I'm hovering by the open window of the truck, getting what cover I can from the afternoon rain and trying to be near whatever heat the kitchen emits. The couple running it are scattered, doing the best to keep up to the pace while CBC employees grumble about work. Vorrayut Jiranuntiporn picks up his wok, plates the rice, and does a few hundred other things all at once.
Jiranuntiporn and his partner, Wasinee Tuntiveerabut, are (relatively) new immigrants from Thailand, and RimFoodBaht is their food truck. They're offering dishes from their home, in a city filled with many Thai restaurants but very few good ones. I want them to succeed despite the busy Noodle Box a block away, where office workers line-up for odd faux-Asian stir-frys with little substance. I want them to succeed despite having one of the worst food truck locations downtown, where the closest offices are workers for the government and not ones with expense accounts. I want them to succeed.
It's perhaps an over-romanticized notion to think that people will travel for good food. Some might, but most won't. Those that don't will miss out on RimFoodBaht's earnest meals, each cooked to order. This is remarkable for the green curry with chicken ($6.50), which in most chain restaurants is a meagre cost-saving offering heavy on premade sauce and cheap rice and light on anything else. Jiranuntiporn's version is stacked, layers of flavour colliding into one; 'soulful' might be a cliché by now but there is no word more apt. Cynics might yearn for something other than chicken breast, but the plentitude of Thai basil and lime leaves should win hearts over.
The scent from the basil eggplant with ground pork ($6.50) fills the paper bag that I've carried it in back to my office. I try to devise a plan to make the aroma linger to keep work morale up. The Nam Ngew ($6.50) - a northern Thai noodle served with a tomato-based pork broth with spareribs, ground pork and an endless supply of garlic and ginger - fills the heart on rainy days, and perhaps one of the best offerings of all of the food carts in the city. The Miang Kham ($4.50) is served as an appetizer ("Kham" translates to "a bite"), though the toasted coconut - served with bits of shrimp, lime, ginger and shallot, all wrapped up in a leaf - fills that purgatory between savory and sweet, a wonderful limbo between appetizer and dessert. All of it is food I'd like to yell about, to bring people near, in this city where pad thai and ketchup have become overly familiar dancing partners.
I'd like my voice to travel further. Three blocks over finds Guanaco, the new El Salvadoran truck on Seymour, across from the Bay. This was the spot that recently hosted the failed Coma Food Truck, its contemporary Korean menu lost to a pedestrian wave that often fails to stop in-between shops, in-between offices. One patron at the cart begets another, though there are more that have questions about the menu than there are that are willing to order from it.
The Manzanos, mother and son, offer pupusas ($8.50) - revueltas, queso y frijoles or ayote, each with yucca fries and curtido, a more sour slaw of sorts - a thread from their old pupuseria back home. Compared to Rimfoodbaht, it's a much slicker, smoother operation, but just as effecting. Try a sample of the horchata ($3.75), they offer. Try a sample of the pupusa. Try it: there's no steep learning curve here.
There shouldn't be, when it comes to meals like these. The pasteles ($5 for 2, with curtido) are tremendous, its crisp maize shell securing a gush of cheese and meat with assumed universal appeal. Good things generally come in little packets, as is the case with the chicken tamales ($4.50 for 1). And there are the pupusas, larger than most other places offer in town, encasing a generous amount of your stuffing of choice, its crisp and chewy cocoon providing that perfect argument as to why this has been chosen as El Salvador's national delicacy. None of this should be hard to comprehend; it should succeed.
Or at least I desperately want it to.
Hamilton Street between Robson and Georgia (at the CBC)
Seymour Street at Georgia (across from the Bay)