What is it about food trucks that we love so much? Growing in popularity in recent years, we are seeing more and more options for different cuisines at various localities around Wollongong and surrounding suburbs. Once upon a time, mobile food vendors were solely the domain of the dodgy late-night kebab vans on the way home from the pub after a thousand schooners.
These days, you can get any kind of food you desire at almost any location. Sometimes it’s beer and wine festivals (probably a big part of why we are so partial to a food truck) or small business collaborations (again usually teaming up with a local micro brewery or distillery- hang on, I think I am starting to see a theme here). Other times we see Illawarra food trucks popping up at seemingly random locations, close to home so we can get our fix without having to worry about an Uber Eats surcharge.
Why are food trucks so popular?
Is it the allure of an easy meal, while hanging outdoors with your noisy kids at a safe but sound numbing distance? Or chilling with your mates, cold beverage in hand, watching the sun go down that sucks us in? The delightful aromas, tasty temptations, and the promise of trying something new keeps us wanting to try more or follow our faves from place to place. Here are a few of our favourite Illawarra food trucks you may or may not have tried yet:
Klarissa Vasquez, the woman behind Klarie’s Kitchen, says her inspiration for starting up her own food truck is simple “I LOVE food! I am always dreaming and talking about it. I will be eating a meal and already thinking about my next one. Food is my culture…it binds me to my family and heritage”. She loves that she gets to share what brings her closer to those in her inner circle with an ever expanding “foodie tribe”. The number of Klarie’s Kitchen devotees (that I like to refer to as Klaries Van Fan Clan) increase with every catering order, pop-up and private event due to her delicious Asian street food and great service.
Six years ago Klarissa left behind a corporate job in insurance to set up KKHQ (Klarie’s Kitchen Headquarters). She describes her loyal husband, Dino, as the backbone of their business, “he tows the trailer, is my sidekick and has been my number one supporter from day dot!” Along the way there have been mistakes made, tears shed and lots of lessons learned. Always trying to be progressive, word of mouth is how they’ve become so popular.
Klarie’s Kitchen provides Asian street food with strong Lao and Thai influences that are mixed with flavours from other Asian regions. Their most popular dishes include bao buns, vermicelli salad, satay chicken and roast pork belly. They change the menu up regularly to keep things interesting, but aren’t brave enough to substitute these crowd favourites!
Some of Klarissa and Dino’s favourite regular collabs include Bellambi Pub, where the eclectic locals keep it interesting and they sell out every time! Dusty Lizard Brewery is their local and a great middle ground location where fans from North and South can get their fix. New kid on the block Wolf & Woman is also a new favourite with a ‘total vibe’. “Everywhere we pop up is so much fun and we are always busy and run off our feet with every service”.
Klarissa is busy during the week delivering lunches to teachers and workplaces including UOW. If she’s not popping up on a weekend it’s probably because she’s booked out catering for a private function.
If you want to catch KKHQ in action, and you like to plan ahead, you can check out their Facebook Page and Instagram posts at the beginning of the month for their pop-up locations. For those whose dinner plans are more fly by the seat of their pants, you can check their socials during the week to see their upcoming weekend movements. Klarissa is super grateful for all the love and loyal support she gets from her followers that allow her to continue doing what she loves-sharing her yummy Asian goodness with everyone she meets!
Chicken Van Man
New kid on the block, Chicken Van Man, has hit the ground running with his tiny food truck, fondly known as “Big Bertha”. Anu Chounlamountry and his supportive wife Kat have only been in the food truck business for a short time, but they are giving it a red hot go. The secret ingredient behind their tasty food isn’t really a secret, but it sure is tasty. Chicken Van Man’s Original Marinade, soon to be followed by a hot and spicy, and a light and tangy version, is Anu’s culinary invention that began as a version of Jerk Chicken-gone-wrong.
Every time he made his marinated BBQ chicken, people loved it. Within two weeks of returning home to Wollongong after living overseas, he decided to register the business and was already creating interest in his products. After his first demo event, Kat suggested he should get a food truck. Five days later, they purchased Big Bertha and within a week they had their first events booked. They’ve been learning on the fly and with no previous hospitality experience, have figured things out as they go. “You’ve got to back yourself at some point, why not now?”
