Anyone who's ever watched the American reality TV series Late Nite Chef Fight will be familiar with the notion of elite Las Vegas chefs duking it out to prepare the best dishes they can using leftover ingredients in a food truck. The joy you see on the faces of people who taste these recipes doesn’t just make for great television: it’s also solid proof that food trucks aren’t to be taken lightly. If you find yourself salivating over these chefs’ inventive recipes, we’re happy to introduce you to an Istanbul-based food truck that’s guaranteed to win you over.
The name “Gangon” is a variant on the Turkish word “kamyon” (“truck”) as pronounced by a three-year-old. Specifically, it’s borrowed from a young boy named Ali, the son of lawyer and part-time chef Can Gafuroğlu. The food truck Gafuroğlu started with his friends is best described as a mobile restaurant project, one that sells sandwiches prepped by experienced chefs at festivals and other outdoor events.
Gangon isn’t the first gastronomic project by Gafuroğlu, who continues to work as a lawyer during the day. He previously collaborated with the catering company The Food Project, hijacked work spaces with the mobile kitchen unit Kitchen Guerilla, and experimented with Anatolian cuisine for Gastronomika. “I’ve got quite a few friends whose kitchens I miss,” Gafuroğlu admits, but he’s happy to rely on a few of those friends’ support for Gangon. Some of the talented locals lending a hand include fellow Kitchen Guerilla chef Semi Hakim, advertiser-turned-gastronome Ozan İlhan, Arnavutköy restaurant Hudson’s pastry chef Hazal Yıldırım, former La Petite Maison and Mükellef chef Yaren Çarpar, and chef-meets-food styling and photography buff Ahu Ulusoy.
Gangon’s focus might be on sandwiches, but don’t expect to find your run-of-the-mill hoagies here. For one, Gafuroğlu’s definition of “bread” is a bit unconventional: “Sometimes it’s a Chinese bao; sometimes, Turkish lavaş, bazlama or gözleme; and at other times it’s a Venezuelan arepa or a Brazilian pão de queijo,” he says. Gangon currently serves three kinds of baos (chicken, beef or falafel), and if you get the chance to watch these little flavor bombs being prepared, you’ll see firsthand just how much effort goes into them. The Altın Kızlar (“Golden Girls”) bao, for instance, comes with ramen-crusted chicken strips, pickled cucumbers with mustard and cilantro, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise with garlic confit, hot sauce and either spring onions or fresh cilantro. When you consider the fact that all sauces and pickles are prepped by the Gangon team, you begin to get a sense of how impressive these multilayered sandwiches really are. If you’re not in the mood for chicken, you can try the Vegi Yenge (“Aunt Veggie”) bao, which comes with falafel, strained yogurt with fresh herbs, roasted peanuts and pickled red onions – or you could opt for the Deli Oğlan (“Crazy Boy”) bao featuring chuck steak flavored with spices, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds and hot sauce.
“Our long-term goal is to convert the food truck into a permanent restaurant,” Gafuroğlu says, “but we’ll continue to make the rounds at outdoor events until that happens. Participating in these events will always be a priority for us – that’s the most enjoyable part of our job.” Seeing as how Gangon is somewhat of a pastime hobby for this team, it’s evident that they truly enjoy what they do. And they’ve already inspired others to join the food truck circuit: we’ve heard that the chefs behind Kadıköy-based gourmet street food joint Basta! are planning on a mobile kitchen of their own, and we even found chef Aylin Yazıcıoğlu (of the fine-dining Nicole Restaurant in Beyoğlu) eyeing the truck when we went to meet Gafuroğlu & Co. Looks like Istanbul-based gourmets will be spending a lot more time dining outdoors soon!