Vancouver Farmers Market offers fun food on the fly

I’m a grasser. I like to move around and eat little bits of a lot of things.

Over the years, many people have told me that they wanted to open a Portland-style food-cart pod in downtown Vancouver. Each time, I’d get excited about the possibility that I wouldn’t have to drive to Portland to eat my way through a pod of interesting food carts. Sadly, a large food-cart pod hasn’t materialized.

On a recent visit to the Vancouver Farmers Market, I realized that it offers an experience akin to a food-cart pod. Ready-to-eat items have steadily increased over the years. This year’s farmers market yields many treasures. Here are just a handful of things to try.

Butter mochi cakes from Little Miss Baketress

Elizabeth Sebastian of Little Miss Baketress made her first butter mochi a couple of years ago as a Thanksgiving treat for her cousin who is gluten intolerant. Sebastian liked the butter mochi so much that she began baking it for herself.

A typical butter mochi recipe is meant to be shared at a party; it yields a large amount. Unable to tackle a whole pan by herself, Sebastian froze some butter mochi cake and shared the rest with her friends and family. They encouraged her to start a baking business.

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

Sebastian sold her assortment of plain, matcha chocolate chip, and chocolate chocolate chip butter mochi in slices and minis at the Salmon Creek Farmers Market last year. This year, she’s selling her light, chewy cakes at the Vancouver Farmers Market every other weekend. To keep up with 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 booth, 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 around 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 dishes. They decided to start a food cart to serve the food they were missing.

The long menu includes portable dishes that can be eaten while strolling through the market, like shao bing ($9.50) and scallion pancakes ($7.50). Small Eats also offers lots 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), Taiwan sandwich ($5.50) and marbled tea egg ($2.50).

We recently visited, the specials menu listed pork bao ($3.50 each or six for $20) and youfan ($7.50). Bao filling options included braised pork, garlic chicken and vegan mushroom basil. I chose the pork filling, which was flavorful. The bao was a perfectly portioned three-bite portable treat with an ideal filling-to-dough ratio.

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

I tried the pork sausage youfan. The small disks of sausage and razor-thin rehydrated flower shiitake mushrooms melded with firm grains of sticky rice imbued with soy sauce, sesame oil, five-spice powder, dried shallots and garlic.

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

Egyptian Eggplant Stew from EK’s Kitchen

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

Her first day at the market was pretty scary. The weather was cold, and a strong wind blew off the large tent over her booth. But Caswell’s husband, William, and other people at the market helped fix the tent. Caswell’s warm Egyptian stews like ful medames ($10, made with fava beans) and eggplant stew ($10, eggplant and tomatoes slow cooked with garlic, cumin, coriander, coarse salt) sold out every day.

Caswell will continue to offer her popular stews at the farmers market this spring and summer despite the warmer weather.

“I’m from Alexandria,” she said. “Every home cooks this eggplant stew, especially in the summer because it can be served cold or hot.”

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

Tonics from Funky Fresh Juice Co.

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

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

Swanberg created her tonic recipe through extensive research.

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

The resulting elixir provides a pleasant mix of vinegar and citrus with a touch of sweetness from agave and a lick of fire from the pinch of cayenne.

The Funky Fresh Juice Co. will soon start a popup Fridays through Mondays at Ingrid’s Good Street Food & Paleo Grill, 1701 Broadway. Swanberg also hopes to add grab-and-go juices to sell at stores throughout the area so that customers can get the Funky Fresh Juice Co.’s juice all week long.

Pizza a Portafòglio from Grana PDX

Grana PDX serves wood-fired Neapolitan pizza a portafòglio from 10 am to 3 pm Sundays. Grana will also be open on Saturdays starting in June.

Pizza a portafòglio translates as “wallet pizza.” To make this southern Italian specialty, chef Chris Flanagan bakes a traditional wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, then folds it four times into a neat, multi-layered triangle that’s easy to eat while wandering through the farmers market.

Menu options range from the classic margherita with tomato, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil to the Rick & Morta with ricotta, pistachio nuts, mortadella and arugula. All pies are $13 and come on a classic Neapolitan 72-hour naturally leavened dough.

After the hot pizza is folded four times, Grana drizzles its signature aioli — a bright green sauce made with fresh herbs, garlic and yogurt — on top to give the crust bites a bit of punch.

“Don’t fear the green sauce,” said Maya Setton, who co-owns the cart with her husband, Chris Flanagan. The cart’s namesake cheese, Grana Padano, is also sprinkled over the folded pizza.

Flanagan’s first job was in a pizza restaurant. A love for this Italian wood-fired delicacy stayed with him throughout his career in fine dining. He recently developed the pizza menu at the Mt. Hood Brewing Tilikum Station Wood-Fired Pizza Pub.

The couple discovered pizza a portafòglio while 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 various layers provide an optimal mix of crust, sauce, toppings and melted cheese in each bite. This structure also retains heat.

“Neapolitan pizza tastes its best when it’s hot from the oven. Folded pizza retains its hotness for over 20 minutes,” Flanagan said.

Eating your way through the market rain or shine provides a quick, interesting and varied dining experience. For those who wish to sit and eat, Esther Short Park provides a pleasant place for a picnic when the weather cooperates. Just bring blankets and maybe utensils. If it rains, there’s always the car or the warm confines of home to savor a bounty of market treats.

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