SANTA MONICA, California – It’s lunchtime on the street, and the big red food
truck is serving a favorite Montreal “delicacy.” The Hebrew word “hai” (“life)”,
displayed on the side of the truck, is Chef Michael Israel’s reminder, as he
says, that “Judaism is at the center” of classic Jewish deli cuisine.
on the front of the truck, in big letters, you can’t miss this piece of sage
advice: “GIMME MOE!” That, of course, is the truck’s very raison d’etre: Give Me
More Montreal Open-Ended Egg Rolls.
“Montreal egg rolls are a classic
Montreal delicacy that has kind of fallen out of the mainstream,” says Israel,
who, with his wife Emily and Chef Matthew Haney, operates the food truck in the
West Los Angeles area.
But if Israel has his way, Montreal egg rolls will
be back in the mainstream very soon.
Israel trained at the Culinary
Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York and has been operating the
food truck for about a year and a half. Haney is also a CIA
“Basically, what makes Montreal egg rolls unique,” Israel explains,
“is that it’s an egg roll that has open ends, so there’s filling from end to
end, and the ends, as they cook, get really dark and crispy.”
specializes in Montreal egg rolls for a good reason: he has close family ties to
the Canadian city, and though he wasn’t actually born there, the rest of his
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“I’m the first American-born in my family,” he notes.
“Everybody else was born in Montreal. I have a very strong familial connection
to Montreal. Most of my family is still there.
“A big part of what
defines me as a chef and what formed my viewpoint on food and what I think
tastes good… is really… from classic Montreal cuisine… like the egg rolls… and
Montreal deli.” Of course, anyone familiar with Schwartz’s deli in Montreal
understands that the truck’s red-and-white awning is what Israel calls “our tip
of the hat to Schwartz’s,”since the truck menu also features a healthy serving
Israel says that his “Moe-riginal” is the “best duplicate of
what a classic Montreal egg roll is,” containing chicken, cabbage and a spice
From classic egg rolls, Israel moves on to egg rolls with deli
offerings, like a Reuben, a smoked turkey and a Chinese BBQ-style brisket, which
is slowcooked, thin-sliced and then combined inside the egg roll with mango
The egg rolls are all fried and rolled to order.
menu also includes the “Big Tuna” deli egg roll, a layer of tuna salad plus a
layer of what he amusingly terms ‘smashed’ potato salad, served with a
house-made spicy sauce called moe’racha, a play on sriracha, a southeast Asian
As soon as they park in the long line of food trucks parked
on the street, Israel, Emily and Haney get busy preparing the day’s
It’s cramped quarters inside, of course, but that’s the norm in the
fast lane of southern California food truck culture, which spans diverse
immigrant tastes and food styles.
The trio spends most of the time
working on the west side of Los Angeles, but there are periods out of the city
as well as private events and catering.
“Being on wheels gives us the
freedom to travel,” says Israel, “so we’ve been as far north as Ventura County,
all the way to Palm Springs and down to San Diego.”
Israel and his wife
met while they were both working at a restaurant in the SoHo district of New
York. At the same time, Emily was also studying musical theater at Hunter
College and now, she jokes, the truck has become her performance venue, where
she uses voice projection to call out the orders.
“I seem to have a
natural love of hospitality,” she says, placing pickles in plastic
In between mixing egg roll ingredients, Israel talks about the
“huge influx of young chefs in the country” serving great street food from
It’s a movement that reflects both the creative spirit and basic
“Even the most basic of restaurants is enormously
expensive,” Israel says, “so in my opinion, the greatest part of the whole food
truck movement is that it gives young chefs the ability to create a menu and
create a dining experience unique to their own perspective in a way that’s
approachable for many customers.
“It’s not an exclusive environment, and
there’s a tremendous amount of freedom to expose yourself to many different
markets and communities.”
In the beginning, Israel’s food truck was
kosher, but going the kosher route proved too costly. “When we initially hit the
road,” he notes, “it was strictly kosher. Really, our mission was to bring new
excitement to the kosher dining world.
“(But) after one year of business,
we realized that it was critical for our ability to survive financially to no
longer use hechshered [kosher certified] meat. The way we approach our menu now
is, we call it ‘kosherstyle.’ However, there’s no pork, shell fish or dairy on
At the same time, Israel has embraced “more of the deli side
of our identity” and created a“delicious list of sandwiches,” like pastrami with
lettuce, pickled red onion, tomato and house-made slaw on rye bread.
the day of our visit, my wife and I sampled two wonderful items, which
overflowed with layer upon layer of flavors and textures – and were just plain
huge. One was the veggie egg roll, made with spinach, artichoke hearts, roasted
red peppers and roasted garlic, wrapped in an egg roll with horseradish sauce. I
liked the fact that, while the ends of the egg roll were crispy, the center
maintained a softness that was more like a sandwich.
We each ate a half,
which was more than enough, considering that the entire egg roll weighed in at
almost a pound! Next, we tried a tuna sandwich made with white albacore
house-made tuna, red onion, celery, house-made mayonnaise and seasonings layered
with ‘smashed’ potato salad, a spicy mustard deli dressing, mixed greens, sliced
tomato and pickled red onions.
The bulging sandwich was served on rye
bread with house-made Russian dressing and came with a side of classic,
Montreal-style coleslaw with a garlic-vinaigrette dressing. Each of these items
was priced at $9.
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