Posted on March 6, 2018
The first few times I drove past Vengan Pa’ Ka, the name tricked me.
It’s a sleek food truck painted a glossy dark gray, posted up in downtown Eugene’s park blocks. The gold splash of a garlic bulb decorates the side, and over it, in thick white brushstroke, is the name.
VEGAN PA’ KA.
Vengan Pa’ Ka.
My curiosity grew with every trip past the truck. Was the name some kind of subliminal messaging? What did it mean? Was I obsessing over this too much?
Yes, but that’s just me. And thankfully, the owner of Vengan Pa’ Ka, Juan Umaña, didn’t think it was weird when I asked to profile his food truck on my blog.
So when I finally got to ask him about the name, I realized while I might be weird and obsessed, I wasn’t technically wrong.
The name Vengan Pa’ Ka is a trick of the eye doing triple duty, an optical illusion that represents the food truck’s diverse menu.
Juan explained the meaning behind the name when I visited the truck earlier this winter.
Vengan is a Spanish verb, meaning “to come”.
Pa’ Ka is Caribbean street slang, derived from the phrase para acá, meaning “over here”.
Hence the name Vengan Pa’ Ka– come over here, and try delicious vegan food inspired by Juan’s multicultural background. The name is a celebration of the life he’s chosen to live, where he came from, and the Spanish and Southeast Asian flavor of the menu.
Juan’s vision for Vengan Pa’ Ka isn’t just about the finished dish. He cares deeply about where his ingredients come from, trying to source his produce from local businesses and farms as close to the truck as possible. The truck’s slogan reflects that idea: “Street food with a conscience”.
“I wanted to make sure I had a menu that resembled seasonality and the produce that grows here,” Juan said, “showcasing unique and individual ingredients and letting them do the talking.”
Perhaps the best example of that is the Winter Stir Fry, a traditional rice noodle stir fry filled with almost every winter vegetable you could possibly think of.
Celeriac. Kale Sprouts. Cabbage. Rainbow carrots. Mushrooms. Sautéed red potatoes. Ginger red onions, a favorite garnish at the food truck. All tossed on the griddle, sizzling with sesame oil and tamari.
My soul felt a little warmer when I grabbed one of the offered eco-friendly wooden forks, popped open the cardboard take-out box, and chowed down on a delicious, filling stir fry that is completely vegan. To me, it’s kind of the “have your cake, eat it too” mentality.
And I know that’s a nasty stereotype following vegan food, no matter how many creative chefs defy it- the idea that vegan food is a leaf of spinach, or a single, tasteless block of tofu. It’s an ignorant, lazy stereotype that Vengan Pa’ Ka absolutely blasts out of the water.
The food truck serves lighter options, like mint-beet soup, but there are plenty of filling meals on the menu, like the winter stir fry. What doesn’t change is that all of the dishes are plant-based.
“The showcase always has to be the vegetables,” Juan said.
Juan usually doesn’t replicate animal products in his dishes, which is a vegan phenomenon growing in popularity- cashew cheese, seitan bacon, almond milk yogurt. But he makes an exception when he’s whipping up cultural food that relies on those dairy and meat-based components.
He has a few signature ingredients that make me appreciate how creative vegan cooking can be- like carrot bacon, made from thinly sliced rainbow carrots seasoned with tamari and liquid smoke, fried on the griddle.
But the one that impressed me the most was the cheese sauce.
Yes. Vegan nacho cheese sauce for vegan nachos.
For the nachos, Juan slices up a corn tortilla and throws the pieces into the fryer to crisp up into thick, fresh chips. While the tortilla chips are bubbling away, a mix of mashed, spiced pinto beans, mushrooms and celeriac go on the griddle.
The nachos are listed on the menu as a side, but for me, they’re big enough for a meal- and just as satisfying. Freshly made chips pilled with the pinto bean mix, cilantro, ginger red onions, and blistered pieces of Anaheim pepper. All smothered with a generous helping of the vegan cheese sauce, of course.
It’s what he calls his “smoked Goodahh” sauce, although it’s potato-based and features absolutely no dairy. It’s uncanny how close it tastes to actual gouda cheese. Witchcraft!
The last menu item I sampled is tough to photograph, I’ll admit. If you want a better view of it, check out the video at the top. For now, you’ll have to settle for my punch-drunk smile, doped up on badass vegan food.
Lovingly wrapped up in that wax paper bundle is the Vengan Pa’ Ka Portobello Melt, a sandwich that reaffirmed my love for giant mushrooms.
It’s a sandwich comprised of a sliced-up portobello cap, slow soaked in tamari marinade and sizzled up on the grill, resting on a mix of red veined sorrel and red mustard greens. The sandwich is topped with carrot bacon and ginger red onions, coated with the vegan cheese sauce, and served on toasted ciabatta.
In layman’s terms, Vengan Pa’ Ka is the bomb.com. Juan clearly puts thought and care into not just the dishes, but the ingredients themselves and the overall impact of the food truck. There is truly something about knowing you’re not just eating great food- you’re eating great food that’s locally sourced, that has passion behind it, that’s kind and sustainable.
