Honolulu's Eat the Street

Puffettes, chimney cakes, and wonton poppers were some of the new street food I got to try at Eat the Street last week in Honolulu. As expected, I found a lot of new items that I had not seen at any of the mainland street vendors I've visited over the last couple of years. And just like Off the Grid and SactoMoFo, people came out in droves to experience a great variety of food in this temporary mobile food pod/event.

Put on by Poni Askew of Streetgrindz, Eat the Street (ETS) happens on the last Friday of the month. It includes the participation of food trucks as well as other street food vendors and has everything from shaved ice to herb encrusted lamb lollipops. With over 30 vendors, there was plenty to choose from.

There were a lot of great things about this event. It was held on a parking lot about the size of a city block, so there was plenty of room for all of the people and for the lines. There was also a lot of tables, both with seating and some standup.

At one end there was a main stage where they try to put on some sort of competition or band. This month there was a chili eating contest to go with the theme of 'spicy'. July the theme had been 'garlic' and a prior month had been 'pork'. Each month they try to feature some art as well. Graffiti art was the theme this time around and some artists were working up by the main stage.

One of the trucks was making its debut at ETS. Puffettes are a pastry coming out of Hong Kong. These puffy pillows are very similar to waffles, only lighter. (I'm told that here in Sacramento you can get these with fruit mixed in the batter at Yummy Cafe on Freeport.)

You can see that he can only make a couple of a time. He did sell out, so he had a successful night.

Another new street food for me was from Chimney Cakes in this nice 'log cabin' trailer. Chimney cakes are Kürtőskalács, or Kürtős Kalács, a Hungarian pastry. In the past the chimney cake was cooked on a tapered spit over an open fire. 

Here they roll them onto wooden spools, brush them with butter, roll in sugar, and then put them into a rotisserie. The sugar caramelizes on the outside. When it is golden brown they roll it in cinnamon, chocolate, coconut or some other topping. 

cooked chimney cakes off the dowels

Of course there were lines, some were long, but nothing like I've seen at events like our own SactoMoFo. I'd say the longest line was about 30 minutes. The problem was waiting for your food to be served up after ordering. Some foods took quite a while to prepare and so the orders backed up.

A lot of trucks lost my business that day though. The reason? They refused to sell smaller portions.

I approached one specialty taco truck that had some interesting 'flavors' of tacos that I wanted to try. But as I looked at the menu I noticed that it said they used 8" tortillas - the same size used for burritos! I talked to the truck owner about why he didn't use small tortillas for tacos like every other truck I knew. He said it was because it was his signature thing to make big tacos because he liked a lot of food and wanted to give his customers the same, and that they expected it.

The thing is, those large tacos (or plate lunches from the other trucks) are fine for every day business and customers. But when you are at a truck event with 20 other trucks, those regulars probably aren't going to visit anyway. They want to go and sample the other trucks that are new and unfamiliar to them. So instead of trying to serve regular customer they should be trying to attract new customers by sampling their wares via small plates.

People want to try several trucks, not just one or two. If he had sold small tacos I could have tried one of each of his tacos for the same price than if I had bought a single large taco for $7 that would have filled me up. He would have gotten the same amount of money and possibly found new customers. Instead I walked away with my money to find some other vendors that were selling smaller items.

This happened with other trucks as well who insisted on selling the plate lunches with rice and salad for $10 instead of downsizing it to a small plate for $5.  As an event attendee, I want to 1) try as many trucks as I can before feeling stuffed and 2) make my money stretch as far as possible.

As I said, in my post on Hawaiian Lunch Wagons, there is long history of the Hawaiian lunch wagons and the plate lunches. They just need to learn that truck rallies are meant to showcase the best of the trucks via samples and sell those as an option along with the large plate lunches.

Still, Eat the Street is a great event which Poni hopes to expand upon, just like Off the Grid has spread throughout the Bay area. We truck advocates are all about sharing the truck love and look to go to areas that don't get as much exposure to them. I'm sure there will be more to come, but until then, if you are a food truck lover, then schedule your Honolulu visit for the end of the month so you can hit Eat the Street.