Hottest Food Trends from the 2014 Winter Fancy Food Show

The Winter Fancy Food Show is known as the food industry’s most happening trade show, where new food trends are introduced months before they clog supermarket shelves. At this year’s event, for example, there was no shortage of bacon-infused snacks, gluten-free products, and Sriracha-flavored everything—all trends from past years that have now gone mainstream.

Here are eight different food products from this year’s show that are sure to be coming to a supermarket near you—and soon!

Brussels sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Move over kale chips. Everyone is taking one of the most polarizing dinner table veggies and turning them into flavorful, crispy chips and snacks. I’ll admit, I’ve always hated Brussel sprouts. But after trying some of these snacks, I think I can be converted.

artisan popsicles

Artisan Popsicles

Combinations like hibiscus mint and watermelon agave are nothing like your childhood Otter Pops. Inspired by Latin American paletas, which are basically fresh fruit popsicles, the folks at GoodPops decided it was time to bring that concept to mainstream America, using high-quality ingredients and inventive flavor combinations. After tasting them myself, I think they’re making a good case for it.

mocktails

Mocktails

If you’re like me and can’t drink alcohol for whatever reason (it’s a cruel fate, what can I say), you always feel like you’re s**t outta luck at cocktail parties and other gatherings. Not if the company Sociale has its way. Sociale makes virgin versions of the cosmopolitan, mojito, margarita, and martinis that taste like the real thing. These bottled mocktails are quality, all-natural drinks that taste like a great cocktail should.

almond water

Almond Water

Almond milk + coconut water = almond water! Almond water has the clean, refreshing finish of coconut water, with the subtle flavor of almonds. It’s not cloyingly sweet or overpoweringly filled with vanilla essence. The recipe from the brand Victoria’s Kitchen is from the owner’s French grandmother. It’s floral and light, and the branding looks like something out of an old-timey apothecary. I was ready to take a case home with me.

hummus

Hummus…Minus the Chickpeas

Fava beans, lentils, carrots, edamame, white beans, and black beans all took turns as the main ingredient in a variety of new hummus dips. Surprisingly, they were all quite good with subtle yet distinctive flavor differences compared with the original chickpea version. They also tout a bunch of different health benefits (the fava bean and edamame versions, in particular). The fava bean hummus from FavaLife and wasabi edamame version from Eat Well Enjoy Life were my personal favorites.

Cookie chips

Cookie Chips

Cinnamon sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and decadent brownies are some of America’s favorite sweet treats. But several companies have decided what’s really been missing is a certain amount of crunch. Enter cookie and brownie chips. With a variety of different names, depending on the maker, they all combine the light crispy crunch of a chip with the sweetness of a brownie or a cookie. Snackers with a major sweet tooth can now rejoice.

half-ppped popcorn

Half-Popped Popcorn

Hate the unpopped kernels of popcorn at the bottom of the bag? Well, the folks who make Pop’d Kerns apparently decided to do something about it. It’s not fully popped popcorn, nor is it an inedible unpopped kernel. It’s basically a popcorn kernel that’s half-popped. It’s got more heft and crunch than regular popcorn, but still has that familiar flavor. Think of it as a cross between popcorn and Corn Nuts.

chocolate tea

Tea for Dessert

Now you can have your dessert, and drink it too. Apparently it’s not enough to enjoy a piece of chocolate with your afternoon tea anymore. Popular tea makers have now infused cupcake, Bundt cake, and even chocolate flavors into their teas. Thankfully, none of them are overly sweet or obnoxiously flavored, though tea purists are sure to turn their noses up at this trend.

Most Interesting Trends at the 2013 Winter Fancy Food Show

imageBy the time food trends like bacon-flavored-everything and cupcakes reach supermarket shelves, they’ve already been flaunted by multiple food companies at the Fancy Food Show. This convention of sorts is where the worlds food purveyors, big and small, come to show off their newest creations. It’s where food trends are born, both artisan and mainstream.

This year’s 38th annual show was bigger than ever with 1,300 exhibiting companies and 18,000 attendees at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Here’s the Top 5 most interesting trends I spotted at the event.

