Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sydney Food Trucks: Interview with Tsuru

There has been plenty of hype surrounding the recently announced vendors for Sydney's first US-style food trucks - which travel to different locations nightly, tweeting their locations, selling gourmet food from the truck and attracting die-hard queues of fans. The City of Sydney recently released the locations that the trucks will be cruising to and from, serving and selling their edible goodies.

I took the opportunity to chat to one of the first 10 Sydney operators about their upcoming (ad)venture. The Tsuru Food Truck will feature modern Asian cuisine, ranging from snacks to full-blown dinner combination meals.

Proprietor/chefs Ellyn Tse and Sasha Tong can't wait to serve us up some luscious pork buns, onigiri rice balls filled with fried chicken and more - I chatted to a very busy Ellyn in the meantime.

Steamed buns with a range of fillings by Tsuru
(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

What was your motivation in applying for a Sydney food truck? What has the process been up until now?

Mobile food vending has been around in Asia for decades, and with the raging success of food trucks in the US, I have always wondered if Sydney will ever have its turn.

Last year in October I contacted City of Sydney about possibly starting one and coincidently, they were about to run a public Expression of Interest, inviting food operators to submit a tender to win a license to operate the first fleet of 10 food trucks in Sydney.

After submitting the tender in early December, we heard back in mid January that Tsuru had been short-listed and was to participate in a cook-off to present a sample of dishes from the proposed menu to a panel of judges.

I was just as over the moon as I was mortified! Cook-off? I didn’t know who I would be up against, and I kept thinking in my head: what if I completely stuffed it up? And who would be the judges?

Fortunately, the cook-off went pretty smooth, and we heard back the very next day that Tsuru got in. I still remembered that phone call - I thought it was a prank call! So, yes, the team here at Tsuru couldn’t be happier and at least now we can start fitting out our truck ready to hit the streets.

Ellyn Tse of Tsuru food truck
(Image courtesy of the City of Sydney)

What is your background (culinary or otherwise)?

I grew up surrounded by food as my family has owned and run a group of restaurants in Indonesia for more than 40 years.

When I finished my degree here in Australia, I did a brief stint in media publication while taking on catering part time. With the growth in the catering demand, I found myself slowly drifting towards what seemed to be the one thing that kept me constantly and continuously intrigued – food.

As of last year, I’ve also been actively volunteering in a not-for-profit organisation called ‘Eat. Drink. Give.’ whose vision is Food Without Prejudice. We raise funds through our own dining events and catering for other functions, and we give back by providing complimentary dining experiences to the disadvantaged sector in our community.

Our past works include catering for Haymarket Chamber of Commerce, 4A Contemporary Asian Art Gallery, and collaborating with Harris Community Centre in Ultimo. It's been a very rewarding experience for all of our volunteers, as we go from strength to strength.

In its operation, Tsuru Food Truck will also be collaborating with Eat. Drink. Give., as we have always believed in the enjoyment of good food for a cause.

Sasha Tong of Tsuru food truck
(Image courtesy of the City of Sydney)

What is Tsuru's food concept and what is the inspiration for it?

Growing up I was exposed to a myriad of cultures, the different food across Asia, the stories and what the food brought to the locals. Tsuru interprets that food in its Pan-Asian menu, in ways that Tsuru believes the people of Sydney could and would love.

The hero of Tsuru Food Truck’s menu are the soft, pillowy steamed buns, made in-house. When I was young, my grandmother used to always stand in the kitchen for hours kneading the dough of the buns with her hands manually.

Those steamed buns, sandwiching tender braised pork belly, were the heart of our family feasts. They would always appear in family celebrations, big or small. It has always been the one dish that would disappear in record time from our tables. And I look forward to sharing it with you all.

Steamed buns with a range of fillings
(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

What can Tsuru customers expect to be eating?

They can expect fast, fresh, packed-with-flavours Pan-Asian snacks, from steamed Chinese buns folded over braised pork belly, roasted duck, BBQ beef, fried chicken, to onigiri (Japanese rice balls), and yummy things on sticks.

