Three years ago, while waiting for some of the best shawarma I have ever had, a fellow first-year student who would become my roommate said something to me that would later define how I think about Scarborough: “Scarborough is the only place in the world where you’ll find a shawarma, jerk chicken, and sushi spot in the same plaza — and they would all be equally as good.”
That same sentence would echo in my mind during the UTSC food truck frenzy, an annual event on the UTSC campus. This year, I attended the frenzy on November 3, a chilly fall day with just the right amount of crisp wind to make you crave a hot meal. I arrived on campus to the smell of gravy, cheese, and meat on the grill. The food trucks were all arranged in a L-shape right in front of the Academic Resource Centre.
I was immediately confronted with lines of students braving the chilly air in long queues for various delicacies. I perused the options available: hot dogs, poutine, tacos, cheeseburgers, and ice cream. The bright colors of the various trucks called to me. A quick glance at the menus surprised me. The fast food that the trucks were offering was typical, but the palate and ingredients were not. Bulgogi poutine with kimchi and a runny egg, chicken sausage with jerk chicken sauce, paratha tacos, and so much more. A lot of the trucks even had halal and vegetarian options.
After a long period of contemplation, I settled on my first choice to try: the halal chicken hot dog from Zombie Dawgz and Conez — the bright purple of the truck beckoned me closer. A quick stint in the queue and seven dollars later, I was watching as my sausage was put on the grill, stuffed in a brioche hot dog bun, and then handed to me wrapped in foil. All of the condiments lay in front of me — banana peppers, ranch, onions, and the iconic mustard and ketchup.
The next item was the poutine, smothered in gravy, and topped with the squeakiest cheese curds. The richness of the dish contrasted with the chill in the air. Around me, the throng of students waned and rose again. People rushed between classes, running after they had grabbed their food, or sat in groups on the benches next to the trucks, braving the cold in huddles of winter coats, their frosty breath intermingling with steam rising from carton containers. That first bite of the poutine from the bright red Mustache Burger felt like a warm hug.
At the centre of it all was Alexandra Hoa, the organizer of the event and the operations assistant at the TBucks and Business Operations office. I met with Hoa in their office, a cozy space filled with succulents and heaps of signs and flyers from various events. The first thing they did was offer me a cup of tea.
I was surprised to find out that it was actually Hoa’s first year organizing the event. It was also the first time that the event was run post pandemic. “For the most part, our department is in charge of inviting food trucks on campus and diversifying the food options here, making sure that we can keep things exciting for students and all that fun stuff,” Hoa said. “We’ve done [the food truck frenzy] in different forms [in the past]… but this time we made more of a point to invite more than one [truck] at a time so we can up the ante a little bit and promote it a lot more.” Catering to so many different tastes is a lofty goal, especially in a place as diverse as Scarborough, which boasts of some of the highest rates of racialized people and immigrants in the GTA.
“We first prioritize food trucks that we’ve worked with in the past and we’ve had good relationships with, and then start seeing what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and [whether] we should get something that’s a little bit different,” Hoa added. “[For example], Feed the 6ix is actually local to us… and they run a catering business too, and it’s a lot of fun.”
They expanded on how finding food options for the diverse student body was not as difficult as you might imagine — only further proof of the diversity in Scarborough. “Food trucks nowadays, and other mom-and-pop shops around UTSC, have done such a great job of encompassing and being inclusive to different students and community members’ dietary restrictions. I find that food trucks now have a really great selection of food options,” Hoa explained.
The event seemed like a huge success to me, and I personally witnessed the number of students who showed up, and I saw their faces as they tried the food. Hoa, however, still has many ideas about how to improve.
“I wanted more of a reach… so next year I’m planning to promote it sooner, and do a lot more in-person marketing,” they said. Hoa also wants to include music and picnic blankets or tables to create a more inviting atmosphere for the community.
But the office’s campaigns aren’t all food related. Hoa mentioned several other events happening on campus, including LUNCH at Miller Lash House, an Ontario heritage site that used to be the principal’s office when UTSC was still Scarborough College. Lunch is available there weekly on Wednesdays in the month of November, and students and faculty can eat while enjoying one of the best views of Highland Creek.
If Hoa runs the lunch the way they ran the food truck frenzy, I’m sure their enthusiasm will bleed into it the same way; their energy is nothing short of infectious. “We’re here to celebrate food and do something fun, and help students find a different pace of life on campus,” Hoa concluded.