We’re on the cusp of exciting times in Vancouver, with the city’s pilot street food project getting underway. Much has been made of the initiatives and potential missteps the city has undertaken in the last few months to graft an altered beast of Portland’s food truck culture onto our streets, turning an impassioned crowd into overnight urban planning experts. What foods would prove popular? What red tape will City Hall put around this? How are we going to mess this one up?
The Gourmet Syndicate are thankfully moving past pure conjecture and putting tangible plans into place, even if they’re putting the cart slightly ahead of the horse. The outfit intends to offer turn-key food trucks to would-be street vendors, offering advice on the various administrative ins-and-outs and designing trucks to spec. Their own food truck, Roaming Dragon, now finds a lonely place at the west end of Richmond’s Summer Night Market, using the summer nights as its own test project so that they can hit the streets running once the city starts handing out the permits (which, from the sounds of it, may take longer than hoped, with only 17 spots available via a lottery system, and, like much of Portland’s ‘pods,’ permits tied to a geographic location rather than allowing vendors to roam freely).
And the initial results are good, albeit a bit lost on the usual Summer Night Market crowd. Pan-Asian may take a bit of explaining to the predominantly Asian crowd, particularly when they’re surrounded by Xinjiang lamb skewers, grilled whole squid and those godforsaken potato swirls, but Roaming Dragon has thankfully wrestled that concept from chain restaurants that have rendered it unholy (props are assumedly due to “food consultant” Don Letendre, recently of Elixir at the Opus hotel).
The braised pork belly sliders with pickled cucumbers are served on mantou, and are easily amongst the best foods that one can consume in Vancouver in a mere two (okay, three) bites. The pork melts away, tender as childhood love, its delicate saltiness nestling with the mantou’s gentle sweetness and rounded out with the slight acidity of the cucumbers. If one needs a reason to fight through the face-to-skewer-stick crowd of the market, this is it.
The other offerings hit levels nearly as high. Tacos are filled with Korean kalbi shortribs, carrots, shitakes and sesame sautéed spinach, served in corn tortillas lined with nori, and drizzled with not-quite-enough kimchi sauce. A shredded duck confit salad is tossed with watercress, mint, cilantro, and bok choy, with a soy-lemon dressing and pineapple to add acidity, and topped up with watermelon and cashews. The fried rice balls riff on Chinese sticky rice, with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp mixed into an orb of rice, breaded and deep-fried, though the arborio rice renders it a bit too mushy relative to a glutinous rice. The chicken karaage are lightly battered and perfectly crispy, and better executed than in many of the Japanese places in town. (All items are $6, but one can have two for $10 or three for $15).
All of the dishes make perfect sense, particularly given Vancouver’s familiarity with the Asian theme, and one can imagine the popularity that Roaming Dragon will have once they find their way to the streets. Cross your fingers and pray that Roaming Dragon will luck out in the permit lottery, and find your way to them at the Summer Night Market in the interim. It might take awhile for the City’s overall project to become a success, but in the meantime, there’s at least one tangible benefit that’s resulted.
Temporarily at the Summer Night Market in Richmond
12631 Vulcan Way
(7pm to 1am Fridays and Saturdays; 7pm to midnight Sundays)