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.
Indoor seating, outdoor covered seating, two trucks on standby, ample parking, and catering services available, this is not the standard taquería. Taquería Sinaloa, on the north corner of International Blvd and 22nd Ave, is a center of freshness. Sure, the neighborhood might look run down, but excellent food is blind to socioeconomic status.
Our quesadilla was loaded with steak and cheese, folded in a crispy grilled tortilla. The carne asada was finely chopped, so it was easy to take bites without pulling out large pieces of meat. The juicy grilled steak’s flavor was rich, cooked with garlic, onion, and mild spices. Of course, a quesadilla is nothing without cheese, but the cheese really made this item soar with gooey goodness. Because it came out so fresh and hot, the cold crema on the side helped cool it down and add some creaminess to the textures. Be careful with the garnishes, though, as they are unexpectedly hot.
For $10, this burrito is absolutely worth it. We asked them to cut it in half so that you could see the insides for a photo, but normally they present it whole… and it’s over a foot long. Zach estimates it could easily weigh two and a half pounds of rice, whole beans, sour cream, cheese, hot sauce, and meat. You can choose any one of eight types of meat for any of the menu items, from chicken to cabeza (head), chorizo and tripitas (chitlins). Zach chose carnitas, or fried pork, which was super flavorful. Unlike most carnitas we’ve had before, this was crispy like it’s supposed to be but still tender and juicy, and it maintained its crunchiness amidst the steaming heat of the rice and beans. We have to make a point of saying the beans are whole, because it would seem that very few places in Oakland offer refried beans, so don’t bother asking for them.
Three tacos are plenty of food for a meal on its own, and a benefit is the option of choosing a different meat for each. All tacos come sprinkled with chopped cilantro and onions, both vibrantly fresh and zesty. It was a nice detail that the onion was cut finely enough that we got no large chunks of biting flavor. Closest in the forefront of the picture is lengua, or tongue, which was more tender than the typical tongue. We’re no expert on cow tongue, but whether it was special seasoning or exceptional freshness, this tongue was great. What’s more, it didn’t have a gamey flavor to it. Instead of a chili red sauce like the other two tacos, this had a tangy green sauce. The chicken was equally as tender as the tongue, and we thought the red sauce was used wisely because the green sauce wouldn’t have worked in the same way. The al pastor taco was amazing, and August was glad she saved it for last. We could actually taste the tangy pineapple needed for preparing this style of pork, making it a contender for one of the best she has had.
Please don’t let the neighborhood scare you. There is a security guard on the premises, but everyone around the corner is friendly because they are either making, smelling, or eating the wonderful food. Next time, because there will definitely be a next time, we’ll walk from the taco truck to the marisco truck and try the seafood items. Plus, the chocolate drink called champurrado looked pretty tempting, but we already had eaten enough and even had leftovers for Bea the dog. Another day, another savor.
A white van with “La Poblana” emblazoned on the side passed us at an intersection, advertising authentic cemitas. Zach, as the passenger, quickly got on his smart phone to find out what cemitas are. These are sandwiches that originate from Puebla, a region of Mexico. La Poblana turned out to be a food truck, and like the cemita, everything served is based on recipes from Puebla. Despite being run out of a food truck, nothing is “typical” for this Mexican mobile food eatery. In fact, a lady walked up and asked for tamales, but you won’t find anything like that here. We had the opportunity to try every item on the menu, and each was savory, rich, and flavorful.
Of the groups of people that came through while we were here, there was at least one in each party who ordered either a cemita or a pambazo (see below). The beef in this sandwich with a soft brioche-like roll was breaded and very, very tender and juicy with the slightest crispiness on the outside. Its seasoning was more bold than spicy, so August absolutely loved being able to taste Mexican flavors without the heat. Also, this version of a sandwich had two kinds of cheese, including special Oaxacan cheese shipped in from Mexico, along with the familiar queso fresco. With roasted red peppers and Bolivian coriander to round it out, this was a multi-layer sandwich in both flavor and texture. Most of the items like this one came with side finger vegetables, such as grilled nopales, peppers, and spring onions, all tasty additions to the plates.
