Austin, Texas is the bohemian capital of the Lone Star State, and its food scene reflects that. But the flavors tend mostly to Mexican and barbecue, and are very meat heavy; vegetarians can indulge in the city’s passion for scrambled egg breakfast tacos, but vegans have even fewer options.
But one woman is both diversifying the cultural food offerings and providing more choice for vegans, as she brings authentic falafel and Jewish deli flavors to the Austin streets.
Tennessee native Julia Hungerford opened Shhmaltz in late 2012. The food truck serves a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes, but is most famous for two: its falafel and its mock Reuben sandwich.
Hungeford told Tablet Magazine that the falafel recipe was inspired by a now-defunct Palestinian restaurant in Knoxville, where she had to glean tips from the owner’s family and friends (the owner would never let anyone but herself actually cook the falafel). It is pan-fried to order, instead of deep fried like many falafels.
Shhmaltz uses its falafel creatively, putting it on patty melts, or in a more traditional flat bread with tahini.
The Reuben is made with homemade “pastrami” of seitan, or wheat gluten, which is often used as a meat substitute.
The sandwiches are named after prominent Jewish artists, like Gertrude Stein (goat cheese with roasted red peppers) and Philip Guston (garden salad sub). Art Spiegelman (patty melt) and Harvey Pekar (the Reuben) are both major figures of the comics movement.
Hungerford also makes her own pickles and kambucha.
Also in the Tablet interview, Hungerford explained why she chose to name her vegetarian food truck after rendered chicken fat:
“I was inspired by my family and the Jewish food that seemed so familiar but yet so exotic as well. It’s also a word of luck; schmaltz being something very rich, if you fall into a pot of schmaltz, you’ve fallen into something lucky.”