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Who Is My Local Food Hero? Suresh Doss, That's Who

It's time for my monthly post for The Great Canadian Food Experience Project where Canadian bloggers from across our nation write about a different subject each month. This month we are talking about great Canadian food heros and since I am from Toronto and I am pretty passionate about bringing diverse, interesting street food options to our city, I chose to write a bit about Suresh Doss, our very own Toronto food truck warrior.

Toronto, despite being a world class city that likens itself to places like New York and Paris, has long suffered from draconian city bylaws that hinder any attempt to serve interesting street food. If you were flogging a grilled hot dog topped with condiments that sit out in the sun all day from a cart, or deep frying potatoes and griddle frying greasy burgers in a truck down at the foot of Cherry St,  you were golden but if you wanted to make me a pulled pork sandwich with kimchi, you were out of luck. Don't get me wrong, I like a nice, greasy fry from time to time but I want more options. We have had to sit and watch Japadog take over Vancouver and Kogi Korean BBQ  transform the idea of Korean fusion food in LA. I actually followed Korilla BBQ from NYC on twitter for two years before I even got a chance to go there and eat something because I was so desperate for a real food truck experience. That is how it was, up until the summer of 2011.

my first real food truck , Calexico in NYC

That summer was when all that seemed like it was about to change. Suresh Doss, a tech guy who ate his way around the world before starting Spotlight Toronto, an online guide to food, wine and lifestyle in Ontario was inspired by the food truck revolution in cities like NYC, Miama and LA. He organized the very first Food Truck Eats  event at the Distillery District in Toronto at the start of summer. That first event saw only 4 actual food trucks participating with twice as many vendors. I didn't know what to expect but I think what nobody DID expect was to have 1 hour+ line ups filled with smiling, happy people who clearly did not mind the wait if it meant that they could have a delicious fish taco at some point. They had planned for about 800 and 4000 hungry people showed up.

my virgin Toronto food truck taco experience

The second Food Truck Eats  event that summer was even bigger and the lines were even longer with people who were still just as happy to wait. This time we saw about 10 food trucks, 14 vendors and an estimated 10,000 people filling the entire Distillery District. Vendors were actually selling out of food well before closing time which might be frustrating for those of us waiting for a chance to eat a taco from La Carnita but a great sign for the organizers that they are on the right track. By the time the third event was held in early fall of 2011, it was clear that the city was dying for this food experience and still, it felt like nobody at City Hall was ever going to listen.

Pad Thai Fries. WHAT??

Since then, the number of trucks associated with Toronto Food Trucks has swelled to over 30 and Food Truck Eats events have happened all over the city, in other cities, sometimes in conjunction with the wonderful people of TUM ( The Toronto Underground Market), another local food movement. There is a web site, there is a book Street Eats Toronto, food trucks like Gastronomico Vagabundo and Gorilla Cheese are like rock stars in the city as well as food truck activists, helping slowly change the bylaws in other cities like St Catherine's, Hamilton, Niagara and Ottawa to allow them to operate, often just on privately owned property at first with the eventual goal of allowing them to roam the city and park wherever they like, serving curbside,  like they do in so many other big cities.

Mr. Hynam-Smith of El Gastronomo Vagabundo summed it up perfectly when he spoke to The Globe and Mail last June. 

“This guy, selflessly, I don’t know when the guys sleeps – he’s some sort of Sri Lankan god or something. I don’t know, maybe he’s part elephant. He can just soldier on through anything.”

Gastronomico Vagabundo is a staple at Niagara's Suppermarket

In 2009 there was a failed food vendor experiment that came through City Hall called A La Cart that left many vendors bankrupted and angry when they were victims of a project that was doomed to fail from the start. The vendors were forced to use ridiculously overpriced carts that were not suited to anything other than grilling hot dogs and the vendors had to try to adapt these carts to work for them while mamboing and slipping and sliding around the strict regulations that did not really allow them that freedom. The location fees were ridiculous and, in the end, 7 of the 8 original vendors did not renew for a second year and in 2011 it was scrapped. It was a total disaster.

