Searching for Food Trucks in the Nissan Pao


I’m really not a foodie. I can’t emphasize that enough. Foodies blog, tweet, and yammer on ad nauseum about everything they’ve ever eaten as if it were their last meal before getting the chair. I don’t even like food that much. I tolerate food. I get that it’s tasty and all that, but there seems to be more landmines than jackpots out there. I’m not talking about food poisoning but rather nutritional value. I guess what I’m saying is that I value my health more than I value tastiness. This opinion very much places me with the salmon swimming upstream against the relentless onslaught of marketing messages, societal pressures, and social acceptability. Being a foodie is cool. Being an un-foodie flat-out isn’t.

So when I heard about this Drift Food Truck (@driftfoodtruck) through Twitter, I didn’t think much of it at first. Ok, it’s a kitchen on wheels. I get it, but big whoop. Then I started to notice how lastingly popular it seemed to be with my local Twitter folk and how Drift kept selling out of certain items. It couldn’t be so popular by accident, right? Their menu also started to attract my attention with a fairly mouth-watering combination of locally grown ingredients all wrapped into a sandwich – like the pork belly sandwich with pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro, and chili mayo. Not exactly kosher, but a delicate mixture of flavours that couldn’t be further separated from any other mobile food vendor in town, such as they are.

So a few months went by and I continued to hear about this truck until it grew into an inescapable curiosity in my mind. The pieces all started to fall into place when my buddy Des from Auto Details offered to let me drive his Nissan Pao. Ok, he didn’t offer at all, I begged and nagged like a 4-year-old who wants to go to the Zoo to see the elephants. Of course, the 4-year-old always wins and I found myself behind the thin-rimmed wheel of a twenty-year-old car that looks like it’s a 50-year-old car and yet has the craftsmanship and attention to detail of a Mars Rover from 2125, or somewhere thereabouts.

The Pao driving experience is not unlike that of the Nissan Figaro that I tested a few months back (review), and is therefore remarkable for its right-hand-driveness and supreme shortage of power. The Pao, then, isn’t much to drive. But is very, very much to pore over with a magnifying glass and a few cozy rays of sunshine on a late fall afternoon. Even if you stop reading this right now, take a moment to breathe in the pictures in the gallery below. They tell the real story. The detailing of the Pao, from the messenger-bag-like seatback pockets to the “Pao” engraved tape slot cover to the beautifully machined hinges, is a veritable cornucopia of style and commitment to design. Just spending time with the Pao, even without driving it, focused my attention on small details. You’ll soon see why this is important.

If you’re still with me, you’ll be wondering about my on-going search for food truckery behind the helm of a picturesque old Nissan. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! The crescendo has built as far as it can and the climax is now inevitable. The tension is mounting. It’s so tangible you can almost, ironically, taste it. So there I am, sat in the recliner chair of the Pao, desperately hunting for my wheeled prey. As I curl the Pao around traffic in Edmonton’s peaceful downtown core, I decide that now is the moment. This is finally it. I pull the car over, grab my iPhone from my pocket, open the Twitter app, search “drift food truck”, find @driftfoodtruck, read their most recent tweets, and find that they’re currently located just minutes away in Churchill Square, the beating heart of the downtown arts district.

My months long search is over in a matter of seconds. [On a related note, I love when technology works the way I want it to.] I pull back into traffic and weave my way towards the only food in the world I can currently imagine eating. Finding a parking spot isn’t easy in this area, but I’m craftier than most. I park a few blocks east, just past the iconic Art Gallery of Alberta (where I’ve just purchased a membership, support the arts!), at a curbside parking meter. Parking east of Churchill Square is always a questionable decision. It’s seedy, and that’s putting it mildly. But I had no other choice: I would have to trust Des’ prized Pao in the hands of vagabonds, drifters, and riffraff. Because there’s no central locking, I had to lock the passenger door and driver’s side door manually from the outside; a minor hassle that was worth the peace of mind that it brought. Hungrily, I made my way past the transients, past the AGA, and into the square. And there, in all its green boxy glory was the glorious Drift Food Truck.

I stop only momentarily to take a picture before finding myself in front of a rather tempting menu. At this point, it should be noted that it was 3:00pm on a lovely October Saturday and I hadn’t had more than a banana and a coffee up to this point. It should also be noted that I spent the previous evening on a tour of the Alley Kat Brewery, home of the Aprikat, and was still feeling some of the ill effects of freshly-brewed, fruit-flavoured suds. After a quick scan of the menu, the item at the bottom of the Sandwich list spoke to my inner Israelite: Falafel.

Falafel and fries are well-establish bedfellows, so I ordered the fresh-cut “spiced drift style” fries as well. A few minutes later, a smiling face (co-owner Nevin) called me by name and presented me with my manna.

I’ve never tasted such fries. They’ll haunt me like that burger haunted Marshall in HIMYM. But even they are nothing compared to the falafel. Oh, what a feeling! Drift’s homemade falafel patti is the softest, most sensual falafel patti I’ve ever tasted. It’s creamy, it’s gentle, it’s angelic. It’s like falling into a foam pit of chickpeas, coriander, cumin, onion, garlic, parsley, and Drift magic – all smothered in tzatiki and wrapped in a gently warmed bun. It was nothing less than transcendent. It was the best falafel I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Better than anything in Edmonton, better than anything in Berlin, and better than anything in Jerusalem. Simply: The Best.

But why was it the best? I couldn’t ignore the Pao that had brought me to it. Experience is perception and my perception was definitely in Ultra High Detail Mode after driving the Pao, such is the loving craftsmanship that went into building it. My intense microscopic focus brought out flavours and textures in that falafel that I didn’t think were possible. I felt like the entirety of my mind was devoted to experiencing that falafel. At the time, I wasn’t with anyone to distract me with conversation, I wasn’t reading anything, I wasn’t watching anything. It was just me, a chair, a table, and that falafel and fries. As a result, I now have an indelible bond with the Drift Food Truck and the Nissan Pao. One without the others would’ve been insufficient to create that moment. But they were all there, aligned like celestial bodies, taking me to a far-off place where food isn’t just tolerated, but loved. It was a moment I won’t soon forget.