I get a lot of invitations to foodie events that I can't possibly afford. For me and most of my friends, big ticket dinners and food happenings are for special occasions only. There were a ton of events at this week's Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival that I wanted to attend - but many of them were over $200 each!
Not having the big bucks to spend on fancy food events doesn't mean that a food-lover need go without, though. New York City is teeming with great food that won't break the bank. I even managed to find some of it at last weekend's Maker Faire.
Imagine the thrill of learning (to preserve the mystery, I won't tell you how,) upon arrival at the 2-day geeky, freaky and crafty festival, of a secret food truck, serving noodles for donation only! That's right - your choice if you want to pay or not! I put finding the truck at the top of my list and headed into the festival fray.
Following the convoluted directions I had been given, I eventually arrived at a fenced off area that looked like a loading dock without the dock. There were five or six guys in reflective vests lounging around on four-wheelers or sleeping on stacks of construction materials and a long row of vehicles. I didn't see anything that looked like a food truck, but the guys pointed towards the back when I asked. The truck was your basic box truck - there was no serving window and no signs other than a black & white printed sheet taped to the front door that said something about a Night Market. I walked around to the back where I was greeted warmly by a woman with a funny hat, colorful knee-highs and a white flowing top.
"Would you like some noodles? Please, come sit. We're still getting ready, but have some tea."
I climbed up a rickety stepladder and into the transformed truck. The interior had been turned into a makeshift communal noodle counter. 6 guests sat at either side with long narrow tables and an area in the middle for the servers. The chef was bustling around in the back where 4 burners with large stock pots were clustered next to stacks of bowls and cooking utensils. I felt like a special guest at a cozy party.
The tea arrived in bright orange mugs, steaming hot, with a hint of lychee flavor. We were offered a choice of noodles - Hong Kong style egg noodles (my favorite for kao soi) in a red curry broth or udon in miso. Both came with a kitchen sink assortment of veggies and condiments: watercress, pickled daikon, bean sprouts, mushrooms, white onions, dried tofu, vegetarian ham, half of a hard boiled egg, napa cabbage and yam. I ordered the red curry broth along with 3 other of the 12 guests in our seating - the first of the day, and while we waited, at least 8 more people stopped by hoping for a seat. "Come back in a half hour!" the chef yelled from the back of the truck. Everyone seemed excited and wanted to chat. The servers kept asking what we were making for Maker Faire. We made conversation. We didn't go around in a circle and introduce ourselves, but somehow we learned a few things. There was a chef and his wife, 3 NYU students, a couple on vacation and a festival worker who kept his reflective vest on throughout the meal.
The noodles were ready. The chef brought a bowl to each person, put one hand on their shoulder, made eye contact and declared "Welcome. Here are the noodles I have prepared for you as you requested. Thank you for coming, I hope you enjoy them."
We all giggled and a few of us might have blushed. Then we got down to it - the way you have to with a big bowl of noodle soup - I reached for sesame oil and soy and then with my spoon in one hand and my chopsticks in the other, dove into the hot broth with great abandon. The noodles were perfect, the broth was rich and flavorful, but needed the salty touch of the soy that I had added, and the fake meats were surprisingly welcome chewy bits among the veggies. I'm not a big fan of egg in my Asian soups, but I ate it anyway. Conversation lulled as we all slurped away happily.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I ate the whole bowl. Then, as my dining companions began to disperse, I slipped $7 under the bowl, thanked the chef and headed back out into the mayhem of the Maker Faire. Not a bad price to pay for a unique experience and a satisfying meal.