Featuring at regular pop-ups and events around the Wollongong area, Chicken Van Man is also looking to expand into the corporate catering space. The menu features a choice of three mains:
1. You can choose marinated chicken, on or off the bone with rice and garlic, buttery corn, served with coleslaw and sour cream.
2. Toasted wrap with marinated chicken, rice, cheese and sauce, served with corn chips and sour cream.
3. Nachos with marinated chicken, corn chips, buttery garlic corn and served with sour cream. Anu knows his flavours from growing up in a multicultural area, and rates his own BBQ-ing skills.
Anu has been door-knocking for stockists for his marinade and has developed a relationship with each of them. He has also managed to get a few restaurants on board with using the marinade in their dishes. I love his enthusiastic approach, “I’m not a chef, but I know people like this flavour”. At the moment he makes all the marinade himself from scratch, highlighting the importance of using quality ingredients – he also wants to give Coniston fruit and vegetable providers, Passion in Fruit a mention for their top-notch fresh produce.
Anu’s signature marinade pairs perfectly with chicken, but is super versatile and can be used with almost any meat or vegetable. He loves it when people cook something new and share photos of their creations on his socials. Grab yourself a jar, get cooking and show him what you’ve made!
Chicken Van Man’s plan is to start small, work hard and have big dreams. Anu believes that the harder you work, the luckier you get. If he’s right, Chicken Van Man is about to get pretty lucky.
Troy Simonsen began his career as a chef at the fine dining restaurant Wharekauhau, New Zealand at the tender age of 19. In his entry level role of kitchen hand, Troy soon realised that he was addicted to the high intensity environment and the challenges that life in the kitchen presented every day.
After finishing that job, Troy moved to Australia and started work as an apprentice chef at the aptly named Naked Fig, right next to a nudist beach! Some of Troy’s fondest memories working in the industry were from this time. He credits his boss and mentor Sean Carter (not the Jay-Z one) with shaping who he has become as a chef today. (I’m surmising the nudists may have contributed to some fond memories as well.)
Troy worked on his skills in Perth and then Sydney at the Italian restaurant, Caruso’s. The owner of Caruso’s had great relationships with most of his customers, and showed Troy the value of a more personal approach.
Troy’s local business, Mingle Meals, provides a “Private chef for hire”, who comes into your house and cooks a three course meal. Troy says “Having worked at Mingle Meals, I’ve been able to meet the most amazing people and grow my skills as a chef”. (And to top it all off – they do the washing up!)
Troy and a few of his chef buddies watched the movie “Chef” where the main character gets a bad review in his fine-dining restaurant, and decides to open a food truck instead leading to lots of crazy adventures. Feeling inspired, and after thinking about it for several years, Troy recently decided to bite the bullet and establish a food truck of his own! Think fine-dining gourmet toastie and you know what to expect when the truck rolls in. Catering for all tastes, there’s a few different options on the menu, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten free.
At this point in time, the Mingle Meals truck doesn’t have a name. I quite like Margaret or Mable. Make sure you make a suggestion next time you’re ordering… can’t wait to hear what suggestions you come up with.
Krisp by Bun Me Bar
You might recognise Andy from his Bun Me Bar shop at Lake Heights. Originally a covid-time brain-child, the business is evolving as he moves from shop front, to food truck, to other new adventures in the future.
Andy spent 20 years in corporate finance before taking a redundancy in 2019. Having some time off during the pandemic, the restrictions that came with it hit him hard. Due to the uncertainty, he worked for a short stint as an Uber driver that left him feeling dissatisfied and in his own words “quite low”. Food has always been his passion, and even when working long corporate hours, he still enjoyed his time prepping and cooking for his family. Andy prepares his meals with love and strives for perfection every time he dishes up.
Born in Vietnam, Andy and his family moved to Australia when he was just 5 years old. Settling in Wagga, his parents took any job they could get and started out cleaning toilets at the local school, but progressed to working at a restaurant, which they went on to buy. When Andy started studying at UOW his parents moved to the area and bought a fish and chip shop in Corrimal, where they worked until they retired.
Helping his parents in all their businesses gave Andy valuable experience in the hospitality industry, and helped develop his strong work ethic. The shop at Lake Heights is owned by his Uncle and Aunty, and provided an opportunity for him to jump in and try something new. Calling it Bun Me Bar was a play on words that convey his initial vision – a place where people could eat his food and relax with an alcoholic beverage or two. At that time the “bar” part seemed like too much of a risk, so he opted for just serving the food he loved.