1. Strange things are going on with tea:
This year, I saw a focus on teas with added benefits like probiotics and herbs that aid in replenishing or adding to your workout routine (think Vitamin Water but with brewed tea). But the weirdest of them all was a line of savory teas with flavors like Beet Cabbage, Broccoli Cilantro and Spinach Chive. Described as “not quite a soup and more than a tea,” it seemed to have an identity crisis built right in. But once I tried it, I surprisingly, didn’t hate it.

2. Cooking with Hemp:
I recently tried a scalloped potatoes dish with hemp cream that I loved, so I was intrigued to see the emergence of shelled hemp seeds this year. It is more a textural experience (chewy and a bit like teeny tiny quinoa) than a flavorful one (doesn’t add any). You sprinkle them on your yogurt or fish like you would granola. Apparently they’re loaded with health benefits and give you sustained energy. And no, you won’t get high off this stuff so there’s no point in adding it to those brownies.

3. Cherries are the new pomegranate:
Move over pomegranates! Cherries are apparently superior to all your much-touted antioxidant goodness. Tart cherry juice reduces inflammation, has naturally occurring melatonin to help you sleep, and it fights heart disease. I personally prefer the taste of cherry juice to pomegranate, which can be way too tart for me.

4. White cheddar popcorn is so passe:
Seems cheddar is just too boring when it comes to a bag of gourmet popped corn. I saw varieties like blue cheese, butter toffee, hatch chili con queso, chipotle lime, sun-dried tomato parmesan, and smoked gouda. Popcorn has entered potato chip territory with these adventurous new flavors.

5. Squeeze pouches aren’t just for kids anymore:
If you have children, you’ve seen those squeeze pouches of wholesome applesauce that are lifesavers because of their convenient, mess-free packaging and perfect portions. So why limit them to just the kids? Active adults will love smoothies, pureed antioxidant-rich fruit, and even veggie combinations in squeezable portable pouches just as much as the little ones.

6. Ice cream sandwiches are the new cake pop:
Seems like every year there’s a new hand-held dessert trend. Gone are cupcakes, cake pops, and whoopie pies. Gourmet ice cream sandwiches will be hitting your supermarket’s freezer by mid-year from some of the best gourmet ice cream makers.

*Cross-posted on BlogHer.com. 

 

Aida Mollenkamp’s “Keys to the Kitchen”

Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp

Photo by VirgoBlue

Aida Mollenkamp, former editor of CHOW and star of both the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, wants to provide the home cook with a go-to kitchen resource. That is why she wrote her new book “Keys to the Kitchen.” Marketed as a cookbook, it’s much more than that. In the book, she breaks cooking down to one simple equation:

Quality Ingredients (The Set-Up) + Kitchen Skills (The How-To) + Technique (The Recipes) + Cooking Method (The Riff) = GOOD FOOD

With hundreds of recipes and more cooking techniques than you ever knew you needed, “Keys to the Kitchen” could almost serve as a cooking class textbook. But of course, Aida makes it much more exciting than that. She’s encouraging home cooks to be more adventurous in the kitchen and not to be afraid to try new techniques and tastes. By providing some basic principles to purchasing, preparing and cooking food creatively she promotes the development of an adventurous approach to eating.

With the book coming out this month and a possible new show on the horizon, she’s hard to catch up with, but fortunately she carved out some time to talk about her new book and share some key tips with Bay Area Bites.

What is it about food that still excites you?
AM: I stay excited because everyday presents an opportunity for a new food adventure. Whether it’s something as simple as buying an ingredient you’ve never used before, cooking a dish for the first time, or traveling somewhere and eating a new flavor, there’s always something out there.

What are your 5 best tips for being more adventurous in the kitchen?

