang out and he brought with him some chocolate covered ants. If I remember correctly he and I were the only ones willing to try them. Of course these were a piece of cake considering they were covered in chocolate but you could definitely still taste the crunchy little ants. With something like that you just tell yourself it’s a crunch bar. Looking back on that makes me think that the Boston Gastronauts were destined to be, and who knows how many more bugs we’ll encounter!!

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