Time spent living overseas and eating good food has given Andy the ability to utilise textures and flavours from around the world. He adds his own tweaks and creativity to make food that is both delicious and unique. Andy’s food isn’t entirely traditional – the base is Vietnamese, but he uses different ingredients and combinations to create something even better.
Bun Me Bar has recently launched a food truck that they call Krisp. Now that Bun Me Bar is mobile, Andy can get his food to more people. The food truck is available for private functions and catering as well as their pop-ups. The current menu includes Banh Mi, vermicelli bowls and rice paper rolls, and is strongly influenced by Vietnamese flavours. Stay tuned, however, because Andy is working on some new dishes that blend different flavour influences and combinations from around the world.
Some of Krisp’s frequent places to pull up at the moment include Sharky’s beach at Coledale and Dapto in the south. Be sure to check out Bun Me Bar’s Facebook page for their upcoming locations. They also recommend checking out the Illawarra Menu’s Facebook page if you haven’t already. “They’ve really helped me and my business – it’s been such great exposure. Social media helps get people through the door for the first time. After that, it’s all about your product and your service.”
Andy’s face visibly lights up when he talks about how rewarding it is getting positive feedback from his customers. “When people love food you’ve made, and they thank you for a wonderful food experience, it just has the best meaning ever”.
He talks about his journey over the last two years “I started something that I never thought would be this successful this quickly. One customer was brought to tears after eating a crispy pork belly roll because it was the best thing he’d ever eaten! I must be doing something right. In twenty years of accounting I’ve never had that kind of impact on someone. That’s what motivates me -The dream is to keep building my business so I can share my food with as many people as possible”.
Let’s hope the Krisp by Bun Me Food Bar is a stepping stone to helping Andy’s food dream come true.
Samara’s Food Trucks and Catering
No article about food trucks in the Illawarra would be complete without mentioning Samara’s. Easily the best recognised Lebanese food establishment in the region, Samara’s is a well respected stalwart of the Illawarra restaurant scene. Omar Nemer is the public face of the family business, being involved right from the beginning while still in the midst of his HSC, back in 2008. Alongside his parents and sisters, Omar has worked passionately in the business and is an absolute pillar of the Illawarra community. Omar and the team at Samara’s draw from their Muslim values of giving back to the community, and specifically, giving to those who are in need. Over the years, Samara’s have generously supported the Wollongong Homeless Hub, fed firefighters during the 2019/2020 bushfires and delivered meals to the nurses manning covid testing clinics at the height of the pandemic.
In addition to their restaurants in Wollongong and Woonona, Samara’s have operated a mobile trailer since 2016 and launched their food truck in 2018. Prior to the pandemic, the food truck was used primarily for events and worked a fortnightly pop-up operation. The onset of lockdown conditions brought about regular pop-up locations and the team were able to create a drive-through style offering. These regular venues have become such a hit that 2 years on, Samara’s still offer their food truck at regular locations five nights a week!
The 2021 lockdown period also saw the inception of one of Omar’s favourite community activities that he has been involved in. Seeing the lockdown conditions be enforced right at the start of the school holidays, he felt sorry for all the local children who were disappointed and wanted to spread some joy. Collaborating with a bunch of other generous local businesses, Omar was able to create a massive toy drive. Thousands of dollars worth of brand new toys were handed out to kids visiting the Samara’s drive through locations. “I actually cried when I saw this little girl receive a bike up in Helensburgh. She was just so happy”, said Omar.
The menu includes a variety of Lebanese platters with all the delicious meats and garlicky goodness we’ve come to know and love from Samara’s restaurants. There’s also a vego option and a range of sides and salads. There really is something for everyone. And it is all so tasty, the only problem is actually deciding which dish to choose!
Follow Samara’s on Facebook to see their regular food truck pop-up locations and support a business that supports the local community.
Get yourself out and show some love to our Illawarra food truck businesses. A great excuse to get out and about, get some fresh air and check out some venues you haven’t tried before. They are working super hard to create delicious meals, it sure beats cooking for yourself and no matter where in the Wollongong area you live, there’s bound to be one nearby.