Eat Real

Summer in the Bay is all about farmers markets and street fairs, with the latter happening  somewhere just about every weekend.  Usually it’s just the standard stuff on sticks, in buns, battered and fried, foil wrapped.  Delicious, sure, but nothing that’ll make your socks roll up and down.  Until last year, when everything changed.  The bar for street fairs was raised to glorious soaring heights when the Eat Real Festival came on the scene.  Eat Real is an explosion of gourmet food trucks (a growing presence around here, and it’s about goddamn time), stands from local restaurants and vendors, music, chickens, a Wine Barn, and demonstrations of everything from cheese-making to pig butchering.  It was so good on Saturday, in fact, that we skipped Dollar Day at the racetrack to go again on Sunday.  I can hear you wondering, “Could anything be worth skipping Dollar Day??”  Oh my goodness yes.

The festival sprawls out across Jack London Square, on the Oakland harbor.  Spencer on the Go (left) has these wonderful little escargot pops – tender snails wrapped in puff pastry, drenched in garlic butter, and eaten off a toothpick.  The fact that I can eat escargot on a stick in the middle of the street makes me think mankind is going to be alright after all.  Chairman Bao (right) is the hand of God reaching down to the masses, if God drives a truck and his hand is a sweet steamed bun (bao!) full of something amazing.  More about that later.

Gerard’s staggeringly large paella, which I learned today means not only the dish but the pan it’s cooked in.  If you don’t get just a little excited or drooly looking at this picture, there’s something wrong with you, and you are hereby banished to

Dim sum!  Though when there are 85 vendors and only three days to try them in, some of the more accessible things must be foregone.  Sorry dim sum, you’re just too everyday…

Corn from Los Cilantros, possibly the most delicious thing at the festival and definitely among the top three.  Served Mexican street food style, grilled up and slathered with mayo, lime, chili, and salty grated cheese.  Everywhere you went at Eat Real, someone was asking someone else where they got what they were eating, and this seemed to be the thing people were asking about the most.  Definitely a good sign.

Incidentally, Los Cilantros is a catering and farmers market operation that works out of La Cocina, a culinary microbusiness incubator in San Francisco.  They help people, mostly low-income and immigrant women, get started in the food business by providing commercial kitchen space and technical know-how.  In addition to being a great economic development initiative, it’s a significant step toward bringing the area’s best home cooking closer to my mouth.

On top, a sampling of bao from Chairman Bao, the truck I was gushing about before.  On the left, spicy duck confit with tangy, sweet slices of mango and onion.  On the right, chicken with scallions and greens, rich, sweet, and slightly spicy.  Naysayers about this truck may piss and moan about how long the line is or how they don’t want to pay $2.50 for a bao.  Those people need to get over themselves.  These buns are off the chain.

Below the bao, lobster rolls from Sam’s Chowdermobile.  Personally, I like my lobster roll with a touch more mayo, but otherwise these are pretty much perfect.  The lobster is sweet and tender and everything summer should taste like, especially when you eat it sitting on the ground drinking wine out of a mason jar.

Short rib Korean taco.  At least in California, the gourmet food truck movement seems to have gotten really big with the advent of Korean tacos, starting with the Kogi truck in Los Angeles.  This one was pretty good, but the Nunchuk Chicken taco from Kung Fu Tacos was better, IMHO.

Drool-worthy items not photographed include banana beignets and fried plantains from Soleil’s African Kitchen, Zilla dogs and chicharrones from 4505 Meats, and the very good selection at the aforementioned Wine Barn.  There’s no other event I know of where you can watch a steer butchering competition while eating snails on a stick, an organic hot dog covered in fried pork rinds, and a paneer tikka masala burrito.  Eat Real 2011, you cannot come soon enough!

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