For 31 years now, the third weekend of August has been the time of the Hayward Zucchini Festival. What we saw today was entertaining, and what we tasted was delicious. It was a little tricky finding our way but once we got to the secured parking lot on Bohannon Middle School’s grass playing field, we spent hours wandering around Kennedy Park enjoying the festival. From rides and carnival games with hermit crabs for prizes, to jewelry vendors and all kinds of foods, it was easy to spend the day here, especially when the weather was as beautiful as it was.
As the zucchini capital of California, Hayward would be remiss not to honor the farmers in the community, rural and urban alike. Entries are accepted through the second day for six different categories of competition, from weight to color variation.
We entered Kennedy Park on the far corner from all the hot food stands and trucks, so we got to walk around and tour the grounds before finding our way to Sweet Delights of Stockton. They didn’t disappoint with this alternative quesadilla, as cheese and zucchini were all it took for a savory sensation. The gooey cheese is the hallmark of a good quesadilla, but the fresh vegetables made all the difference.
From August’s neighborhood of her youth, California Corn Roast came from Grass Valley and got a big line forming for their bacon-wrapped hot dogs with zucchini. Hebrew National dogs and thick spears of zucchini sat in a lightly grilled bun piled with grilled onions. Condiments were available if wanted, but we liked it just as it was. The sweet onions juxtaposed the savory, salty kick of the meats, while the zucchini provided an earthiness that brought everything together. There’s nothing too fancy about this, but if you like zucchini, this is sure to please.
Many groups came out today selling goods as fundraisers. The Pentecostals of Hayward drew us in with their selection of muffins, all zucchini based but with variety among them. Regular, with raisins, with raisins and nuts, and with chocolate, we didn’t think there could be so many types of zucchini breads! Apparently this is a big deal for the church’s community, because they even put together a thick cookbook of zucchini dishes. We bought a copy, and we’re curious to see how many tasty zucchini recipes fill the pages.
Michelle’s Golden Brown Breads can be found at the farmers’ market on Sundays at Jack London Square in Oakland. Today Michelle came with a selection of zucchini bread loafs. We chose the butterscotch version, with butterscotch visible on top and also marbled through the bread. Dense, moist, and rich, it’s great by itself but we’re imagining it a la mode.
Right around when we thought there couldn’t be any more sweet zucchini goods, Bella’s House of Sweets came into view. After trying four of the cupcakes and drooling over the mini macarons, we might have to visit the San Leandro bakery sooner than later. We sampled red velvet, double chocolate, carrot cake, and zucchini cupcakes, all light in texture yet deeply flavorful. The zucchini cupcake in particular was all we could hope for in zucchini bread: mildly sweet, spiced with earthy tones, topped with cream cheese frosting, and a light caramel drizzle.
Once we ordered two of four zucchini-based items at the Siva Indian Food Services truck, August sat down with one of the daughters of the family business for a henna tattoo. It was rough keeping still for 30 minutes for it to dry, but let’s hope it’s worth it and the students at school approve!
There were so many stands with deep fried zucchini, but Siva’s zucchini pakoras ranked among the best. A light but crunchy breading had surprisingly little grease, and it was seasoned well so that it didn’t need an extra sprinkling of salt out of the fryer. A thin, dip-like hummus was a nice change from ranch, which was what every other food stand had to offer with their deep fried zucchini.
When we see lamb we get it, and Siva’s curry with lamb and zucchini was no exception. We chatted with the matriarch and she said that zucchini was not something she normally used as the feature in a dish, but we thanked her for being one of the few out of dozens of food vendors that provided something more than deep fried zucchini – even while many vendors had no zucchini at all. The entrees like this curry come with white rice, dhal (the yellow lentil and potato dish in the foreground of the picture), chapati (thin, flat wheat bread), and raita (a cooling yogurt condiment, hiding behind the chapati). All exceptionally fresh ingredients tasted great with the lamb, which wasn’t gamey or too tough.
Technically food but not in the food area of the park, we found a few stands with edible goods ready to take home. Since August can never have too much dessert, we picked up a small bag of Black Tie Caramel. We tried a snippet of salted caramel on site, and it was super soft and perfectly salted. The smooth kind without nuts, like we got, was recommended as a nice touch to stir into coffee.
Primo’s Gourmet Food Co. showed mustards, fruit butters, and salsas at two tents. Fruit butter is essentially jam without pectin or seeds, resulting in a smooth and almost syrup-like spread. We tasted the berry pie butter and got a jar to use on toast and bagels for school morning breakfasts.
Tres Classique is going through a transition. Due to suppliers discontinuing the balsamic vinegar that they use for their base, Tres Classique is refreshing their ingredients as well as their label. We saw Tres Classique items as well as the new California Balsamic line, and after sampling several, Zach picked out a sweet balsamic that tasted like apple pie. He’s looking forward to using it as a dessert pairing with fruit and ice cream.
The drying process is rough, trying to keep the skin still and not bump into anything. But once the minimum time was up and all the bits of henna had flaked away, August was left with a beautiful design. Hopefully this will last at least a week, although sometimes henna designs can last three weeks, so we’ll see!
We came home loaded with loot and stuffed with zucchini. The festival was well organized with multiple bands scheduled to play, marauding trash patrol, and an efficient parking system. Happy but not overwhelmed, we had a wonderful time and think that anyone who likes zucchini should make their way here if possible. Although, even if you don’t like zucchini, there are tons of vendors with no zucchini on hand, so there’s no excuse not to come.
