All photos by Kat Lucero.
Sauca is a trippy word. Soo-ca? SAW-ca? SOW-ca? Trying to figure out the pronunciation can be baffling upon a first encounter with this food truck that offers international dishes wrapped in a flatbread. Sauca (pronounced SOW-sa) owner Farhad Assari said he invented the word with the belief that food is a uniting force.
Washington, D.C., with its embassies, universities and international organizations attracting a variety of people from abroad, is already a melting pot, but Assari wanted to use food to further connect people.
“We wanted Sauca to bring people together by letting them understand about food from different parts of the world,” Assari said. “It was the idea to allow people to experience different cultures, and seeing how similar we are to one another versus how different we are. We all love, we all feel, we all want happiness. So when you come together over food, all of these things come together somehow.”
Assari is indeed an expert of many things international. He came to DC with his family from Iran as a young boy when his father worked for the Iranian embassy (pre-Iranian Revolution). He attended schools in Switzerland, New York City and Philadelphia. For the past 20 years, he has lived in 12 cities around the world (Mumbai, Doha, London and Hong Kong to name a few) working as an investment banker.
Ask him what’s the best thing he has ever eaten in these cities and he’ll respond, “The best food I’ve ever had in these cities have been from the streets.”
“The idea of Sauca was not only to just bring food from around the world, but to bring street food that is good and authentic, tasty,” Assari says. “ Bring it in a clean, healthy way.”
So Sauca really is trippy. The food truck takes palettes on a flavorful global ride as he brings street-inspired food from different parts of the world to D.C.’s streets. The food is prepped every day when the trucks are in business in a stand-alone kitchen, which recently moved to Virginia from Maryland.
Assari applies his philosophy about people in food, but what differentiates the dishes from one another is the way they are prepared, cooked and topped.
“Proteins, carbohydrates…[Food] is all the same,” he says. “It’s how we marinate and what sauces we use is what makes our food different.”
Sauces are definitely plenty --16 different homemade sauces to dress your dish. Assari intended to call his business Sauce, but he needed an original word to trademark. Get it now? Sauca…
Despite being in business since early February, Assari already experienced some major changes in his business. He launched a second truck in May and had a naming contest for the two vehicles -- Pangea and Saucalito were the chosen handles. He now has a 12-employee staff and plans to increase his fleet in the near future. He slimmed down his sauce list and menu, keeping popular items such as the Mumbai butter chicken and Mexicali fish taco. Soups, toffles (waffles with toffee) and other breakfast items will also return as the warm temperatures simmer.
Sauca even shed its notable bamboo-colored exterior from what I saw last Tuesday. Pangea transformed into a roving billboard for the HBO series “Entourage” for the next few days. In conjunction with the promotion opportunity, Sauca tweeted yesterday that it gave away over 600 saucas in Chinatown. Assari, announced in an e-mail, that another free-sauca day will be coming up. Follow @Sauca for details.
One major development this summer in the food truck community is Yes to Title 24, a campaign supporting the current D.C. street vending proposal and striving to prevent changes in the code that would limit the sale of mobile food. Assari and his team empathize and respect stand-alone restaurants, but the Sauca team also believe they have the right to sell food.
“In D.C., it’s [food truck] a new thing so there’s obviously going to be a push-back,” says Gustavo Viera, a veteran in the food and beverage industry and a current Sâuçá manager.
Viera calls the current conflict between street food vendors and business establishments in D.C. a “food rights movement.” The newbies want to stay and operate in a free market, but the more abundant brick-and-mortar businesses find them a threat. Looking at the long lines in front of Sauca and other food trucks in areas such as Farragut Square and Franklin Park during a muggy lunch rush, there is clearly a demand and affinity for these D.C. novelties.
“I’m a believer in personal choice,” Assari said. “Nobody is forcing people to come to food trucks. You’re making a choice to go to a food truck, standing in line in the heat for food that you could get from another place. Food trucks are here to stay.”