    AM:

  1. Follow flavors you like
    Don’t think of your favorite recipe merely as one dish but rather as layers and layers of flavors. With that mentality, taste and dissect the details at your next dinner. Who knows? You may think you dislike a spice or ingredient only to realize it’s in a lot of the foods you love.
  2. Travel through your taste buds
    Many a food lover pines for the chance to eat fresh fried samosas in the streets of India or shop firsthand at renowned food markets, like Mexico City’s La Merced, but few of us can afford that reality. Instead, live vicariously through their food — though you won’t have souvenirs, you’ll rack up plenty of food memories.
  3. Buy something new every time you shop
    Consider each trip to the market as a chance to explore and aim to buy a new (if only to you) ingredient each time you shop. Sure, you may encounter a few duds, but more often than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and realize you actually love sauerkraut.
  4. Think of your kitchen as a lab
    Change your perspective and think of cooking not as drudgery but as your daily chance for culinary creativity. And really, it’s a lab with pretty low risk — the worst-case scenario is that the dog ends up being fed really well.Start simple by swapping the herbs and spices in your favorite recipes, then graduate to using ingredients you’ve never tried.
  5. Make mealtime mash-ups
    With cooking experimentation comes rule breaking, so don’t be scared — just go with it. In the last few years, all sorts of ethnic flavors have (like music) been mashed up into cross-cultural dishes — like the now ubiquitous Korean tacos.Take a page from that trend and try a spin on your favorite foods, like chorizo on a gyro, kimchi in a Bloody Mary, Madras curry spices whirred into your vanilla ice cream, or any other twist that will help you forge your own food adventure.

This doesn’t seem like your typical cut and dry recipe cookbook. What was your inspiration?
AM: That’s right. While a lot of cookbooks are a catalogue of recipes, “Keys to the Kitchen” is more of a kitchen reference combined with a cookbook. It’s a modern manual to the kitchen that teaches you how to shop, covers basic kitchen techniques, and then culminates with over 300 original recipes that cover everything from an elegant holiday-worthy roast to ideas for reinventing last night’s leftovers.

I wrote the book for my friends who like food but are intimidated by the kitchen because they were never taught to cook. Over and over again, I’d have people ask me the same general questions — things like how to read labels, which cuts of meat are best for which preparations, and recipes for interesting but accessible recipes. I wrote “Keys to the Kitchen” to provide those answers and to help people become better cooks, whether it’s their first time turning on the stove or the one-thousandth.

What’s coming up for you after the launch of the cookbook? More television? More writing?
AM: Well, the rest of the year will be devoted to my multi-city book tour. From mid-September through the holidays, I’ll be traveling to 14 different cities for book signings, demos, and other in-person cooking events.

After that, I’m going to start developing a new show that I, unfortunately, can’t talk about too much right now. But, I promise to keep you posted as it develops.

*This article is also posted on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

The Best San Francisco Restaurants and More: The Podcast

Wayfare Tavern’s Fried Chicken (photo property of VirgoBlue)

I recently had a great discussion with Seth Resler of Mystery Meet, where food lovers in the Bay Area can get together at a restaurant in San Francisco (that isn’t revealed until 24 hours before) and discuss their love of all things culinary.

Here’s my podcast interview with Seth of Mystery Meet discussing all my favorite eats in San Francisco. I basically leave no stone unturned, talking about my favorite purveyors like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Wayfare Tavern, Frog Hollow Farm, Curry Up Now, 4505 Meats, my thoughts on the SF vs. NY food debate, my pick for the best date/anniversary restaurant in town (it’s not what you think), my love of Thomas Keller, why the food truck trend has exploded, and even manage a BlogHer Annual Conference plug. Obviously, I’m in marketing. ;)

It’s all here: http://mysterymeet.org/find-dining-podcast/podcast-episode-8-wayfare-tavern-in-san-francisco/

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7IfmpaD-o&feature=youtu.be&a

Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon
Sociale on Urbanspoon
Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Searching for Okonomiyaki

Ramen Taro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki from Ramen Taro with Beef and Cabbage

Okonomiyaki is a dish that’s described many different ways: a savory pancake, Japanese pizza, or an Asian frittata. Whatever you call it, it can be hard to find around these parts. With the exception of San Francisco and San Jose, all places in between can be an okonomiyaki-free zone.

Okonomiyaki is a classic comfort food dish in Japan. It’s a round, flat, savory dish that’s made from flour, eggs, cabbage, and seafood or meat. It’s got a drier exterior and a soft, moist interior. A good dose of sweet Japanese mayonnaise and sweet, smoky Okonomi brown sauce is drizzled on top, and then the dish is finished with some dried fish flakes (bonito) and dried seaweed. A good version of the dish shouldn’t be to dry or too wet.

