As most foodies know, the food truck phenomenon is, well, phenomenal — at least in downtown Washington, D.C. Fortunately, the wave of trucks finally has flowed into public spaces in Fairfax County. But what makes these mobile eateries so appealing is their culinary diversity, heralding some unexpected taste sensations.
Of these, KaftaMania may take the current prize for gastronomic surprises and treats. Lebanese cook Leila Jurdi and her son, Pascal Halabi, have concocted a set of authentic Lebanese treats, from a kafta sandwich made with freshly ground beef to such daily specials as the Lebanese lentil soup, spiced with a kick of lemon juice that tantalizes. “We make the kafta the Lebanese way,” Halabi said. “But instead of shaping little balls, we flatten ours into a patty.”
That certainly fits firmly into the freshly toasted baguette.
Assembling a Lebanese menu took some ingenuity, for most dishes, except for soups and stews, are cooked to order. The mother/son duo knew they wanted to sell kafta. Ground beef is typical in Lebanon, and so is lamb. But they knew that turkey would have a larger following locally, so they created a turkey club sandwich. “This is really not at all Mediterranean,” he said. “But the chicken panini resembles the one we have in the Middle East with pickle juice, halloumi cheese and Arabic oregano.”
Halabi said KaftaMania is so new that he and his mother are counting their business days in weeks, not months. But, he added, they have been planning for some time to set up a food truck, so the food idea is not really new to them. “My mom was a hairdresser and I worked in an office,” he said, “and we both didn’t want to work for someone else. My mom is a great cook.”
The mother/son duo decided to pursue the cooking idea and looked at the local food-truck scene. None had real Lebanese food or sandwiches, so they decided running a food truck could solve their work problem.
“We got the idea nine months ago,” he said. “And these are my mom’s recipes, which I grew up eating.”
As for Jurdi’s culinary training, she explained that in her native Lebanon, all women are expected to learn kitchen skills as they grow up. “I grew up in Lebanon,” she said. “I cooked with my grandmother and my mother. We all cooked, because every woman when they get married must know how to cook. So I learned how to do it.”
Fortunately for the public they serve, she loves cooking her traditional foods, and her recipes are based on those she learned from her family altered to suit her own tastes. She also tries out dishes from American cookbooks, but with the addition of garlic, onion, lemon and Lebanese spices, she makes them like Lebanese. Regardless of what the truck sells, for busy American women, she said, having such ready-made dishes as stuffed grape leaves or the creamy baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant spread) is a big plus.
For food truck followers, find KaftaMania’s daily stops on their website, www.kaftamania.com, or call 202-656-1522. And when you spot a sleek black truck with white lettering — no fancy optics here — get ready to eat great Lebanese food.