But, that’s just my two cents. If you really want to find out what’s up with Vengan Pa’ Ka, you’ll have to try it yourself. What I’m saying is…
Vegan pa’ka to Vengan Pa’ Ka.
Got another food truck you want me to feature? Have other ideas for my blog? Comment on this post, or head over to the contact page.
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Category: ellen eats, Food, Travel, video Tagged: ellen eats, Ellen Meny, Eugene, Food, food truck, Oregon, PNW, vegan, vegan food, vegan food truck, vengan pa' ka
Posted on August 30, 2017
Last summer, I stood in front of the biggest fire I’ve ever seen in my life and talked about it on live television. And then I ate a handful of mixed nuts meant for farm animals.
It was a hot July evening in Oregon, but a late summer wind stirred the thick heat. I was at KVAL News, the television station I work for. It’s a little building perched up on a steep hill in the south of Eugene. The evening news shows were underway, and I was planning to slip away from the newsroom soon to enjoy the summer night- which in Oregon means sitting on a patio for 3 hours and drinking beer.
Summer is not only beer season in Oregon- it’s also fire season. The hot, dry snap of a Pacific Northwest summer mixed with blustery wind is the perfect cocktail for a stray, fiery spark from machinery; or for a forgotten cigarette butt left in the woods, to erupt into something catastrophic.
So it wasn’t a shock when we heard some chatter on our police and fire radio scanner that there was a fire out in Junction City, about 20 miles away.
Our newsroom has the luxury of an amazing view- one of the positives to being up on one of the highest hills in South Eugene. As I walked into the newsroom, I noticed people craning their necks, looking out windows. A few opened the front door, peering up at the sky. Someone aimed our station tower camera in the direction of Junction City.
A massive plume of smoke pooled into the sky, miles away, curling and billowing in the late day sun. It looked like a huge, fluffy cloud rising up from the earth.
Bounds Hay Company, a huge hay exporting company in Junction City, was on fire– and I was tapped to go.
I zipped up an oversized caution vest that made me look like I was wearing an orange plastic bag, and then tore out of the parking lot. It was a 30 minute drive, but I followed the smoke to my destination- a yawning field of fire, lighting up the charcoal remains of a building in smoldering flames. Up close, it was vomiting thick, black smoke into the sky.
I turned onto the road that ran parallel to the farm and found myself facing a fire truck barricade yards down the road. I spotted a few other cars parked on a field nearby and veered onto a bumpy dirt farm road.
People gawked at the fire from the field I parked in. I stood next to them, gawking through my camera lens and almost knee-deep in dry, itchy grass. I was still relatively far away- aka, the correct, safe distance someone should be away from a massive factory on fire.
Obviously, I needed to get closer.
I noticed a firefighter sitting in his dusty car out on the road. He rolled down his window as I stepped up to the truck.
“How close can I get?” I asked. My camera was in one hand, tripod in the other- purse slung over one shoulder. I looked like a pack mule.
He looked at the fire, considering it. “We’re worried there could be some explosions, so…I’d recommend staying here.”
“Am I allowed to get closer?”
He gave me a look that suggested I wasn’t that bright. “I wouldn’t advise it.”
I did get closer, because his suggested assessment of me was potentially correct. A reporter from another station and I walked further into the field- the flames getting brighter; the shimmering air getting hotter- until we found a fire chief who assured us we weren’t going to be caught in an explosion anytime soon. Whew.
Miraculously, and thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire- but there was more than a million dollars in damage done to the property, with about one-thousand tons of hay burned up to a crisp.
Thankfully, the fire chief understood our reporterly desire to get closer to the fire. He was going to let us follow him…even closer to the fire.
A photographer I work with, Emily, met us before we left with the fire chief. We jumped into our news car and followed the chief down the long strip of road hugging the farm. I remember passing right by the massive wall of flames, feeling the car window get hot under my hand.
We turned a corner and suddenly we were off the road- wheels bumping on the hard dirt and tall grass. As we followed the chief’s big pickup truck, my eyes were wide.
We followed him into a field bordering the fire, jerking the wheel to avoid divots in the dirt that could mean bad news for our news car. The fire reared up on the horizon like a sunset, and the chief pulled his car to a stop about 200 feet away from the wall of flames.
We reached our destination.
I stepped out of the car, grass crunching under my feet. The sky was dark and a cool breeze picked up on the air, but the ambient heat of the fire kept us warm.
I thought I would be terrified standing next to a massive fire that could potentially light up the field I was standing on, but I was weirdly calm. The chief assured us it was safe, and I trusted him.
After hours of action and uncertainty, we were at a lull- this was our camp for now, the place we would go live from for the 11pm news. In the sudden stillness, the fire a dull roar behind me, I suddenly realized something…I was starving.
I hadn’t eaten anything in 12 hours, and for someone who is constantly eating, that is an impressive fasting period.
I asked Emily if she had any snacks. She frowned and thought for a moment, slowly shaking her head- and then, her face brightened.
“I think I have something!” She set down her camera gear and went to the car, rooting around in the backseat as my blood sugar continued to drop. I would’ve literally eaten the grass at that moment if I didn’t think it would’ve made me sick.
