Gourmet street food that’s actually healthy
From tasty fresh juice mocktails in Montreal to organic salads in Nova Scotia and sustainable seafood in Vancouver, food trucks have moved on from unhealthy fried options and now offer a world of healthy choices.
When I was growing up, the only food truck choices were between a fish and chip van whose siren scent of hot oil and malt vinegar you could smell from one end of the town to the other and a burger truck whose offerings were succulently delicious and messy, but oh so sinfully bad for you. Those days seem like a far cry from the gourmet healthy delights now on offer, thanks to the explosion in popularity of food trucks and the easy availability of international flavours. Vancouver remains Canada’s food truck capital with more than 100 trucks on its streets, and other major cities across the country are following in its wake. From organic whole foods in Nova Scotia to fresh juice mocktails in Montreal and sustainable seafood tacos on Vancouver Island, now there’s something tasty and healthy being served from a truck near you.
With an empire spanning three food trucks and five restaurants spread across Vancouver, Tofino, and Victoria, Tacofino is Canada’s most successful independent food truck.
Tacofino began back in 2009 with a truck in Tofino serving up food inspired by the “incredible tacos” co-founders Kaeli Robinsong and Jason Sussman had enjoyed during their winters surfing on the Pacific Coast of Mexico after working seasonally in tree planting camps in BC.
“Jason loved cooking and had a passion for it, but I had the confidence and knew how to feed large groups of people,” explains Robinsong, who grew up helping out at her parents’ resort property, Hollyhock, on Cortez Island.
“We went with a truck because it was what we could afford, and it was a no-brainer to have biodegradable packaging and use local Ocean Wise-approved seafood, and antibiotic- and hormone-free meat, raised ethically; I’d never consider using anything that would hurt the environment,” says Robinsong.
Their menu of West Coast-inspired Mexican food has won them a legion of fans (the Baja-style fish taco is just the best!) and Robinsong says that’s down to using fresh, high quality ingredients and the lure of the Tofino surfer lifestyle.
“It’s almost like an idea,” she laughs. “People always say our food tastes best from that original truck in Tofino, but I know it’s exactly the same recipe! It’s just that when you surf all day, then go wait in line to grab that taco when you’re starving, it tastes different! People love the idea of that lifestyle and that’s what Tacofino is all about.”
The famous Nova Scotia donair has some healthy competition now, thanks to transplanted Barrie, Ontario, resident Paula Drew and her Fresh Food Truck, which launched this spring in Halifax.
“My company is called Conscious Cuisine and that’s my mandate,” says Drew. “We want to offer people fresh, healthy, organic food that’s tasty.”
Although she never formally trained as a cook, after a childhood spent travelling the world with her parents, Drew’s lifelong love of food and flavours finally found a way to express itself after she left her job as a locomotive engineer for CN Rail and opened a restaurant.
A prolonged period of construction works outside the restaurant led to opening a food truck (“The customers couldn’t get to us, so I decided we’d go to them!”) and the rest is history.
Serving up a rotating menu of seasonal wraps, such as fresh smoked salmon with organic greens; marinated grilled vegetables with a mango-balsamic dressing; and hearty salads with watermelon, mint, and feta or house-made beets and lentils, Drew aims to offer cuisine for everyone.
“We have something for vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters,” she says. “I love to promote and support local growers and farmers, and I like giving people who wouldn’t usually eat at a food truck the chance to join in. You can eat our food without feeling guilty and know you’re looking after your body. Healthy eating can be tasty; it doesn’t have to be boring!”
Trust Montreal to conjure up the chic alternative to beat summer heat: Lab, Comptoir Roulant, an offshoot of the critically acclaimed Le Lab cocktail bar—on wheels—serves up healthy organic mocktails at festivals and events.
Le Lab’s bar manager, Gabrielle Panaccio felt that it’s a natural progression. “There’s a lot of people who have stopped drinking—maybe they’re pregnant or being more careful about drinking and driving—and we have a great reputation already for our cocktail recipes. When we started our little caravan for events we thought maybe when we can’t serve booze we can serve mocktails!”
Small but perfectly designed, Comptoir Roulant is set up for two bartenders to mix their magic with an ice machine, sink, fridge, air conditioner, and even a small wine cellar and speed rail for licensed events.
Although Panaccio says that some customers leave as soon as they realize there’s no alcohol, for the most part, the clientele of curious foodies, keen to try a new experience, are kept happy.
“It’s funny (that) people won’t drink five mocktails like they drink five cocktails in a bar, but still, people enjoy having something fresh and healthy; it’s like a morning smoothie but for the afternoon.”
Popular mocktails include the Arugula Monster with lemon, wasabi bitters, and a tropical barbecue syrup made with pineapple, tamarind, and plenty of spices, and the Lavender May, an organic lavender-infused coconut cream, raspberry, and lemon creation.
Some of the best food trucks out there make you smile before you’ve even put in an order. Okay, so the Jessica Fletcher-inspired “Burger, She Wrote” truck may be fake, but these are all real.