Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott seeks out an elusive Sydney taco truck for great reward.
Dear Reader, do you find that sometimes things don’t quite work out the way that you want them to but perhaps may lead to benefits or ideas later on? You may not know it at the time, and your fists might ball, teeth grind and eyes move heavenward searching for an answer but, eventually, you start to see the silver lining. Apparently that’s along the lines of what happened for Al Carbon Food Truck owner, Attila Yilmaz .
Of the ten food trucks that was set to launch in Sydney during 2012, his truck took longer than expected to be completed. In the meantime, with a catering business set up in Canterbury, he was serving up samples of his tacos. After that, frustrated at the delays in finishing the trucks, he decided to open up his warehouse space to diners on certain days and the reviews came thick and fast. With reputedly some of, if not, the best soft tacos in Sydney, combined with its slightly out of the city location and the fact that diners never quite knew when it would be open helped to ensured its success.
A former police training officer, Attila swapped his life in uniform for a life following in the footsteps of his Turkish father who owned kebab vans in Canberra. Attila was injured several times in the line of duty, but it was the psychological scars rather than the physical ones that put an end to his career as a Senior Leading Constable. The case was a particularly brutal 2008 murder involving family members. He recalls the day with sober sadness when as the first responding officer on the scene, he had to check the victim for a pulse. As a family man, he couldn’t reconcile the brutality of the murder of a family member. He was honourably discharged from the police force after which he put into motion a plan that he had been thinking about for years.
The idea first came to him during undercover work in a park that was notorious for muggings and assaults at night. He thought that by activating the space using parking food trucks with their ensuing crowds would make the area safer for people to walk through. To research Mexican cuisine he travelled through Los Angeles and Mexico and "was downing thirty tacos a day” he says.
Named Al Carbon which means "cooked on charcoal”, the food truck pops up every few days at a location. Some customers come from as far away as the Central Coast, Manly and Liverpool, while some follow him from lunch to dinner locations eating twice in a day.
Social Media has helped in numerous ways – one day he tweeted that he would offer a designer a lifetime supply of tacos in exchange for help with branding. He didn’t expect that the head of Interbrand brand management would respond and after an initial meeting, Interbrand was offering its services free of charge and "then we had twenty two staff turn up”!
We start with a range of the food – it’s hard to decide so we try a bit of everything. The menu changes regularly and there’s a mix of nibblies, salad, wings and tacos. Drinks include a Mexican Coca Cola and Agua Frescas which are cold, fresh fruit waters.
Each taco is served with the meat on it and you simply add the sauce that you want from a choice of salsa rojo, salsa verde, habanero and peanut sauce and then the salads or vegetables. The most popular taco is the ‘Al Pastor’ with charcoal grilled pork and roasted pineapple, grilled whole. The sweetness of the pineapple is an ideal foil for the pork and the filling is generous, but not so much that the taco bursts – ideal proportions for ease of eating and enjoyment.
Charros beans Chiltepil y Crema Mexicana $10
One of the most popular items is the charros beans, which reminds us of nachos. Girl Next Door exclaims that it’s like nachos but better – it’s true, while nachos are great for the first minute or so, they become wet and soggy quite quickly. These retain a crunchy element through the Salsa Chiltepil, which is a delicious mix of sesame seeds, pepitas, three types of chilli and spices. The Chiltepil is also sold in containers, great in place of chilli or hot sauce. The Crema Mexicana is very similar to a yogurt labne and is a creamy addition to the chips and beans.
There were four types of tacos available that night and the second taco that we tried was filled with tender chicken, which we topped with a salsa and a pickled radish salad. The chicken marinade was full of flavour and this along with the char imparted a fantastic flavour to the meat.
I saved my favourite taco for last. Inspired by LA food truck Mexicali and Co, this is a cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped japaleno pepper with a green chilli salsa. And holy heck it is good – undoubtedly spicy but worth the huffing and puffing (chase it with a chilli and lime salted piece of watermelon, I promise it works!). They were so good that I took some home for the chilli loving Mr NQN.
The hot wings were spicy and char grilled wing and drumstick pieces. I grew up loving and eating chicken wings. They’re my chicken cut of choice really, and I was so excited to get to try these as I’d heard that they were fantastic and they didn’t disappoint. To the side were corn chips and a lime garlic crema.
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