Indigenous-owned food truck puts a modern spin on traditional food
In Esquimalt on Admirals Road, the Songhees Food Truck is tucked away in a cozy alcove. Spacious picnic tables are protected from the rain under a newly built pergola that’s designed to resemble a longhouse, and native plants surround the area. It’s a beautiful space where Songhees culture is honoured through the use of traditional ingredients.
“We try and use and implement the food in any traditional way that we can,” said Aaron George, the lead cook on Songhees Food Truck and a Songhees band member, in an interview with me on location. “We put a modern twist on our specials and our ideas that we come up with.”
An extension of Songhees Nation, the Songhees Food Truck collaborates with community members to create a vast menu that incorporates the care and knowledge surrounding food preparation that is central to the Songhees.
Established in 2016, the Songhees Food Truck is one of the first Indigenous food trucks in Canada. Songhees Chief Ron Sam had been considering a food truck for some time when he was approached by the Victoria Clipper, and the two parties formed a partnership. With the help of Chef Dave Roger, formerly the Executive Chef of the Marriott Inner Harbour, the food truck was opened as Songhees Seafood and Steam at the Victoria Clipper on Belleville Street in May of that year.
Songhees Nation took over full ownership of the food truck in 2018 and rebranded it as Songhees Food Truck. In April 2020, the food truck opened its permanent location on Admirals Road.
“The Songhees Nation has been really supportive of what we need down here [at the food truck]. This is the first year that they’ve really opened up full time all year round. … Whatever we’ve asked for, they’ve definitely helped a lot,” George said. “The better we do on the truck, the more the money goes back into the Nation.”
Born and raised on Songhees traditional territory, George learned how to cook from his mother and grandmother. “That’s probably one of the places where interest [in cooking] gets piqued. You like the good food growing up,” George said.
George started in the restaurant industry when he was a teenager as a dishwasher. His vast experience in the industry has helped him pinpoint exactly what’s special about the Songhees Food Truck. “It’s a completely different atmosphere than a restaurant,” he explained. “There’s a little more freedom on here to do what we want for specials. I love cooking Indigenous food, but it’s nice to put twists on it and cook all styles of food. Whatever we feel like that week, we might try that for a special,” he said.
For many, good food and good memories are intrinsically connected. George’s family spent time up in Port Renfrew, where his parent’s friends had a waterfront property. “We would go out on the boat with them, they had crabs and seafood. We did a seafood boil right on the water. … That’s a good memory. It’s just the traditional food itself, it wasn’t made all fancy or anything, but it was very cultural which is what I like for sure.”
When I asked George what the food he makes means to him, he said, “Food is important in every culture, for everyone. Making it the best you possibly can. … Good food is really important.”
Good food is really important, and I can promise you that you’ll find it at Songhees Food Truck. I tried the vegetarian sandwich, and it was the best vegetable sandwich I’ve ever had. The veggies were fresh and delicious, but it was the fluffy, golden bannock that really made the sandwich stand out.
What’s George’s favourite item on the menu? “I would say the bison burger. I think bison is really good. It’s a lean meat and you can add all kinds of flavour.”
The food truck’s large menu offers everything from wild B.C. salmon burgers to bannock bites, with a plethora of add-ons like bison sausage, beer battered cod, and smoked paprika aioli. There’s definitely something for everyone. Whether you need a satisfying bite to eat, or a place to make some good memories with good food, Songhees Food Truck is the place to be.