She ran back over, a big Ziploc bag of mixed nuts in her hand. At that moment, she looked like an angel sent from heaven.
I grabbed a handful and munched on them happily. Sweet, sweet sustenance. As we set up for our liveshot, chatting about nothing, I asked Emily if she kept the mixed nuts for emergencies.
“Oh,” she said, “I was actually on a story and I met a farmer. He gave them to me. He said he ordered the nuts for his pigs, but ended up not wanting to give the nuts to them. So I got them.”
I regarded the mixed nuts in my hand for a moment, unsure of how I should feel about eating mixed nuts originally meant for pigs. I wanted to be disgusted, but…they were so good, and I was so hungry.
“He said they’re fine for humans,” she added, probably noticing the sudden alarm plastered on my face.
While I appreciated the reassurance, at that point? I honestly didn’t care. Emily and I had tromped around in fields all day under the flickering eye of an ever-looming fire. I was dead tired, sunburned, and smelled like smoke. At that moment, those weird pig mixed nuts were a 5-course meal.
I grabbed another handful from the bag.
This is the first part of my new post series, “Things I Ate on Breaking News”. I’ll look back at some of the most impactful stories I’ve covered, and how I remember them through food.
You can like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!
Category: Articles, Food, Oregon, Personal, Things I Ate On Breaking News Tagged: creative non-fiction, Ellen Meny, Eugene, Fire, journalism, KVAL, Mixed Nuts, Oregon, Pigs, reporter, Things I Ate On Breaking News, writing
Posted on August 14, 2017
The 2017 total solar eclipse is almost upon us! In about a week, the sun will experience a total eclipse of the heart.
The excitement continues to grow here in the great state of Oregon. Strangely enough, the “path of totality“, the area where one can see the full eclipse, hits both my alma mater, Clemson University, and my current state of residence!
Thousands of people are expected to crowd Oregon to catch a glimpse of this astronomical wonder. Government officials are preparing for a dwindling supply of gas, crowded campgrounds and lots of confused tourists. On the day of the eclipse, the estimated travel time between Portland and Salem is at 6 hours (it’s usually 1 hour). The eclipse is sure to be a monumental (if not stressful) event.
And what better way to celebrate the eclipse than to make a playlist for it! I’m a child of the 90s, this is the closest to a “2017 Eclipse Mixtape” I’ll ever get.
May I present to you my “Oregon Eclipse 2017 Playlist”. Jam out to these tunes as you don your protective glasses and experience totality.
Think I missed a song? Comment your eclipse song recommendations!
And be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Posted on July 7, 2017
I’ve spent summers in the Mid-Atlantic, the South and the Midwest. But in my opinion, the Pacific Northwest does summer the best. I think all Oregonians have a dreadful, creeping thought in the back of their heads…we only get 3 months of this, so we better enjoy it.
I hosted a local food show, Tasty Tuesday, which allowed me to sample lots of different restaurants and food trucks throughout Eugene and Springfield. Here’s a breakdown of some cool spots to check out during Eugene’s fleeting summer months!
Category: Food, Oregon, Travel Tagged: Big Kahuna Bowls, Buck Buck, Eugene, Food, General Bao's, Moi Poki, Oregon, summer, Sweetbay Shave Ice, Tasty Tuesday, Travel
Posted on May 16, 2017
I don’t know how else to say this, so I’ll start with a comfortable phrase.
Time flies, doesn’t it?
It’s been about two years since I last posted on my blog, but that doesn’t mean I ever forgot about it. Rather, it’s been on my mind quite often- but every time I sat down to write a post, I found myself straying away, or losing interest. Sometimes, I was a little worried about what people would think of me- was I still good enough?
In college, my blog primarily featured my journalism- now, life is a little different. I’m a broadcast journalist. My work is featured on KVAL News in Eugene, Oregon. I report, I anchor newscasts and I have my own food show. Yes, I am incredibly lucky- I’m paid to eat and talk about food once a week!
I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: I’m hoping to revive this blog, but it will be a little different than before. I’m still trying to figure out what that entails- whether that’s snapshots of my life, my fiction writing, or something more.
Two years is a long time, as quickly as it seemed to pass. People change; things change; blogs change! But as scary as change can be, it can ignite new ideas and open up new paths.
Let’s see where those paths lead.
Category: Personal Tagged: blog, Eugene, journalism, KVAL, Personal, Tasty Tuesday, two years
Posted on June 11, 2015
Hello readers! Sorry I’ve been gone for a bit- I’ve been working hard on another big project of mine…entering the world of professional journalism!
I’m ecstatic to announce that I’ll be working as a Multimedia Journalist for KVAL News in Eugene, Oregon! I can’t wait to start my career at the end of June! If you’d like to keep updated on my adventures, please follow me on my social media accounts. I’ll be posting photos and updates more regularly on the social media outlets below.
Many thanks to everyone who helped me on my journey. I can’t wait to put all of my skills to good use and explore another part of the United States. Adventure is the stuff of life. Stay curious, readers!
Category: Personal Tagged: Adventure, Ellen Meny, Eugene, KVAL, MMJ, Multimedia Journalist, Oregon, Social Media