Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finally! Street food that isn't a hotdog in TO

(My comment: why are they making it so difficult and expensive for these vendors when those dirty hot dog vendors never had to go through all of this expense and training, and probably never will?!)
First two vendors open Asian/Persian and Greek carts Monday at Nathan Phillips
May 15, 2009

city hall bureau

Seemab Ahmad will be among the first out of the gate as Toronto's new street food program gets launched.

"It's a sheer thrill,'' said an excited Ahmad, whose family owns Quick Pita on College St. As of Monday, he'll be serving central Asian/Persian dishes to adventurous street eaters.

Both Ahmad and fellow vendor Blair Bonivento will offer their fare at Nathan Phillips Square beginning on Victoria Day. Six other vendors who are part of the long-anticipated pilot project will set up at their assigned locations soon after.

Ahmad will offer biryani and salsa karahi, served with pita, chapati, naan or rice. To drink he'll have mango lassi, a smoothie-like drink made with homemade yogurt and mango pulp. He'll also have fresh-squeezed juices.

Bonivento will have Greek-themed food and breakfast sandwiches.

Nancy Senawong, a vendor who will take up her spot at Mel Lastman Square early next week, got her cart just yesterday. From it, she'll be offering tasty dishes like Thai barbecue with salad or rice, and pad thai with fresh rolls and cashew nuts – the same as what you'll find at Thai Angels, her family's restaurant on College St.

"I learned to cook from my mom in Bangkok when I was 8 or 9,'' Senawong says.

She says the key to making authentic-tasting – and looking – pad thai is using tamarind sauce, made from a tropical sweet-sour fruit. Some Thai restaurants in the city use ketchup and vinegar instead, which is cheaper, but doesn't taste nearly as good, she said.

She'll operate her cart along with sister Peggy and brother Wattana.

Peggy said she was shocked at how large and heavy the cart is. "It's big, heavy – and expensive,'' she joked yesterday, explaining the family had to take out a bank loan to get it.

The cart has a grill, a sink and a freezer, and they'll need a trailer to transport it.

Seemab Ahmad drove out to Brantford to get his cart, manufactured by Crown Verity Inc., the supplier to all eight vendors. They were trained to use the equipment safely by the company and a Toronto public health inspector.

The vendors, all independent entrepreneurs, have paid between $21,000 and $28,000 for new carts chosen by the city of Toronto. They must also pay annual location fees ranging from $5,000 to $15,000.

Ahmad has three workers already trained in food handling and plans to be selling his food at Nathan Phillips from about 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, a few hours later on weekends.

The program requires owners to spend at least 70 per cent of the operating time at the cart themselves to ensure they are owner-operated.

Only 19 applied to participate in the Toronto a la Cart program – it's believed the rigorous requirements and high costs for the carts dissuaded many – and 12 finalists made it to a taste test with a four-chef judging panel.

In the end, eight vendors were selected through a process that included scoring for nutrition, food safety, locally produced food, ethnic diversity, taste and sound business plan.

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