Now, two city counsillors, Josh Colle and Mary Margaret McMahon have been working with Suresh and his Food Truck group to bring a pilot program to Toronto this summer which will see food trucks operating at five Toronto parks starting Aug 1. According to random polls, the overwhelming majority of Torontonians want these food trucks to be allowed to roam the streets, bringing us a wide array of interesting, diverse, well priced food options so that we are no longer a slave to nothing but hot dogs and sausages that sit on out on the grill all day from the ubiquitous hot dog cars, known simply as street meat here in the city. These trucks meet all the health codes, are inspected regularly and are as squeaky clean as any brick and mortar restaurant and are a far cry from the standard chip truck that, up until now, was all we knew.

So, because you have fought so tirelessly to bring me fish tacos and grilled cheese with bacon and green apple, Pad Thai fries and arancini, I salute you Suresh Doss.

why yes, that is chicken tikka, fries with raita and siracha

and these guys made it

follow Suresh on Twitter or Ontario Food Trucks On Facebook

Inspired by the many variations of all manner of seafood in a taco that I have enjoyed from food trucks, I came up with this Calamari Taco

Calamari Tacos

corn tortillas
deep fried squid
mango aji amarillo sauce or MVP sauce
fresh baby pea shoots (you can sub in anything green and crunchy - shredded cabbage is the norm)
buttermilk crema

on a warm corn tortilla, lay out a few pieces of calimari. Drizzle some MVP sauce and some buttermilk crema over the squid and then plop on a bit of pea sprouts.
Eat it.

Corn tortillas
2 cups masa harina
2 cups warm tap water

mix together the masa  harina and the water and cover and let it sit for about 15 minutes while you prep the other ingredients. When it's time to make your tortillas, check it and if it feels a bit dry, add more water, a tbls at a time until if feels like soft cookie dough.
Preheat a dry cast iron griddle or pan over med high heat.
 Divide it up into about 16 golf ball sized balls and cover. Take one ball at a time and either roll it out really thin or use a tortilla press (wrap the two discs in plastic wrap) to press out each tortilla.
Cook the tortillas for about 30 seconds per side (they should puff up) and wrap them in a clean tea towel until you are done all of them. You can let them sit, wrapped in the warm tea towel for 10 or 15 minutes as well.

*if you don't want to make that many tortillas, just always use equal amounts of warm water and masa since these tortillas don't really hold all that well so only make as many as you are going to eat for dinner.

Calamari/Fried Squid

about 1 lb cleaned squid, cut into rings like for calamari (great photo tutorial on how to clean squid)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp cumin
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
enough vegetable oil to reach about 3" deep in your pot of choice

Rinse the squid thoroughly and pat dry. Cut the tentacles in half lengthwise and the tubes into 1/2-inch rings. Set aside.

Place the flour ,cornmeal and cumin into a medium mixing bowl and stir to combine. In small handfuls, dredge the squid in the flour mixture and shake off the excess. Another cool trick I remember seeing on a youtube video was to put the flour and cormeal mixture into a baggie and then throw the squid in there, shake it around and then set a strainer over a bowl and dump the calamari into the strainer. Give the strainer a few shakes and it will dump the excess flour mixture into the bowl and you can just grabe the breaded squid out of the strainer to throw into the hot oil. I haven't tried that method but I keep meaning to.
In batches, gently lower the squid into the hot oil. Cook for 1 minute. The squid will not be really browned, but lightly golden in color. Remove the squid and transfer to a cooling turned upside down set over a newspaper-lined cookie pan or on a plate lined with a couple layers of paper towel. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Repeat until all of the squid is cooked. Make sure to check the temperature of the oil before each batch to ensure it is 375 degrees F. Serve immediately.

Mango Aji Amarillo sauce or MVP sauce 
adapted from Bobby Flay

1 tbls veg oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 mango, chopped
3 tsp aji amarillo paste
2 tbls honey (or to taste)
1/2 cup white vinegar
salt to taste

heat oil in a small pan over med heat and sauté the onion and garlic until it's soft. Add in the chopped up mango and the pepper paste and cook, stirring often, for about five minutes. Add in the honey and vinegar and cook over low heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and pour that  mixture into a blender and puree til smooth. Strain it through a strainer over a bowl and taste. Add salt to taste

Buttermilk Crema

1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbls greek yogurt
1 tsp lime juice
pinch kosher salt
1 tbls chopped cilantro

mix together the all of the ingredients and taste and adjust seasonings if you wish.

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