Literally translated, okonomiyaki means “grilled as you like,” which explains why you’ll see slightly different versions of the dish everywhere in Japan. Here in the Bay Area, I’d be happy to see it even half as often as I do sushi and chicken teriyaki.

I remember the first time I tried the dish at a restaurant in Japantown. I had ordered it out of sheer curiosity since the photo on the menu made it look, indeed, like a Japanese pizza. The flavors were like nothing I’d ever had before. There was sweetness from the white sauce, smokiness from the brown sauce, and seafood flavor from the bonito flakes on top. Crunch came from the cabbage inside. It was thoroughly satisfying and I couldn’t wait to have it again.

So my recent craving sent me on a search for the dish. I was determined not to look to San Francisco or San Jose, where you can find it more readily since both cities have Japantowns.

There may be tons of Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, but I realized that most of them don’t serve okonomiyaki. So I was thankful to find these two restaurants that serve good renditions of the dish.

Ramen Taro Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki from Ramen Taro with Beef and Cabbage

Ramen Taro — Foster City
This newer Japanese spot may focus on ramen, but its their other dishes on the menu that are both tastier and more interesting. Their okonomiyaki is bold and chock full of ingredients. It’s drenched in more brown sauce and mayo than I’d like, but it has a load of flavor and texture with its abundance of cabbage, pickled ginger, and bonito flakes on top. And it’s not too doughy either, which is a good thing. It’s served pre-sliced so it feels like you’re eating a very exotic pizza.

Bushido Okonomiyaki
Bushido Okonomiyaki with Seafood

Bushido — Mountain View
This trendy Japanese restaurant has some very unusual dishes like a Tuna Poke Burrito and Kimchi Goyza. But surprisingly, their version of okonomiyaki is fairly straightforward, but well-balanced and had a less overwhelming mix of flavors. Their version had shrimp and veggies, giving a nice contrast of textures and tastes. My only complaint was that it was a smaller portion than others I’ve had, which would make it a good shared appetizer for the table.

I know I’m just scratching the surface on my quest to find some good okonomiyaki around these parts. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. My search continues…

Ramen Taro
Address: Map
1495 Beach Park Blvd
Foster City, CA 94404
Phone: (650) 212-2883
Hours: Mon-Sun 11am – 9:30p

Bushido on Urbanspoon

*Cross posted @ KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

Curry Up Now Wants You to Join The Dosa Republic

Inside The Dosa Republic

Husband and wife team, Akash and Rana Kapoor have created a name for themselves with their Curry Up Now food trucks, specializing in authentic and boldly flavored Indian street food. Their immense popularity spawned an equally popular brick and mortar joint in San Mateo, which opened last year.

Curry Up Now started as a pipe dream for Rana. She had always loved feeding large groups of friends and family at home, and wanted to bring that feeling of creating and sharing a good home cooked Indian meal to a larger community.

But Akash, who also loves to cook and create special dishes for their restaurant’s menu, had a culinary dream of his own.

“I went to this place in India that specialized in dosas and they had 140 different kinds you could choose from. They took a traditional Indian dish and made it cutting edge. That became the inspiration for this new restaurant.”

Enter The Dosa Republic, which opened this week. The new fast-casual restaurant in San Mateo serves rice bowls, salads, inventive appetizers, and of course, dosas. The Kapoors are taking this traditional Southern Indian staple and giving it a modern twist.

Dosas are thin, crepe-like delicacies made from a rice and lentil batter, making them naturally gluten-free. The dosa crepes are then filled with a variety of ingredients. That’s where the fun comes in for Akash, who created the menu.

Paisano Dosa
Paisano Dosa

They have two dosa menus which include The Dosa Republic’s own innovative creations, like the Paisano, filled with prosciutto, figs and burrata, along with the more traditional ones, like the Bombay, with potatoes, green onions and chili. Many dishes can also be made vegan.

Kale Vada Sambar
Kale Vada Sambar

One of the more notable appetizers include the Kale Vada Sambar, a deliciously fried lentil and kale dumpling served with their lentil and seasonal veggie stew. Many dishes come with the stew or a Sri Lankan Curry to dip. Others are served with a variety of chutneys like young coconut, tomato, and strawberry habenero mint. It’s a lot of flavors to take in, but they certainly make for an extremely interesting and adventurous eating experience.