“Pambazo” technically refers to a specific style of bread, often dipped in red guajillo pepper sauce before becoming a sandwich. Most typically, the pambazo sandwich is made with chorizo and potatoes, which was how we tried it. The bread is crispy and buttery, and while it’s usually a tougher texture, dipping it in the special sauce makes it softer and flavor-packed. The chorizo used was great because it wasn’t as fatty as others that we’ve found before.
Quesadillas, when written in English, don’t have to be qualified with italics anymore. Pretty much everyone in the United States recognizes a quesadilla as a tortilla folded around melted cheese. Today, though, we tasted quesadillas with italics, because these are likely how they should be done. These are with cheese, of course, but not Jack – instead, authentic Mexican cheeses with light, creamy flavors are used. The tortillas are particularly impressive because they are made by hand, on site. They are denser and way tastier, making the quesadillas absolutely deliciosas. On the left is a quesadilla with pumpkin blossoms, which tasted a little green and somewhat floral, very spring-like. On the right is a quesadilla with corn smut, aka huitlacoche. This ingredient is a pathogenic fungus, but it is good. Somewhat nutty, somewhat eggy, and somewhat mushroomy, this was an interesting flavor that we’re happy was introduced to us.
The chorizo in this sope is the same as what was in the pambazo – not extremely greasy, and not ground up like dog food. It was nice to see firm chunks of meat on top of a handmade sope shell. The beans were tender and flavorful, and the plentiful cheese always helps to cool down the mouth once the Mexican Coca Cola has run out.
Chalupas at Taco Smell are nothing like the authentic chalupas. As a vegetarian dish, these are fried, crisp mini rounds of dough, much like thick tortillas, with a special sauce. Spicy, fresh, simple, and at four for $1, this is the most filling and delicious bang for your buck you can probably find on all of International Blvd!
Every year when August gets to a certain point in her teaching curriculum, she tells her students about the two food groups in the world: foods that are enhanced with garlic, and foods that are enhanced with chocolate. Chicken is one of the few items that goes both ways, and when her students look mortified about the thought of chicken and chocolate, she tells them about mole. The most recognized and classic mole is the mole poblano, from Puebla, which is dark red-brown and tastiest served over meat. Despite having the smallest bit of chocolate, and chocolate usually makes us think “sweet,” this sauce is not at all sweet but rather savory, for the chocolate serves to counteract the heat of the peppers. With beans, rice, queso fresco, and more grilled vegetables, the mole tasted great over everything on the plate.
Pipián is technically a type of mole, since mole is a Nahuatl word for “sauce.” But what puts pipián in its own category is the main ingredient. Seeds are pureed for the base, mixed with rich cilantro, garlic, and tomatillos. Pumpkins seeds, sesame seeds, and peanuts are commonly used for making the base. This was one of the spiciest items we tried today, but it was equally refreshing with cilantro and tomatillos. If you love spicy food but still enjoy the flavor behind the heat, you have to try this dish.
Tacos árabes, inspired by Middle Easter shawerma, are tacos wrapped in cone-forms around crispy meat; here we have tacos árabes al pastor. The pork had a mild tanginess and hint of sweetness from being grilled with pineapple and onions, and with no other garnishes besides ripe avocado and juicy lime, we got to savor the simplicity in this well-composed plate.
We are so fortunate to have found this food truck by chance and Victor, the owner, originator, and gracious host, is an amazing chef. We were overwhelmingly impressed by the flavors and care taken in preparing our food. With a comfortable seating area, blooming flowers, and food so good, it doesn’t matter that it was prepared in a food truck; in fact, once you sit down and start eating you’ll feel like your at an international cafe instead of a stretch of one of Oakland’s most infamous streets. Businesses like this one help to erode the stigma of street food.