There aren’t many ways you can get tacos, Vietnamese soup, hoagies and Creole etouffee all in one location, but last Saturday, March 15, that place was downtown Asheville at the Masonic Temple, as part of the Asheville Tattoo and Arts Expo.
The food truck chefs competed on Saturday to see whose food could impress celebrity judges the most and win the title of “Best Truck in Asheville.” The group Pinups for Pitbulls played host, and the Manna Food Bank and the Asheville Humane Society received a portion of the proceeds.
My friend and I, big lovers of a variety of cuisines, sampled the fare of two trucks: Pho Ya Belly, serving Vietnamese pho soup, and Root Down, serving Creole and Cajun cuisine.
I ordered the rabbit etouffee, a twist on the traditional Creole stew which usually calls for seafood or chicken, and boudain balls, which are globes of the rice, meat and herb filling of boudain sausages, breaded and deep fried. My companion enjoyed a small cup of pho.
Having been born and raised in Southeast Texas – which is so close to Louisiana in proximity and culture that we spend much of our time cooking, drooling over, eating and planning for the next crawfish boil or gumbo cookoff – I consider myself a good judge of Cajun and Creole food. Getting good, authentic Cajun or Creole food very far out of Louisiana is very difficult; one need only travel to Houston – a mere 95 miles from the Louisiana border – to begin to get dishes that lack the pizzazz and heat that are the trademark of the cuisine. By the time one reaches Florida or San Antonio along the Gulf Coast, all semblance of true Cajun and Creole cuisine is typically lost. So, I was prepared for a mediocre experience, but kept my hopes high.
I was pleasantly surprised. The etouffee was delicious, but it really could have passed for gumbo as opposed to the lighter and thicker roux typically found in etouffees. I found the rabbit to be well prepared and somehow not out of place at all as part of a dish that begs for crawfish and shrimp. The roux was nice and dark, flavored well, but not quite spicy enough for my Cajun palate. As a whole, the etouffee was a very good gumbo, especially this far out of Louisiana; but etouffee it was not.
The boudain balls were nicely prepared. The boudain itself was flavorful and delicious; it carried the traditional Cajun (as opposed to Creole) notes of pork, liver and bell peppers. It was moist and held together nicely outside its usual casing. It was served with some sort of sweet sauce in the bottom of the tray and topped with a mustard sauce that I found overwhelmed the delicate and subtle flavors of the boudain itself. I would have preferred the sauce been served on the side so it did not soften the crispness of the coating or overpower the boudain, but overall the boudain balls were quite successful.
The pho my friend enjoyed was a classic beef pho, served Vietnamese street-style in a small cup with the fresh herbs and sprouts floating on top. It was meaty and brothy, with a good amount of noodles at the bottom of the cup. She remarked that after a night of drinking, this was a wonderful soothing dish for the first post-hangover meal. Pho has become a wide favorite in recent years, and a new role as fitting hangover food may be one of the most novel applications yet.
We wish we’d had enough time, money, and tummy space to sample the fare of the remaining trucks, but it did inspire me to visit them in their home locations. Look for a food truck series coming soon to AshevilleBlog.com!