Tanga Dosa
Tanga Dosa

But one of the most popular dishes seems to be the Tanga Dosa, filled with an unusual combination of ramen noodles, carrots and cabbage for crunch, and Gobi Cauliflower (chili cauliflower), which resembles more of a Chinese sweet and sour dish because of it’s bright orange hue. “Chinese food is actually really popular in India right now, or their version of it,” says Akash. “That’s why the Gobi Chicken and Cauliflower look like something from a Chinese restaurant.” The flavors, thankfully, are more tangy and spicy than sweet and sour.

The Tanga was a wonderfully satisfying dosa, giving you a complete protein, veggie and carb meal all wrapped in one extremely delectable package.

Sinhala Dosa
Sinhala Dosa

Also notable is the Sinhala Dosa, which contains juicy chicken, curry and potato. The boldly flavored spices come through loud and clear without coming on too strong. Everything was cooked perfectly from the meat to the lightly crisp yet soft and tender crepe it’s wrapped in.

The Kapoors have taken this humble yet commonly enjoyed Indian dish and managed to make it fun, tasty, and surprisingly unintimidating to a Bay Area audience that might not be familiar with it. It’s a formula they seem to have down pat with Curry Up Now. Now at The Dosa Republic, they’re betting that formula can work for them again.

Dosa Republic Interior

The Dosa Republic
Address: Map
2299 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94403
Phone: 650.458.DOSA
Twitter: @thedosarepublic
Facebook: Curry UpNow

James Beard Award Winning Chef Michael Tusk’s Cotogna

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Cotogna is one of the hardest tables to snag in town. I should know, I’ve been trying ever since the place opened in late 2010. And Chef Michael Tusk’s James Beard Award win earlier this year only made the effort even harder.

Still, my curiosity never waned. Could this more casual sister restaurant to the famous Quince just next door be worth the wait?

Well first off, the restaurant is much smaller than I expected, which explains why there aren’t as many reservation slots as you might think. But I finally got a reasonably timed reservation for a late lunch on a Saturday I was free.

The interior is cozy and unpretentious with it’s light woods and neutral tones, along with the communal table for large parties and walk ins. I loved their linen burlap-like napkins.

As for the food, the rustic menu was the perfect match for the setting and decor. Everything was simple yet there was a definite harmony in the balance of flavors and textures of each dish.

We took advantage of the $20 three-course prix fixe lunch, which changes daily, and also ordered one of their famous wood-fired pizzas, all to share.

First up was the Turkey and Fregola Soup with Wild Rice and a lovely piece of toasted bread. They do meats well here, with their braising and roasting. The stock for this soup had depth and you could tell no corners were cut. It provided a hearty base for this wonderfully flavored soup. The bread provided some crunch and texture.

Next was the Manila Clam, Hot Pepper and Broccoli di Ciccio Pizza that came out of their famous wood-fired oven. The crust was super thin and crisp, but not cracker crisp. There was still a lovely chewiness to it. And there was the perfect amount of blistered char on the bottom. Not so much that the whole thing tasted burnt. The clams were fresh, the sauce was tangy and the bitter greens together gave this pizza a great balance of varied flavors. Then there was that subtle kick from the pepper to finish.

Then we had the Pappardelle with Braised Oxtail. I love a good pasta dish and I could’ve licked this plate clean. My biggest complaint was the serving was a bit on the smaller side. Other than that, the bright yellow ribbons of eggy house-made pasta were almost buttery and cooked to a perfect al dente. The hearty meat sauce was flavorful, tender and seasoned well with just a hint of tomato. I loved how the meat didn’t overpower the pasta. Each element had a chance to complement each other.

We finished with the Warm Pippin Apple and Almond Crostata. Once again, there was a wonderful contrast to the tender sweet apples (not too sweet, thankfully) and the perfectly thin crisp crust. But the real star was the house-made date and cinnamon ice cream. It was the perfect finish.

Service is a bit cold, impersonal, yet professional. It becomes a non-factor if you don’t let it bother you. I let the food and the setting speak for itself, instead.