Our signature dish is ‘the PIG’ – a piece of luscious pork belly that has been roasted, then slow-braised overnight in old family recipe, and sandwiched in between steamed buns.

(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

When do you expect to be in operation? What is the process from here?

We should launch in about one month's time. We are currently fitting out our truck, and there are still heaps of compliance issues that need to be ticked off before we hit the streets.

The City of Sydney is currently testing a smart phone App that will allow its users to find the location of the trucks in real time, with links to the trucks’ menus. Tsuru will also be interacting with the public via Facebook and Twitter of our whereabouts and special offers.

Onigiri with a range of fillings(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

What is Tsuru most excited about?

The versatility of Tsuru Food Truck means we can be very creative in our menu offerings across the seasons.

We are also looking to turn Tsuru into a collaboration platform for all foodies (including bloggers!) to contribute their own recipes to share with the people of Sydney, with a possibility to dedicate a regular 'Foodie' or 'Food Bloggers' Day'. So foodies and bloggers, do keep in touch and drop us a line here.

Steamed bun filled with beef and kimchi(Image courtesy of Tsuru)

The Tsuru Food Truck will have its first outing on Saturday 24 March as part of the Ultimo Pyrmont UPTown World Festival at the Harris Community Centre. The first 100 people who turn up and follow Tsuru on Facebook and Twitter and share the word will receive a free pork bun.


joey@FoodiePop said...

I'm excited now!

Food is our religion said...

Can't wait! The buns look so good!

Tambourine said...

Oooh can't wait for the food truck phenomenon to hit sydney!!!

muppy said...

sounds so intriguing, call me old school but i don't really get the concept but can't wait to try it - great food is always appreciated!

Dee@foodinhand said...

Noooooo totally was hoping to keep this a secret. Planning to eat all their food come Saturday oh yeah baby! >:D

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'm so glad that we've got food trucks here!

The Food Mentalist said...

I have been talking about food trucks forever and I am SUPER excited that they are nearly up and running. Great post! I can't wait to try their food.

Richard Elliot said...

Thanks for the tip off about the Ultimo festival. Even though it was OPPOSITE my flat I didn't know if was taking place until I read your blog.

I tried the pork bun this afternoon. It was good, but I think could have dome with a sticky asian bbq sauce to lift it a little bit.

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

OMG those steamed buns, I can;t wait!

Tina said...

Hi joey - Not long to go!

H Food is my religion - Don't the fillings look scrumptious!

Hi Tambourine - I think it could change late night Sydney dining...!

Hi muppy - It's been a while since I needed a 12am feed, but you never know!

Hi Dee - You couldn't possibly eat them all!

Hi Lorraine - Will be interesting to see them in action

Hi The Food Mentalist - Thanks. It is a little bit exciting :)

Hi Richard - Glad to be so helpful :)

Hi Sara - I can't wait either!

gaby @ lateraleating said...

Good initiative of the city council, and it's great to know that food trucks are now available in Sydney.

tania@mykitchenstories said...

What a great interview. Very exciting thing to look forward to isn't it?

Ramen Raff said...

I want a braised pork belly bun!!!

Tina said...

Hi Gaby - Yes, and one of the locations is right on Sydney Park :)

Hi Tania - Thanks :) I can't wait to chase down my first food truck!

Hi Raff - Me too!

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

those buns look... ahhhhhhhhhhmazing! Can't wait fto try this. Speaking of buns though, do try out momofuku ones. they are delicious!!

Anonymous said...

Only people behind an office desk can come up with a stupid idea like that !

Anonymous said...

Chasing down a food truck ? are spending some 20$ on taxi to find the one you desire dumm dumm dummer

Lucas @ said...

I saw the article in TimeOut a while back talking all about the Food Trucks, but I've yet to put in the effort to find one.

Need to fix that.

Anonymous said...

What a stupid Set up.You had some drinks , then you wonder around check your mobile and find a food truck 5 kilometers away.Then you get a cab for 15 A$ on a busy Sat evening to the SECRET location and have a bite to eat ... HAHAHAHA only stupid council people can come up with something as dumm as this !

Jade Graham said...

I was surprised to see even "Konkani Shrimp Curry" Food Truck Catering


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