While there is no way we are going to dethrone Portland Oregon quite yet as this country’s food cart nation, I have been seeing more and more food trucks traversing the streets of Napa Valley. With most of the trucks offering lobster, oysters and chicken, I’ve had no reason to give them a try…until now! Dabba, whose mission is to make delicious food that nourishes and enriches people’s lives, is the most recent addition to the Napa Valley Food Truck fleet. Dabba is inspired by the much loved Marin based restaurant, Avatar’s. Brother and sister team Ashok Kumar and Kala Ubhi have been feeding their loyal fans bold, fresh “marin-dian” cooking since opening up their doors in 1989. The first time I walked into their Sausalito restaurant and asked for something vegan, Ashok didn’t tell me what I would be eating but to “trust me, you’ll love it”. And guess what? I did! And I happened to be sitting at a table right next to two Marin Humane Society staff members. Talk about make a vegan, animal rights activist feel she was right at home! Well, Dabba has taken Ashok and Kala’s adventurous spirit and brought it right here to us in Napa Valley. One of their other loyal fans, Andy Mercy, came up with the idea of sharing their unique, healthy and boldly delicious food with those of us who don’t live in Marin. He enlisted one of my favorite local Chefs, Michelin-rated Walter Abrams; branded the truck with an adorable orange surfing elephant and the journey began!
Dabba is Hindi for lunchbox and was inspired by a complex food delivery system in Mumbai that is run by a network of bicycle delivery men called dabbawalas. For over 100 years they have been delivering dabbas filled with hot, home-cooked lunches right to their customer’s offices and then picking up the empty dabbas to deliver back to the kitchens. An amazing and efficient system if you take a moment to think about it! Though the name Dabba is based on the dabbawalas in Mumbai, the type of Indian food created is inspired from the Punjab region located about 700 miles north of Mumbai in Northwestern India near Pakistan. The local cuisine in Punjab is heavily influenced by the agriculture and farming lifestyle of the ancient Harappan Civilization and is known for extensive vegetarian dishes. Many Punjabi people consume a vegetarian diet that includes basmati rice, locally grown vegetables, lentils and legumes, dairy and paratha – a flatbread made similar to a puff pastry. The Ubhi/Kumar family brought the bold and intricate flavors of Northern India and Chef Abrams teamed with them to add the fresh and healthy choices of Northern California. Chef Abrams spent a year at their Mill Valley restaurant – Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos – jotting down the ingredients of all the recipes they made. These recipes were all in the Chef’s head and had never been written down in the 20 years their restaurants have been open! He then worked on refining the process and created what is now being served at Dabba.
The first thing you do is pick a style – “taco” or rice bowl (burritos and salads will be added to the menu soon). It is the perfect spot since the base of every meal starts out as vegan. Then every order comes with their 25-year old family recipe (that is finally written down thanks to Chef Abrams!) of pickles, chutney, tamarind and spicy cilantro relish. The types of vegetables is constantly changing based on the seasons because they offer local, organic veggies whenever they are available. The vegan taco choices include pumpkin, eggplant, mustard greens and mixed vegetables. The veggies can then be ordered blackened, curry or jerk style (their original Chef was Jamaican!). This bold, deliciousness is then wrapped in the amazing paratha bread which is made with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Chef made me 2 tacos of eggplant, curried kale, pickled carrots, pineapple chutney, tamarind sauce, fresh herbs, spicy chutney and basmati rice. It was bold, intense, delicious and spicy. Absolutely amazing! You can replace the eggplant with pumpkin which I plan to try the next time I head over for lunch!
Next, Chef followed this vegan yumminess up with the basmati rice bowl. He shared something interesting with me that I had never heard before. The basmati rice is considered the best rice in the world and the longer the rice, the better the quality. How cool! And Dabba uses the extra-long rice to add even more flavor and texture to their meals. My bowl contained a base of long grain basmati and chick peas and then he loaded it with mustard greens, spinach, tofu and blackened veggies that contained pumpkin, zucchini, squash and a few things I just cannot remember. It was just incredible. I brought the rest of the rice bowl home with me and finished it for dinner and it actually tasted even better – the Indian spices had even more time to infuse the tofu and vegetables with their bold flavors!
Dabba was started as a delicious research and development kitchen for the bricks and mortar restaurant they plan to open soon in San Francisco. When the truck isn’t out looking for the best waves, they are available for festivals and private events in North Bay. It is also parked every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Yountville at Ad Hoc’s Addendum picnic garden. It is a gorgeous, serene little garden full of tables and raised bed gardens. They encourage you to follow them on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to keep up on schedule changes and their event calendar. You can also order your food online so it is ready for you when you pull into Addendum’s garden!
For those of you who have been a loyal reader since I started my blog last August, you may remember Chef Walter Abrams. He is the founder of Apicius Nutrition – they manufacture the delicious and nutritious raw, gluten & dairy-free, non-GMO Hero bars right here in Napa. His story was one of my very first posts! It was such a pleasure to see him and catch up on what has been going on in his life for the last 14 months or so. A new restaurant on wheels that will very soon lead to a new restaurant in S.F., the Hero bars still going strong and now a brand new baby boy! What a wonderful year for Walter and his family!
Be sure to visit Dabba very soon. The food is fantastic, the garden setting beautiful with lots of picnic tables and if the food truck is a big success, we may be able to talk Chef and his partners into keeping it here in North Bay indefinitely! Since I can eat only so many tacos, I’m counting on all of you to help me out on this!
Thanks for joining me on yet another delicious Napa Valley adventure and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!