Thursday 19 July 2018

Exotic meals on wheels


Kerala Kitchen. Photo by Natalie Marquez Courtney
Kerala Kitchen. Photo by Natalie Marquez Courtney
Roy Hennessy of Pow Bao. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Patrick Hegarty of Pow Bao. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Pow Bao. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
K Chido. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
K Chido. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Theresa Hernandez of K Chido. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Grainne Flynn and Lewis Cummings of Kerala Kitchen. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Kerala Kitchen. Photo by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Kerala Kitchen. Photo by Natalie Marquez Courtney
Kerala Kitchen. Photo by Natalie Marquez Courtney

Nathalie Marquez Courtney

With the first ever Irish Street Food Awards having taken place last weekend - where Dundalk's Dark Horse Pizza took the first prize - it's safe to say that Ireland's urban food scene is on the up.

With the first ever Irish Street Food Awards having taken place last weekend - where Dundalk's Dark Horse Pizza took the first prize - it's safe to say that Ireland's urban food scene is on the up.

In the US, food trucks are far from a passing fad - they are set to generate about $2.7bn in revenue this year alone, making them a formidable foodie force to be reckoned with. We're not quite at the levels of Los Angeles - where there are literally thousands of trucks dotted around the sprawling city - just yet, but more and more are starting to pop up around Ireland, either in dedicated spaces, like Dublin's Eatyard food market, or at events, markets and even weddings.

The appeal is clear - fresh, inventive, local produce for punters and an easier, more affordable way for entrepreneurs and talented chefs to test if there's a market for their wares. Here, we meet three Irish food truck aficionados who are taking the feast to the streets.

Kerala Kitchen

Kerala Kitchen is the ultimate food truck fairy tale - a curry house on wheels that went on to become a busy bricks-and-mortar premises. "In India they have a saying, 'The more beautiful your truck, the more profitable your business,'" says owner Gráinne Flynn. It's no wonder that her Indian food business, which she runs with her husband, Lewis Cummings, is doing so well. Their colourful hand-painted truck took two weeks to create, and it's what kicked off an adventure that resulted in multiple market stalls, a sideline in catering, and a permanent home on Dublin's Baggot Street.

Inspired by his travels around Kerala in India, Londoner Lewis returned eager to recreate the fresh, zesty flavours of the region and, in 2009, started selling his wares in Donegal. "No one else was doing Indian food from a truck in Ireland at the time," he recalls. "I had the truck made in England. It came off the boat and we drove it straight to our first festival."

Business boomed and market stalls followed, with the truck becoming a staple on the event and festival circuit. Soon, regular customers were asking where their permanent home was. "People were assuming we had a restaurant," laughs Lewis. "But it was brilliant, because when we did finally open, we knew there was demand, interest and support."

Their beloved truck, with its bright pink elephant, is still a regular at events up and down the country, and the focus has remained on keeping things fresh, healthy and authentic. "We wanted that precise Indian influence in the food, so it's not too heavy," says Gráinne.

More recently, the couple have introduced tasty naan rolls to their stand at Dublin's Eatyard food market, which were an instant hit. "The reaction was huge," says Gráinne. The meat is grilled in the tandoori oven and wrapped in fresh made-to-order naan bread, resulting in a sandwich-kebab- burrito hybrid that has caused its fair share of lunchtime queues. Their menus also feature chickpeas, as they have a big vegan and vegetarian following, but, Gráinne says, "The curry (see recipe, below) is our signature dish."

Kerala coconut chicken curry

Serves 4


2 tbsp coconut oil

3 green cardamom pods

1 fresh bay leaf

6 fresh curry leaves

2 medium white onions, chopped

2 green chilli, sliced lengthways into 2 pieces, with seeds

½ tsp fresh ginger

½ tsp fresh garlic

Pinch of turmeric powder

Pinch of garam masala

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp red coriander powder

½ tsp red cumin powder

1 tbsp desiccated coconut

½ cup tomatoes, chopped

500g chicken, diced

1 cup coconut milk

1 tbsp tamarind pulp

Pinch of salt

1 whole red chilli

¼ tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp chopped fresh coriander


1. Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the green cardamom, bay leaf and 3 curry leaves. Fry for 30 seconds, then stir in the onion and fresh green chilli, and fry gently for about 10 minutes until softened and lightly golden.

2. Grind the fresh ginger and garlic to a pulp with a pestle and mortar, add to the pan with all the dry spices and desiccated coconut, and fry for 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes until rich and reduced.

4. Add the chicken and cook for a further 5 minutes or until just cooked through. Add the coconut milk, tamarind and salt. Check the seasoning.

5. In a separate pan, quickly fry the whole red chilli, mustard seeds and remaining curry leaves in hot oil until sizzling and aromatic, then stir into the finished dish; this is called tempering and really lifts the flavours of the dish.

6. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve with steamed brown or white basmati rice or naan bread.

Pow Bao

"We spent a lot of time leaning out of the van," laughs Roy Hennessy, remembering when his food truck, Pow Bao, first opened up in Dublin's Eatyard food market. Roy and his fellow chef Patrick Hegarty would entice people with fortune cookies, and then go about introducing them to bao, a Taiwanese sandwich-like snack that has been building a slow and steady buzz here, but is already huge on the street food scene in cities like LA, London and San Francisco. "We'd make bets with people," says Roy. "We'd say, 'Why don't you order one, eat it, and if you don't like it, you don't have to pay.' We'd always get the money."