Street food vendors are not new. If you haven’t noticed the growing food truck trend yet, then you will see it in your neighborhood soon enough. Off the Grid helps to promote small mobile food businesses by organizing space, permits, garbage service, and live music, thereby creating a weekly marketplace of amazing eats, and a community center for families and friends.
Go Streatery, The Chairman Truck, Cheese Gone Wild, House of Siam On Wheels, Fivetenburger, and The Crème Brûlèe Cart were six of eight vendors offering different items well worth traveling for. Many people here were nearby community members, but others, like us, clearly had driven in for this week’s batch of trucks.
The sun was out but at the worst angle at the worst time, not shining nearly enough golden light on this “glorious peasant food” from Go Streatery. So simple, but so delightful, the oxtail was tender to the point of falling off the bone. Rich, hearty gravy with the meat was slightly sweet with a mild and pleasant orange flavor thanks to fresh zest. The chunks of carrot and squash were tender and slightly crisp. August said, “I never new grits could be so creamy,” and for Zach’s first time with American polenta, he was impressed. Chopped parsley brightened the dish for the eye as well as the palate. Between bites of this hearty concoction we sipped lavender lemonade and August, who is typically picky about lemonade, promised herself that being infused with fresh lavender is from now on the only way she prefers her lemonade. We were treated to a piping hot handful of zeppoles, lemon and ricotta Italian-style doughnuts dusted in powdered sugar. These were very light in lemon flavor, and the texture was almost like a cake doughnut but even closer to being like a beignet. Above all, everything at Go Streatery is inspired by the founder’s father, who instilled in her the pride of true cooking; to that end, everything is scratch-made, seasonal, and sustainably sourced.
Bun sandwiches are traditional Taiwanese snacks, known as gua bao. Typically these are made with baked or steamed buns, filled with savory meats and/or vegetables. The baked buns at The Chairman Truck are kind of like Hawaiian rolls and are cut like sliders, while steamed buns look doubled over like a clam shell. The braised pork in a baked bao had a unique flavor but in a good way, certainly. The tangy, crisp cabbage was hearty but also refreshing. The tofu was velvety with an excellent grill on it, great for contrasting the very light and super tender steamed bao. A light sesame flavor like a vinaigrette dressing was a sweet and tangy complement for the baby choy sum.
Cheese Gone Wild serves their grilled cheese sandwiches with chips, coleslaw and a pickle, making this summer picnic and comfort food wrapped into one. If you’re really craving a grilled cheese sandwich, follow this food truck for a broad variety, like the Golden Gate with Tillamook medium cheddar and aged white cheddar mac & cheese, applewood thick cut smoked bacon, melted on Panorama Bakery shepherd style white bread. The bread was crispy but not overly so, giving way to the gooey insides with rich and mild mac and smoky bacon. Just about everything here is house-made, so while waiting for our fresh sandwich August couldn’t wait longer to sip on this perfectly creamed and sweetened iced coffee.
Proudly offering free range chicken from Bassian Farms and fresh organic produce, House of Siam On Wheels is very popular and had one of the longer wait times. This chicken was moist and tender thigh meat, slightly tangy and seasoned well with pepper, garlic, cilantro, and honey. The salad dressing was what gave this dish the familiar Thai kick of heat. We suppose the greatest satisfaction in eating here is knowing that the products used are good quality, sustainably produced, and good for you.
Fivetenburger crafts a great beef burger like this loaded one we tried, to which we added an optional egg as well as bacon; if you’re getting something called “loaded,” you might as well go all the way. Without dropping or substituting anything, the burgers come standard with pickles, red onion, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and choice of cheese. The vegetables were all fresh and crispy, between the two halves of a butter-toasted bun. This patty was juicy with a nice sear, made with very high quality beef and crispy bacon. The egg was runny from the yolk where it was supposed to be runny, thankfully not like slime from the white. Mixed with the cheese, the egg made this a gooey, delectable sandwich. It was accompanied by crispy tater tots, a nostalgic favorite but with a twist. These were exceptionally crispy yet tender in the middle, then lightly tossed with truffle oil, making them the grown-up version of a childhood memory. Fivetenburger also offers grassfed meat, high quality grilled cheeses, and even a deli-style pastrami sandwich with the pastrami made “in-truck” by the masterful Phat Matt.
Our final stop was for dessert at The Crème Brûlèe Cart, which tonight was featuring four of its thirty-plus flavors. Vanilla bean, double chocolate, “Cham-Wow!” and “Yes Please!” were equally smooth and creamy in texture, and true to their flavor-based names. The vanilla bean had an abundant amount of fresh vanilla bean seeds, resulting in a pleasantly intense flavor experience. The double chocolate was light but still chocolatey enough to sate August’s craving. Cham-Wow! was made with dark chocolate and black raspberry Chambourd liqueur, while Yes Please! had Nutella and real strawberries. We can’t wait to find them again to see what the other flavors are like.
There are many more food trucks that we realized, since we learned that the trucks we saw tonight were only a small sampling of Off the Grid’s network (and not all trucks are even affiliated with Off the Grid). Here at the Hayward location trucks are on a two-week rotation, so you can count on seeing your favorites twice a month. It’s impossible for us to pick favorites yet since this was only our first time doing Off the Grid, so we’ll just have to keep trying more and more.