If I had to choose one word for this restaurant it would be “rustic”. There was nothing glaringly special or over the top here. And though the setting is definitely not white tablecloth stuffy, it’s special enough for a nice occasion. The food is simple, expertly prepared, and there’s a great amount of attention to detail. It’s nothing you’d rush back for, but you’d definitely want to return at some point. It is a memorable meal if you pay attention to the details.

Cotogna on Urbanspoon

Fall is pear season…and this is the perfect pear.

“Oh my God, these pears are beyond words! Where can we get some more of these?”

Those were the first words out of my husband’s mouth after tasting his first Warren Pear. The folks at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood are one of the few farms in the country to grow this specific type since they can be a bit difficult to grow. But it’s SO worth it!

They were nice enough to send me a box to sample since they were blessed with a stellar crop this year. Fall may be apple season to most, but for these guys, it’s the start of pear season.

I had every intention of doing something fun with these pears…like putting them into pre-made pie crust and making a lovely pear galette, placing some slices in a grilled cheese sandwich, or coring them and placing some maple syrup, raisins and cinnamon down the middle to make some perfect baked pears. The texture on these is wonderfully firm so they’d hold up better to baking then some other more common varieties.

But in the end, my husband and toddler couldn’t stay away. I let them have two of the six we received to eat and try and they were instantly hooked. These are simply the perfect pear: ridiculously sugary sweet with a creamy buttery texture and aftertaste. There’s no hint of any grainy, mealy mouthfeel. You have to taste these things to believe it.

Recipe for Frog Hollow Farm/Chez Panisse’s Warren Pear Crisp

You can order these puppies online at http://www.froghollow.com or find them at select Whole Foods Markets. They’re also popping up all over restaurants in the Bay Area.

*This is not a paid post. Free product was received but not in exchange for content.

No Frills Vietnamese Food That Stands Out

Rare Beef Pho Noodle Soup from PPQ

You can take your 4-star rated, celebrity-visited, Michelin-starred Vietnamese restaurants in the city. My most memorable Vietnamese meals have always come from those mom and pop hole-in-the-wall joints.

But my favorite place to get some great pho (noodle soup) or a plate of bun (cold vermicelli plate) is Pho Phu Quoc (or “PPQ” for short).

Located in the heart of the Sunset District in San Francisco on Irving and 19th Avenue, I’ve been coming here since my college days…so it’s been a while. The food has never disappointed me in all that time. Never.

Their soup broth is exceptional. A good bowl of pho noodle soup has to start with a great broth that tastes like those beef bones have been simmering in that liquid all day. Theirs does. They also use Certified Angus Beef, which makes a huge difference. That alone makes the flavor and quality of the food here, stand out.

But aside from that, there are a few dishes here that are exceptional.  I’ve ordered other items, but I always come back to these three.

Shrimp Rolls from PPQ

I love starting with their cold Shrimp Rolls with large poached shrimp, mint and lettuce leaves, vermicelli noodles all wrapped in soft rice paper. I’m usually not a fan of Shrimp Rolls. Most have a dry or rubbery wrapper, wilted greens or soggy shrimp. Their Shrimp Rolls, however, have no evidence of any of these issues. Their cool and soft on the outside the way they should be, and the shrimp and greens give it texture, crunch, and flavor. Love, love, love these.

For entrees, I have a hard time deviating from two dishes, the first being the Crispy Five-Spice Chicken. The boneless chicken thigh is always juicy and tender with a crisp and flavorful deep brown skin. It’s sweet, smokey and just out of this world. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better version of this dish anywhere, and I mean it.

Curry Chicken Pho from PPQ

But my all time favorite is their Curry Chicken Pho. The broth starts with a homemade chicken broth and then it just gets better. It’s got a creamy coconut milk base and is studded with Southeast Asian curry flavors, lemongrass being the most prominent. There’s tender, flavorful pieces of white meat chicken so juicy and moist, which is literally impossible to do with white meat chicken. Then there are beautifully soft, stewed pieces of potatoes and those chewy vermicelli noodles. This is a dish that is rich and full of depth with all of its spices and flavors. There’s simply no other bowl of noodle soup like it.

Now since it’s a neighborhood joint, there’s no atmosphere or attentive service to speak of. If you’re looking for that, go elsewhere. But if you want a thoroughly solid meal for cheap, you’ve found your place. It’s one of the best cheap eats in the city for the quality of food they put out.

