Portland’s Kargi Gogo Food Cart

Photo Jul 11, 4 07 11 PM

We went to Seattle and Portland this weekend. Ultimately, we were headed to Portland, Oregon for the World Domination Summit, but we added a couple of days in Seattle to visit my sister, her partner, and my parents who are on summer sabbatical there.

Portland is such an incredible food city, with outstanding options for any budget. Their rich food truck culture should be a model for Boston. It was our first stop. After we arrived on Friday on Amtrak – with the ticket costing a quarter of what it would’ve to go to NYC even though it’s the same distance – we dropped our bags at the condo and headed straight for the Alder Food Truck Pod. The pods are clusters of food trucks in relatively ‘permanent’ locations – you can find the same food trucks there every day, and the pods are scattered throughout the city which is home to over 500 food trucks.

The Alder Pod wraps around the perimeter of a public parking lot and offers a global smorgasbord of cuisine options. I wanted to try a more offbeat cuisine that I might not otherwise eat. So Georgian cuisine won, and we ordered from Kargi Gogo. (I’m definitely not traveling to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia any time soon). D. wanted to go back to the Polish truck that we’d eaten from 3 years previous, so having a Former Communist Country Food Faceoff seemed like a good option.

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Kargi Gogo is owned by Sean and McKinze, two former Peace Corp volunteers who were posted to the Republic Georgia for two years, during which time they fell in love with the country, the people, and the food. And their love is evident in the treats they serve. When you order, you are advised that all of the food is made from scratch, so will take some time to prepare. We ordered a Vegetarian Supra Plate, which had a taste of all of the dishes they offer because we wanted the full experience. It took about 10 minutes to prepare, but the wait was worth every one of those minutes.

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First were the badrijani, bite-sized sushi-style rolls of thin grilled slices of eggplant wrapped around a pesto-like puree of walnut, garlic, and Georgian spice mix of fenugreek, Georgian saffron, coriander, red pepper and tomato paste, then topped with a pomegranate seed.  I could have eaten an entire plate of these vegetarian treats and fully intend on making them at home. While none of the spices were individually unfamiliar, the combination of them was smoky and mysterious, hinting of Middle Eastern flavors and Indian Flavors in a mix that was uniquely individual. (Want to try this at home? Here’s a recipe for badrijani. I will try this recipe  and comment on it in a later post.)

Beside the badrijani was a village salad – tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and parsley tossed in a dressing that tasted like a thinner version of the badrijani stuffing. Next was lobiani, a grilled flatbread stuffed with ground redbeans and sauteed onions. Again, the Ottoman influence was evident in the pita-like bread that had little flavor on its own but shone when brushed with oil, grilled and stuffed with the filling. (I found a recipe for it online here, but not sure I liked it enough to try it at home.)

If the bean filling in the flatbread weren’t enough, we next had their feature dish, the addictive khachapuri, deemed to the national dish of Georgia. It’s the same flatbread as the lobiani, but stuffed with a blend of melted cheese. This sandwich is a testament of just how delicious the combination of bread and melted cheese can be. After some research, I’ve found that there are multiple versions of khachapuri in Georgia, and the one that Kargi Gogo features is called Imeretian because it features Imeretian cheese, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Georgia.

I don’t know if Kargi Gogo actually uses Imeretian cheese in theirs or if they’ve substituted with cheeses more commonly available in the US. I’m guessing they used the real thing, because it tasted just a bit different than any of the cheeses I’ve eaten. (And believe me, cheese is one of my favorite foods, and I’ve tried a lot of different ones.) I will most definitely be attempting to make the khachapuri at home, likely using this recipe that I found on Food Perestroika, a really cool blog dedicated to Eastern Bloc food. (And interestingly run by a Frenchman who has a degree from the International Culinary Institute but now works as a computer scientist by day and a recipe researcher by night. Not all that different from this blog’s author who has a day job in no related tot he food industry.)

Lastly were the khinkali, dumplings stuffed with mushroom and broth. Twisted closed much like Thai beggar’s purses, McKinze instructed us to lift them by the twisted top, flip them over, and bite into them so as not to lose the broth inside. She forgot to tell us that you aren’t actually supposed to eat the knobs at the top where the dough comes together. The knob is simply meant to be a holder for the dumpling and a counter for Georgian men to show off how many they can eat. They were fresh and steaming hot. But the spice mixture within – coriander, I think – was not a taste that we were used to, and we didn’t particularly care for them for that reason. But that’s just our taste. I bet they would taste like home to a Georgian!

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Next we got a Polish Plate from Eurodish. We had this same meal during our most recent trip to Portland in 2011. Served up by a Polish woman who reminds us of our Polish relatives, this plate of comfort food transports us back to childhood, like I imagine the Kargi Gogo one must do for Georgians. For this reason, I immediately realize that our Former Communist Country Food Faceoff  was an unfair competition. The familiarity and nostalgia of the Polish food gave it an unbeatable advantage with us.

We feasted on (clockwise from top) potato perogi with fried onions, stuffed cabbage (or holupki as my grandmother called it), hunters stew (bigos) and kielbasa with polish mustard. It was proof again what powerful memories taste can evoke – one bite of the hunter’s stew and I was 4 years old again, eating a plate of it in the dining room of my Grandmother’s tavern, Sam and Ann’s Tavern on Rt 910 in Indianola, PA. (Now occupied by Grieco’s.) She used to cook it herself to serve to the coal miners who worked up the road in the Indianola 1 mine, harvesting bituminous coal from the Indianola coal seams.

Despite the Polish food victory in our mini-competition, I will definitely go back to Kargi Gogo the next time I am in Portland. The food is fantastic.

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