Vancouver Farmers Market offers fun food on the fly

I am a grazer. I like to move and eat little bits of many things.

Over the years, many people have told me that they want to open a Portland-style food cart pod in downtown Vancouver. Each time I was excited about the possibility of not having to travel to Portland to eat through a cluster of interesting food carts. Unfortunately, a large food cart pod did not materialize.

During a recent visit to Vancouver Farmers Market, I realized it offered a food cart pod-like experience. Ready-to-eat items have steadily increased over the years. This year’s Farmer’s Market holds many treasures. Here are just a handful of things to try.

Little Miss Baketress Butter Mochi Cakes

Elizabeth Sebastian of Little Miss Baketress made her first butter mochi a few years ago as a Thanksgiving treat for her gluten-intolerant cousin. Sebastian loved the butter mochi so much that she started cooking it for herself.

A typical butter mochi recipe is meant to be shared at a party; it pays a lot. Unable to tackle an entire pan on her own, Sebastian froze some butter mochi cake and shared the rest with friends and family. They encouraged her to start a baking business.

“Everyone needs to get into butter mochi,” she said.

Sebastian sold his assortment of plain, matcha and buttery chocolate chip mochi and chocolate chip mochi in slices and minis at the Salmon Creek Farmers Market last year. This year, she sells her light and fluffy cakes at the Vancouver Farmers Market every other weekend. To keep track of her schedule and pre-order minis (12 for $10) or squares (three for $10 or six for $20), follow Little Miss Baketress on Instagram @littlemissbaketress.

Pork bao, youfan from Small Eats

Laramie Dorris and Dee Chow opened their Taiwanese food stall, Small Eats, at the Vancouver Farmers Market in July 2020.

“We started Small Eats based on our love for Taiwanese food and the lack of Taiwanese food here,” Chow said.

During the pandemic, Dorris and Chow weren’t working, and they couldn’t travel to Taiwan to visit Chow’s parents and eat their favorite meals. They decided to start a food cart to serve the food they needed.

The lengthy menu includes portable dishes that can be eaten while strolling through the market, such as shao bing ($9.50) and scallion pancakes ($7.50). Small Eats also has plenty of vegan options like vegan shao bing ($9.50), xiao long bao ($9.50), scallion pancake ($7.50), and fried mushrooms with crispy basil ( $10.50). Vegetarian dishes include dan bing with soy floss ($8.50), Taiwanese sandwich ($5.50), and marbled tea egg ($2.50).

On a recent visit, the specialty menu listed pork bao ($3.50 each or six for $20) and youfan ($7.50). Bao topping options included braised pork, garlic chicken, and vegan basil with mushrooms. I chose the pork filling, which was tasty. The bao was a perfectly proportioned three-bite portable treat with an ideal filling to dough ratio.

The youfan also came with a choice of meat or vegan. At Small Eats, this savory rice dish is wrapped in a lotus leaf, a wearable and biodegradable covering. The meat option included Taiwan sausage, mushrooms and shallots. The vegan version contained lily flowers instead of sausages.

I tried the pork sausage youfan. The small disks of rehydrated and rehydrated flower shiitake sausage and mushrooms tossed with firm grains of glutinous rice infused with soy sauce, sesame oil, five spice powder, dried shallots and garlic.

Upcoming specials include a chocolate bao made with chocolate ganache coated in chocolate bao batter, as well as a dessert sandwich with apple blossom cream between slices of milk bread.

EK’s Kitchen Egyptian Eggplant Stew

Ekram Caswell’s Egyptian food stall, EK’s Kitchen, was inspired by her son, who always encouraged her to open her own business. She finally overcame her fear of failure this winter and opened a stall at the Vancouver Farmers Market.

Her first day at the market was pretty scary. The weather was cold and a strong wind was blowing from the large tent above his stand. But Caswell’s husband, William, and other market people helped fix the tent. Caswell’s hot Egyptian stews like ful medames ($10, made with fava beans) and eggplant stew ($10, slow-cooked eggplant and tomato with garlic, cumin, coriander and coarse salt ) sold out every day.

Caswell will continue to offer its popular stews at the Farmers Market this spring and summer despite the warmer weather.

“I come from Alexandria,” she said. “Each house prepares this eggplant stew, especially in summer because it can be served cold or hot.”

Caswell also serves grilled meats like the chicken shish-kabob sandwich ($10), chicken kofta ($10) and beef kofta ($10).

Tonics from Funky Fresh Juice Co.

Funky Fresh Juice Co.’s Invigorating Tonic ($5) can be found near the end of the menu after the smoothies and juices. The mixture of lemon, ginger, agave, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera juice and cayenne pepper is served hot or over ice.

“Aloe vera is a pretty subtle ingredient but has some wonderful benefits,” said Beka Swanberg, owner of Funky Fresh Juice Co. She’s also a health coach through her other business, Health Coach by Beka.

Swanberg created his tonic recipe through extensive research.

“I looked at recipe books, Pinterest, and other tonics like those made by Fire Brew, and then picked my favorite ingredients from those different sources,” she says.

The resulting elixir offers a pleasant blend of vinegar and citrus with a hint of sweetness from agave and a hint of fire from the pinch of cayenne pepper.

The Funky Fresh Juice Co. will soon launch a Friday-Monday pop-up at Ingrid’s Good Street Food & Paleo Grill, 1701 Broadway. Swanberg also hopes to add take-out juices for sale at area stores so customers can get juice from Funky Fresh Juice Co. all week.

Pizza a Portafòglio de Grana PDX

Grana PDX serves Neapolitan wood-fired pizza a portafòglio from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Grana will also be open on Saturdays from June.

Pizza a portafòglio translates to “portfolio pizza”. To make this Southern Italian specialty, chef Chris Flanagan prepares a traditional Neapolitan wood-fired pizza, then quad-folds it into a neat, multi-layered, easy-to-eat triangle as he strolls through the farmer’s market.

Menu options range from classic margherita with tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil to Rick & Morta with ricotta, pistachios, bologna and arugula. All pies are $13 and come on a classic 72-hour Neapolitan natural yeast dough.

After the hot pizza is folded four times, Grana drizzles her signature aioli – a bright green sauce made with fresh herbs, garlic and yogurt – on top to give the crust some punch.

“Don’t be afraid of the green sauce,” said Maya Setton, co-owner of the cart with her husband, Chris Flanagan. The cart’s namesake cheese, Grana Padano, is also sprinkled on the folded pizza.

Flanagan’s first job was at a pizzeria. A love for this wood-fired Italian delicacy has accompanied him throughout his career in haute cuisine. He recently developed the pizza menu for Mt. Hood Brewing Tilikum Station Wood-Fired Pizza Pub.

The couple discovered pizza a portafòglio by watching an episode of Rick Steves’ travel show in which Steves visits Naples and eats the portable pie. Folding the pizza offers many advantages. The different layers provide the optimal blend of crust, sauce, toppings and melted cheese in every bite. This structure also retains heat.

“Neapolitan pizza tastes best right out of the oven. The folded pizza retains its heat for over 20 minutes,” Flanagan said.

Eating through the market, rain or shine, offers a fast, interesting and varied dining experience. For those who wish to sit down and eat, Esther Short Park provides a pleasant spot for a picnic when the weather cooperates. Just bring blankets and maybe some utensils. If it’s raining, there’s always the car or the warm confines of the house to enjoy an abundance of goodies from the market.

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Sandy A. Greer