So the next time Bill Clinton comes to town for his favorite Vietnamese meal at that swanky place in San Francisco, I’ll be secure in knowing that I got the better meal…and the better deal.

Pho Phu Quoc on Urbanspoon

The Nom Nom Truck: SoCal Comes to NorCal

It’s amazing what a reality show can do for your food truck.

Second place finishers on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” and Los Angeles food truck staple, Nom Nom, have spread their love to the Bay Area.

Co-owners Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met during their time at UCLA. It was also during that time that they realized they could fill a niche in the growing food truck scene.

Nom Nom Truck owners - Jennifer Green and Misa Chien
Nom Nom Truck owners: Jennifer Green and Misa Chien.

“It started in 2009 when we had a lot of Kogi BBQ trucks around the UCLA campus and their popularity grew out of nowhere,” says Jennifer. “I made a lot of Vietnamese food for my friends on a regular basis and I realized the lack of Vietnamese restaurants in the West LA area. Then it clicked.”

Green and Chien chose the classic Vietnamese baguette sandwich, banh mi, as their truck’s specialty not only because there was a lack of places that served it in their area, but because it’s easy to eat.

“It’s portable, it’s fast and has a fresh taste that you can’t get from a burrito or hamburger,” states Jennifer. “The great thing is that we can also put a little bit of our gourmet twist on it too. One of the most traditional banh mi ingredients is grilled pork and I grill it with honey, which is a little different than the traditional. We also have Lemongrass Chicken and Vietnamese tacos, which are like a banh mi in your hand.”

“We also work with Le Boulanger to have our bread baked especially for us from a recipe I worked really hard on.”

Deli Banh Mi sandwich. Photo courtesy of Nom Nom Truck
Deli Banh Mi sandwich.

Indeed, the perfectly crusty on the outside, pillowy on the inside French bread roll is key to a good banh mi, and it was the highlight of the sandwich when I got a chance to sample their Honey Grilled Pork version. The pickled carrots and daikon that topped the sandwich were flavored well and super fresh, but I wish I’d gotten more of them to create more of a textural and taste contrast to the sweet pork. And I missed the lack of fish sauce flavor that brings it all together.

All in all, it seemed like something similar enough to what I could get in a Vietnamese Mom and Pop shop. So what’s the big deal?

First, the size of this sandwich is double the size of one you’d get at a typical brick and mortar. Coming in at 12 inches long, it’s a torpedo of a dish. But more importantly, Nom Nom is obviously trying to appealing to those who have never had a banh mi before.

“It’s exciting to see how many people who have never had one before try it and see their reaction, says Misa. “It’s like an introduction to Vietnamese food for those who have never had it. We’re appealing to the American palate.”

Their popularity has grown steadily, peaking when they started showing up on the Food Network reality show.

“We went into it wanting an adventure and it was a great way to expose our truck to a larger audience. People totally embraced us and it was great to see that feedback,” says Misa. “To see a small town embrace a food dish they’d never tasted like banh mi was a great experience.”

“We were bummed we came in second, but deep down we had to tell each other it was just a reality show. And the great thing was that we won the chance to travel and it was amazing,” says Jennifer.

Nom Nom recently acquired their third food truck and their next move was up north…at least for Misa.

“We decided on San Francisco because it’s a real foodie town and it’s been a dream of mine, personally to live up here,” she says. “We have two trucks in LA and one in San Francisco, now. I’m not complaining that I had to move up here! And the response has been great. People up here come to the truck, whereas in LA, you have to go to the people. They’re a little lazier down there.”

For now, Green and Chien don’t have any other plans to expand. “We have three babies right now and we’re focused on them,” says Jennifer.

For two women fresh out of college, running several food trucks in two major cities can be a challenge, but their goals are clear.

Misa says, “At the end of the day, we want to make people happy through our food. And as employers we want to hire staff that will work together to create an amazing company and work environment. Plus I get to build a great business with my best friend!”

Nom Nom
Twitter: @nomnomtrucksf
Facebook: Nom Nom Truck SF
Various locations throughout the Bay Area (no regular schedule)