This season, the Fort Mason edition of Off the Grid features market-exclusive items from 32 vendors, ranging from the simple and comforting to the exotic and extreme. In this first part of five we attempt to taste all of them -- one bite at a time.
If there's one thing that the food truck scene has cultivated, it is an expanded menu of global food (much of it thanks to both Off the Grid and La Cocina). Regional Mexican, Mamak Malaysian, Nepalese, and cuisine from other countries around the world mingle comfortably with the burgers and pizzas at the food truck rallies. Here are eight Off the Grid Fort Mason specialty items that will have you globe-trotting and back at home in a single night.
Azalina's Malaysian: Malaysian Crab Tamale ($8)
One of the most colorful and layered dishes at Off the Grid, topped with a mesh of pickled vegetables, pineapple, sauces, nuts, and herbs, this is no ordinary tamale. Made with flower crabs, a special variety-- tiny, but with very sweet meat -- that gets weaved into the polenta and given a nice steam. Each bite is unique and delicious. The flavors and textures never allow your palate to dull, each one priming you for the next. This is something we hope ends up on the menu of Azalina Eusope's upcoming brick and mortar location.
Bini's Kitchen: Quati--aka Nepali Chili ($6)
Hailing from Kathmandu, Nepal, chef Binita Pradhan knows how to wrangle a larder of spices into one of the most interesting dishes around. A mix of sprouted and cooked beans in a fragrant and fiery broth is the best talisman you can carry around with you to ward off the fog and sea breeze on those days when they make their way past the Golden Gate.
Burr-Eatery: Frijoles Charros ($6)
Even though Burr-Eatery specializes in the flavors of the northern Mexican state of Sonora -- best known for its flour tortillas and beef -- some of the most impressive dishes here are vegetarian, like these Frijoles Charros. Rancho Gordo pinquito beans come in a bowl, brothy and tender, lightly spiced and thickened with cactus paddle. They're great on their own, but even better when paired with one of their burritos.
El Pípila: Quesadilla Guanajuato ($4)
Quite possibly the best deal at the market, this quesadilla is built around a large, thick, handmade corn tortilla filled with roasted poblano peppers and Oaxaca cheese that is then placed on the griddle until the cheese oozes out. The whole thing gets topped with crisp lettuce and even more cheese, making this a cheese lover's dream. This new vendor is also noteworthy since it specializes in Mexican cooking from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato.
France Delices: Savory Pies ($11)
This longtime farmers market charcuterie-vendor-turned-food-truck-operator serves up some impressively tasty pies that are a cross between a pot pie and an empanada. Nestled in a balsamic-dressed bed of greens, the pie bursts with meat and creamy veggies without being too soupy. The star here is the cream cheese crust that provides structural stability, dairy richness, and a tender, flaky crust.
Ñora: Patatas Bravas ($4)
Patatas Bravas may be a Spanish dish, but the joy of eating cubed chunks of crisp fried potatoes translates into any language. At Ñora, the tapas bar staple gets the usual pimentón spice coating, but also two sauces, a kicky romesco, and an intense garlic aioli. You'll buy these thinking you'll just have a couple and share with your friends, but let me save you some trouble and another wait in line: You need your own.
Raj + Singh: Samosa Party ($5)
Who doesn't love a great party, or samosas? Or having both at once with you as the guest of honor? A rendition of a traditional samosa chaat, where crisp diamonds filled with spiced potatoes and peas get doused in chana masala (spiced garbano bean stew), sweet and spicy chutneys, yogurt, and cilantro. Bold, with enough heat to make your mouth pulsate, but mild enough that it will make you warm without the sweat, the wonderful chutneys elevate this version to raging house party every time.