Oh, yes. That lemongrass flavor is the real thing. Aroy di mak mak! Delicious! The grilled veggies are nice and squelchy, and the wrap's easy to rip, not rubbery.
As I nibble, I wander about 30 yards down to where a bunch of mostly Korean students have their own barbecue. A smaller operation, but it smells good. They're from Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian-oriented fraternity, and they do this a couple of times a week to raise money. They use meat they buy already marinated, in garlic, soy, sesame, and ginger. And boy, do they offer a deal. For five bucks you get barbecued beef, rice, kimchee (the classic Korean pickled cabbage), and a drink -- unless they run out of sodas. Which happens most days.
You could spend all day eating here, if you had the stomach space. I meet Martine, another real character who runs Bibby's Crêpes. Next time I'll come for her turkey-avocado-spinach-brie crêpe ($7.00). Or maybe the wicked creamy Crêpe Suzette, smelling of orange and Grand Marnier ($6.00). This campus is looking up.
Businesses such as the Somali sambussa guys follow the markets around the county day by day. And why not? David Klaman, who manages the Chinatown and O.B. markets, says the main expense for vendors is the ten percent of their gross income that they must give the organizers. Musicians, buskers, and poets, on the other hand, don't pay a thing. If they fill their hats with Washingtons, that's fine by Klaman. "They give the market its atmosphere," he says.
So it's no surprise to find this older violinist standing beside an Irish pub in the middle of Escondido's Tuesday-afternoon market, sawing away at "Humors of South Ballynure Sloe," an Irish jig.
It sets the tone. Escondido's near veggie-growing areas, so you'd expect to see chefs from upmarket eateries coming to buy the best. Prices may be 25 percent up on Vons, but they're fresh, organic, and local. That's market rules.
Again, I need to eat. I see some of the usual suspects -- like the ubiquitous sambussa guys. But I want something new. Bitsying my way through the market, I come across Gina. She sells corn on the cob. Oh man. For a couple of bucks she hauls one out of its steaming bath, douses it in mayonnaise, sprinkles it with Parmesan cheese, then paints the length with four stripes of her hot sauce. It has to be the most delicious snack I've had all year. I strip that baby and wander on, past chocolate truffles, plumcots (what if you married a plum and an apricot?), white peaches, nut stalls with yummy varieties like lemon almonds, a place with soup mixes like Malabar Coast Curried Lentil, and special beans like organic anasazi beans ($3.00 for a pound).
Only at the end of my circuit do I discover Randy Bowen and his olde worlde kettle-corn trailer. He pops the corn in a big black cauldron and bags it in lots of $1.25 or more. Next to him, his buddy is closing up. Chuck Richardson just roasts peanuts. Dollar a bag, but hot, fresh. You can't beat the smell.
The mother of all markets has to be O.B. A farmer's market suits these streets. It's an extension of who O'Beings are. It's great for the vendors too, because all the rich folk come down from the hills of Point Loma and La Jolla to get organic -- and maybe to break free of their starchy lives.
There's food aplenty here: "Atkins Is Dead!" says a sign. Next to it, another reads: "I (Heart) Carbs." This is Devine Pastabilities, and the idea is to stuff different pasta dishes down hollowed-out French breads, so you can carb away with no mess. They have a shop somewhere but are regulars at the market. The spaghetti meatball torpedo costs $4.50.
I stop at a stall selling squash blossoms ($4.99 a pound). "Bake 'em with pesto, stuff 'em with crab meat, deep fry 'em with eggs and bread," says Edouardo Dias. He grows them in Carlsbad. In the tent next door, Gourmet Tamales, his sister Alejandra sells 20 different kinds of tamale. The sign says that their tamales won first and second place at the Indio International Tamale Festival. Flavorwise, they have everything. Spinach, feta cheese, and tomatillo; squash blossom; tinga (spicy chicken with chipotle); nopal (cactus); and dessert tamales like pumpkin spice, and pineapple, coconut, and raisin.
I go traditional: pork loin with roasted green chiles. I pay my $2.50 and peel away the corn husks. A squirt of hot sauce, and it's warm heaven. Funny to think that Aztecs and Incas were making these 7000 years ago.
To swill it down, I stop at Barrett's Old-Fashioned lemonade tent, where the dude squeezes the half-lemon, adds sugar, pours water, and shakes it all up between two plastic cups. I pay $2.50 for a 16-ounce.
I follow my ears to another commotion. What do you know? It's Chef Louda, of Le Crêperie. I swear, he's everywhere. Here he's got himself a line 12-strong, mostly women, and he's flying, pouring the batter on hot plates, raking it flat, adding spinach, avocado, taking orders, telling jokes, spouting in English, Spanish, French. David Klaman told me this guy does 25 percent more business just because of the show he puts on. He came here with his recipes from Brittany in northern France and on the basis of half a dozen savory and half a dozen sweet crêpes has built an awesome following -- the weight-conscious, mostly, it seems. He's done so well, he's recently opened a full-fledged restaurant at 3773 30th Street, North Park.
He serves crêpes like the Popeye's Revenge, with spinach, avocado, cheese, and garlic ($7.00). Or the California Surfer, with bacon, avocado, and cheese ($7.00).
So the question is, is it worth the seven bucks? And the verdict is yes -- for the freshness and flavor. The crêpe is good and garlicky, and it's filling. Plus, I kind of enjoy listening to Chef Louda carry on, as inexhaustible as the Energizer bunny.