STREAT is new Melbourne-based social enterprise providing homeless youth with their first start into the hospitality industry. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of social enterprise and it’s great to see that we can help ‘stop homelessness the delicious way’ (according to STREAT‘s motto).

STREAT currently operates two food carts in the CBD – one which serves a changing menu of street hawker food at Federation Square and a second one pouring Fairtrade organic tea and coffee with pastries from the Convent Bakery at the top of the escalators for the Melbourne Central trains.

All of the profits from these carts go back to funding the STREAT program whereby eight kids are selected to participate in a 3 month traineeship to learn the front-end and back-end of the hospitality industry and gain a TAFE Certificate II in Hospitality, all while receiving social support and advice.

A worthy cause is all very good and well, but how does the food stack up? As I’m not a coffee drinker and being lunchtime, I made a beeline for the Federation Square cart.

While the cart faces on Flinders Street across from St Paul’s Cathedral, for some reason it is easy to miss so you really have to let your nose lead you. They’ve just launched their Spring menu, which taps right into the zeitgeist for authentic Mexican street food in Melbourne, and you can smell the frying of loose meat chorizo (common in Mexico and quite different to the familiar Spanish variety) a mile away.

I had a chat with STREAT’s Canadian food service manager and chef, Rob Auger, who told me that he travelled through Mexico before landing in Melbourne and wanted to bring people simple, healthy street food done really well. So currently the cart is serving tacos at $4.50 each. Just tacos done well and nothing else. And not the crunchy corn chip pockets that we know thanks to El Paso, but tortillas made from gluten-free masa flour (a maize grain) encasing two fillings – the chorizo and frijoles negos (refried black beans).

The heavier tortillas mean that even though the servings look small, the meal is actually very filling. I particularly enjoyed the unusual ingredients (for me) within the black bean tortilla – queso fresco, STREAT’s own pickled cactus made from cactus pads grown by Cactus Country in North East Victoria, salsa verde made from green unripe tomatoes (instead of tomatillos, which can’t be found easily in Australia) and with a squeeze of homemade hot sauce. I’m told that Mexican visitors of the food cart have given the tacos their seal of approval!

I washed down my mixed combo of black bean taco and chorizo taco with a Phoenix Organics cola ($10.50 total). When I asked Rob why he had chosen to stock an organic cola from New Zealand, he said that his main criteria was to source organic and local produce where possible, but it was still important to keep in mind the cost element – hence importing from NZ in this case. I’m not much of a soft-drink imbiber (all those chemicals and additives, ugh) but the ingredients list on the Phoenix bottle are reassuringly normal – carbonated water, organic sugar, natural cola flavouring, organic lemon concentrate.

Rob tells me that the Spring menu will probably last until mid-summer depending on demand – so get down to Federation Square soon to enjoy a delicious, filling and cheap lunch for a good cause. You know what’s even better? Get yourself a loyalty card and for every 9 meals/coffee you buy STREAT gives the 10th to a homeless person.
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