So what exactly is a bao? "In Taiwan, they have a name for it that directly translates as 'tiger-biting pig'," explains Roy. "You have soft, fluffy bread that creates a texture in your mouth and then inside you have all these great flavours." The key to a great bao is in the contrast of the warm, steamed pocket giving way to a combination of interesting, surprising flavours - sometimes tangy and spicy, other times charred and crisp.

Pow Bao serves up pillowy steamed buns stuffed with a range of tasty fillings, from soy ketchup-marinated pulled belly of pork to panko cod fillet with pickled cucumber. It definitely helps that they're photo-friendly too. "We've got a lot of coverage on Instagram," says Roy.

Each bao draws on a mix of elements familiar to Irish audiences (pulled rotisserie chicken, for example) with a chef's attention to ingredients and detail (burnt pineapple served with sriracha salsa).

Roy is no stranger to trending food ventures. After 10 years working in some of Amsterdam's hottest eateries, including a Michelin-starred restaurant, hip supper club and the city's famous food hall, Foodhallen, he returned to Dublin and teamed up with Eatyard to create the Pow Bao experience.

Serving them up at home is more straightforward than it initially appears. Pre-made baos are available from most Asian supermarkets, as are the bamboo steamers you cook them in, which often just cost a couple of euro. "You could even do a very Bear Grylls version of it," says Roy. "You just need a pot of water, a colander and a lid to steam them. It's that simple. "

Bang Bang Bao

Makes 8


For the peanut sauce:

500ml gluten-free soy sauce

50g sriracha

25ml water

150g peanut butter

500g tikka masala paste

100g mayonnaise

For the filling:

8 bao buns

900g roast or rotisserie chicken, shredded

1 carrot, julienned

200g beansprouts

Handful of pea shoots or micro herbs to garnish

1 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts


1. To make the peanut sauce, in a blender combine the soy sauce, sriracha, water, and peanut butter and blend until smooth. Stir in the tikka masala paste and mayonnaise.

2. Put the bao buns in a bamboo steamer and place over a pot of simmering water. Steam until soft and puffy - the buns will only open easily when sufficiently steamed.

3. To serve, open each bun and place a small amount of chicken, carrot and beansprouts inside. Layer over with a generous amount of peanut sauce and garnish with crushed peanuts and micro herbs or pea shoots.

K Chido

Theresa Hernández is in the habit of getting ahead of the curve. She first started serving up Mexican food here in Ireland way before there was a burrito joint on every street corner - in 1997 to be precise. After living in Mexico for five years, Theresa and her Mexican husband, Gus, moved back to Ireland in the late '80s and found themselves pining for the flavours of his home. "There were no corn chips, avocados or chillis - we couldn't even get the raw ingredients," she remembers.

Theresa and Gus were one of the first stalls to set up in Temple Bar's Meeting House Square market when it opened, initially selling their home-made salsas - "People thought they were jam," she laughs - then adding burritos and fajitas.

Over the years, they developed a loyal following of regulars and were well and truly ready when Mexican food started taking off a couple of years ago; catering events, running supper clubs, and launching Mero Mero, their own range of salsas and soups. "Irish people love spice," she notes. "They always did love it - they just didn't know it because there wasn't anything here to try."

A few years ago, they teamed up with Oisín Healy, who ran the popular Crêpes in the City truck. "I knew nothing about trucks, and he knew nothing about making Mexican food," she says. "So he went about designing the truck and I developed an authentic Mexican street food menu."

As well as touring festivals, events and private parties around the country, the bright pink and green truck serves as a seven-day-a-week café from its home in Dublin 7, and is a popular brunch spot with both Dubs and Mexicans alike. "So many Mexicans come here and say, 'This is it. This is the place that tastes like home,' and I love that," says Theresa.

The introduction of chilaquiles - a quintessential Mexican brunch dish consisting of fried corn tortillas lathered in salsa and served with eggs, cheese or beans - was an instant success. "Dubliners who struggled to pronounce 'chilaquiles' a month ago now pop in and it trips off their tongue," laughs Theresa. "The way we serve is the way you'd get it if you went to any street food market in Mexico."


Serves 2


For the salsa ranchera:

200ml chicken or vegetable stock

400g chopped tomatoes

100ml bottle Mero Mero chipotle hot sauce

1 tbsp sunflower oil

For the chilaquiles:

1 packet of corn tortillas

4 medium eggs

To garnish: ½ avocado, sliced

2 tbsp grated cheese, optional

1 tbsp coriander


1. In a blender, combine a quarter of the stock mixture with the can of tomatoes and chipotle sauce (don't worry, the end result is very mild).

2. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and fry the contents of the blender. Add the rest of the stock and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Keep the salsa ranchera warm while you prepare the rest.

3. Cut the corn tortillas into triangles and fry in an inch of hot sunflower oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan or pot until crispy but not too golden brown. Carefully lift them out and drain on kitchen paper. Fry the eggs in a saucepan, sunny side up.

4. To serve, put two handfuls of corn chips on each plate, top with two or more tablespoons of salsa ranchera. Add the eggs and garnish with avocado and a sprinkle of cheese and coriander. For a heartier version, you can add some pinto or black beans.

Words and photography by Nathalie Marquez Courtney

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