Back in the day when we went out on Curaçao, one of the things I always looked forward to most was after the party, after the drinks… that hot fried, crunchy, chewy, spicy, saucy mess in a Styrofoam box. See, on Curaçao, as with any food loving culture, they know that what one needs, really needs, after a night of alcoholic debauchery, is something to eat. Something good. The late-night dining and street food scene on the island is dominated by food trucks called truki pan, short for trùk di pan, which translates to sandwich truck. In the past, these trucks used to only sell sandwiches, hence the name, but pretty soon fries were added with a variety of grilled meats or seafood. When night time hits, the neon lights on the truki pans shine bright as a beacon for the hungry… calling.
We only managed to visit a truki pan twice during our visit as we often had dinner plans that involved a lot of food.
The first truki pan we hit up was BBQ Express, a new truck on the Caracasbaaiweg that was quickly becoming an island favorite. It’s so popular it opens at 7pm for dinner and creates traffic from all the cars parking and going from there. This truck was a new one for me, since I hadn’t been back for a couple of years. Since it was also recommended to us by friends we couldn’t pass up on it. So, after having worked up an appetite over a couple of drinks, we made our way over there. Arriving at around 11pm-ish, the place was already packed with at least 30 cars parked around it. A mix of locals and non-locals, young and old, either waiting for, or munching on their orders.
The menu is quite extensive ranging from grilled meat like chicken, pork, and beef, to stoba, or stew, to grilled seafood, oyster soup, and even cheeseburgers. We decided on karko, or conch, and grilled chicken, both ku batata, with fries. Now, if there is one dish that I miss most from Curaçao, it is karko ku batata, but more on that later. We had to wait our turn, but surprisingly, our number was called quite quickly. The dishes come in a Styrofoam box with a side of salad and, completely unnecessarily, some kind of macaroni salad. This double starch action is too much, even for the likes of me. Anyway, it all comes plain, with no sauce. However, on the counter of the truck there are containers and squeezy bottles with the condiments, so you can customize your order. The sauces were ketchup, mayo, salsa rosada (a mix of ketchup and mayo and sometimes more, differs per truck), peanut, chimichurri, and some kind of relish. Lastly, there are two types of chopped pickled onion, one pika, or spicy, and one sweet. I couldn’t help myself and added everything but the ketchup and the mayo. Go.
The karko was so-so for me. It was fried with too much onion, I mean like 40% onion which is not a good ratio. The chicken on the other hand was awesome. Juicy, tender, great BBQ char and grill flavor. The sauces were all good, though the pika could have had more of a kick. Great place! I really wanted to try more off the menu, but sadly we only visited once. Next time!
Our second truki pan visit was to the long running, classic, Naoki’s place. Every Curaçaoean has their favorite truki pan, their go-to place. For me growing up, Naoki’s was that place. How I miss it. Their karko ku batata, for me, is probably my favorite thing to eat in the world. Okay so nostalgia is a big part of that, but if you would ask me what I would want as my last meal on earth, this would probably be it.
This was our first time visiting Naoki’s at its new location, since on the former spot there is now a McD’s. It’s now located on the same Sta. Rosaweg, but a bit further down. If memory serves, we arrived round 11pm and it was quite busy. The thing that strikes me here is that there are only locals. It could be because it is more out of the way of the more touristy areas than the Caracasbaaiweg, or just because of the more dingy looking truck. Looks can be deceiving, but the array of cars parked around and the group of waiting customers should give away the fact that this place is good, real good. We order the karko ku batata of course. There aren’t, and never were, any tables at Naoki’s, nor at most of the trucks on the island. Most people just eat in or on their cars, or standing up. When our order is ready, I’m asked, “saus di pinda?” (peanut sauce?). Peanut sauce is something you’ll find at most grill restaurants, and every place makes their own version. It’s like the BBQ sauce of Curaçao, and Noaki’s version is particularly good. Then there are, of course, your condiments to add. In this case, I add the salsa rosada, the pika and their trademark watery soy-like sauce, which just works.
I don’t know what it is, but this place’s karko is just magic. Crunchy, delightfully chewy, and the maritime liquor that fried conch releases… don’t get me started. Add to that the fries and the sauces, the hit of sour, and a little spice from the pika. Yes! You dig in with your crappy but obligatory plastic fork that nearly succumbs to the weight it’s bearing, and devour it by the mouthful. The side salad you get is not even worth mentioning, but this is an afterthought at most places on the island. It’s all about the fries and the protein. If karko is not your thing, the steak, often cube steak, and the lomito, or tenderloin, are also popular orders here. I am very glad that Naoki’s still cranks out awesome late night food and am already looking forward to our next visit.
The street food scene is still alive and kicking on Curaçao, and for that I am grateful. I am also really happy that more and more food trucks are popping up around the Netherlands and that there have been a couple of food truck festivals in recent years, like Rollende Keukens in Amsterdam, or TREK in the Hague, and the ‘Kanen bij’ event series in Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Rotterdam. Now if only some of these trucks were also open late at night. Wouldn’t that be something!