Eating Local: The Oakland Indie Awards

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A few weeks ago, we attended Oakland’s 10th Annual Indie Awards, an event held to honor local artists and small businesses that are making a positive impact in the Bay Area. My sister, one of our most loyal readers, insisted that we attend because aside from vendors selling rad stuff, we would also get to try delicacies from some of Oakland’s finest food vendors. Despite it being a weeknight, I sped over to Oakland to meet up with Lindsey and my sis to see what this must-see event was all about.

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This year, it was held at the Oakland Museum on the shores of Lake Merritt and just a hop, skip, and jump away from the Bart station. We were welcomed by the lively rhythms of salsa, played by one of the top timba bands in the Bay Area, Rumbaché (2). While we all felt like breaking it down on the dance floor (or at least I did), my sister told us that we should focus on the food first because vendors tend to run out. She didn’t have to tell us twice – we made a beeline for the first food booth we saw, which had a fresh green papaya soba salad of buckwheat noodles, green papaya, carrots, cucumber, and cabbage from The Town Kitchen (3).  All the businesses involved with the Indie Awards usually have a social mission incorporated into their business ethos. The Town Kitchen, for example, employs local youth and teaches them the ins and outs of food service and entrepreneurship.

After whetting our appetite on papaya salad, we next sampled tostadas topped with black bean, chicken, corn, and salsa, made by Simply Bliss Catering (4). These were obviously a popular choice because they seemed to fly off the display as fast as servers put them out. We saved the desserts for last and indulged in creamy, bite-sized tartlets of cheesecake, chocolate coconut, and lemon meringue from Tart! Oakland (5).

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Thinking we had come to the end of the food booths, we decided to browse the rest of the merchandise for sale by local artisans. However, we soon realized there was a whole other row of food vendors that we had yet to get to. We washed the goodies down with some ginger and rosewater-flavored kombucha supplied by the family-owned business House Kombucha (6) , enjoyed a mini sweet potato pie by Pinx Catering (7), and pigged out on nutella and churro cupcakes from We the Minis (8), which donates a percentage of their profits to help homeless families.

By this time, the lines for some of the booths were ridiculously long, so we decided to split up and divide and conquer. Always a fan of savory pastries, I went for the handmade pork and mushroom empanadas by Javi’s Cooking (9), a local Argentine restaurant, which ended up being my favorite treat of the night. Next we tried donut kebabs from Mamacita’s Café, a women-owned café that creates economic opportunities for young women. If you didn’t think donuts could be dressed up, think again – we sampled donuts with the sophisticated flavors of cardamom and spiced apple, but their online menu also boasts flavors like rosemary romano and maple bacon (10). For the vegetarians out there, we highly recommend socca, a Mediterranean flatbread made of garbanzo beans, with shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish of eggs poached in tomato sauce, courtesy of The Chickpea Chick (11).

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Another one of my favorite vendors was Kainbigan , who describes their fare as Filipino comfort food. We tried their tocino sisig crackers, which was a flavorful fusion of barbecue chicken and cream cheese on top of a toasted cracker (12). We also couldn’t pass up their chicken adobo stew, which is a classic Filipino staple of braised chicken marinated in a soy and vinegar sauce. They even had a coconut vegetable stew so that vegetarians wouldn’t be left out (13).

One of the most popular booths at the event was for Grilled Cheez Guy, who was serving – what else? – grilled cheese sandwiches. The line stretched nearly the whole length of the patio, but I got lucky and was handed a crispy sandwich of goat cheese, mushrooms, and bell pepper (14) when I was trying to take a photo of the sandwiches. Not one to pass up a grilled cheese sandwich, I took the loot and ran before anyone behind me could notice (sorry!).

Nona Lim was another favorite (Ok, I admit, I had a lot of favorites!) because unlike the other vendors, who were typically restaurants or caterers, Nona Lim sells ready-to-cook fresh soups and entrees that they make from scratch using local ingredients. They let us sample their miso ramen and Thai curry with lime broth with their laksa noodles (15). Considering how long it takes to cook homemade soup broth, I could imagine this being a quick and healthy option on those nights when I don’t feel like cooking.

So there you have it. We stuffed our faces and learned more about up-and-coming small businesses that are giving back to the communities that they serve. The next time we feel like a bite to eat, we may just hit up some of these restaurants to see what else they have to offer instead of going to the usual San Francisco favorites. Who says you have to cross the bridge for some good eats? Not us, that’s for sure.

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