Burlington's New BTV Market Puts the World on the Menu – Seven Days

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August 02, 2022 Food + Drink » Food + Drink Features
Published August 2, 2022 at 2:40 p.m. | Updated August 3, 2022 at 10:02 a.m.
In Burlington’s recently renovated City Hall Park, where the fountains are flowing this summer, Saturday strollers can sample a similarly abundant flow of foods from culinary entrepreneurs participating in the new BTV Market.
Organized by Burlington City Arts and the city’s Love Burlington effort to support small business, the market runs every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through October 1. Nearly a quarter of the stands offer ready-to-eat foods from a rotating roster of about 20 vendors representing global cuisines, from Somali-style fried chicken to Vietnamese egg rolls and sesame balls to dunkable Mexican birria tacos. Artists and craftspeople occupy the remainder.
Many of the food vendors are relatively new to the market circuit and envision the BTV Market as a way to test interest in their wares. As Raven Antonio of Maritela’s Filipino Cuisine told Seven Days of her rotating menu, “I want people to try it all.”
Read on for profiles of five of the many vendors. But we strongly recommend you follow Antonio’s advice and try them all.
— M.P.
Some food stands use flashing neon and light-up arrows to draw customers to their food. Casa Birria has a hand-drawn, motorized, mechanical taco sign.
The sign’s Lego motor slowly and repeatedly dips a taco into a cup of broth; it’s adorable, and it demonstrates how to eat the stand’s namesake dish.
Earthy, aromatic birria is a traditional Mexican stew. Casa Birria’s version is pretty classic: Beef is slowly simmered in an adobo made from dried chiles — often guajillo and ancho — and seasoned with garlic and spices such as oregano, cinnamon and cloves. It’s all the stand sells, though customers can choose from three versions: stew ($7), taco ($6.50) or quesadilla ($7).
José Ureña’s family worked in restaurants in Pennsylvania when he was growing up, but at home they cooked Mexican dishes every day. On Sundays, a family friend sold birria after church.
When Ureña and his wife, Lauren Ebersol, both 28, moved to Burlington in May, they saw a gap in the local market, and Ureña remembered the Sunday birria gatherings from his childhood.
“Seeing the lack of Mexican food inspired me to share Mexican food with Burlington and share birria, which isn’t widely available yet within the U.S.,” Ureña said.
Birria isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who’s spent time on TikTok, though, where the dunkable dish is trending. Video after video features birria tacos and quesadillas — authentic or TikTok-ified — with the meat from the stew shredded and topped with onion, cilantro, salsa and a squeeze of lime, after which the whole thing is dipped into a slick bowl of broth.
“It’s like French dip,” Ebersol said. “Dip it as much or as little as you like.”
“Then drink whatever’s left of the broth,” Ureña added.
The BTV Market was a perfect opportunity for Ureña, Ebersol and their business partner, Weslie Khoo, 33, who previously ran food stands, including a cricket pasta business, at New York City markets.
BTV Market was “very open to new vendors,” Ureña said.
“And they were really trying to include everyone from the community and give visibility to vendors that are people of color and women,” Ebersol said. “That was really appealing for us.”
During Casa Birria’s first week at the market, on July 23, customers were already catching on. About half came knowing how to eat birria, Ebersol said. But for others, Khoo’s signs demonstrated the proper technique.
— J.B.
Calito’s Popsicles might have the best spot in the BTV Market, or at least the most appropriate one: right next to the park’s new fountain. The stand’s popsicle-printed tablecloth is a beacon for kids running through the fountain’s jets — and for grown-ups trying to stay cool while the kids beat the heat.
Calito Amboise and Sophie Conway sell fruit-packed popsicles inspired by Amboise’s Haitian Dominican upbringing and Vermont’s fleeting summer flavors. They use local or organic fruit, depending on whether they’re sourcing berries and melons or coconuts and pineapples.
“Back home, I loved popsicles,” Amboise said. “But in Haiti, a popsicle is luxury. It’s not an easy thing to find.”
When he moved to Vermont in 2011, he bought popsicles from the big brands that line grocery store freezers. One day he told Conway he wished he could make his own.
“She said, ‘Yeah, you can make your own popsicle!'” Amboise said with a laugh. “For me, it was impossible. But I forgot I was in a country where everything is possible.”
Amboise and Conway started making small batches of popsicles at O Bread Bakery in Shelburne, where they both worked, and shared them with the bakery’s employees on hot summer days.
“Everybody liked it, so I decided to make a business to give back to the community,” Amboise said. “People be so damn busy. They don’t have time to go and pick fruit or enjoy the summer, because summer is short.”
Calito’s Popsicles launched in 2019. Conway and Amboise still work full time elsewhere, but they manage to produce a few hundred popsicles each week to split between the BTV Market, the park’s Friday Splash Dance, and farmers markets in Waitsfield and Stowe. The multilingual couple encourages customers to practice their Spanish, French, English or Haitian Creole while ordering.
Four flavors ($4.50 each) rotate on Calito’s market menu. The tropical pop — organic pineapple, mango, strawberry and peach — is the most popular, but mango and pineapple-coco-maple popsicles have their own followings.
“It’s like a piña colada without the rum,” Conway said of the latter, a combo of pineapple, coconut milk and Vermont maple syrup.
Other flavors cycle through the hits of Vermont’s short growing season: strawberry, peach, melon and even pumpkin. Right now, the couple is making the most of blueberries from Charlotte’s Sweet Roots Farm & Market.
“We make people eat all the blueberry they can eat,” Amboise said.
— J.B.
Fans of Raven Antonio’s Filipino food stand at the BTV Market were disappointed when she missed a recent market. It turned out she was at the funeral of her paternal grandmother, Marilou Estacio. Antonio’s loss made the name of her new business, Maritela’s Filipino Cuisine, even more meaningful: It combines the first names of both of her now-deceased grandmothers: Marilou and Otela.
“In Filipino culture, we are very tight with our ancestors,” Antonio said. “I feel like it’s empowering to come up with that name and to honor them.”
Antonio, 26, moved with her family to Vermont from Manila in 2016. She grew up learning to cook from her maternal grandmother, Otela Agana.
Antonio particularly remembers helping make lumpia, the long, slender Filipino egg rolls. The wrappers had to be separated “very carefully because they stick and tear.” When they tore, Antonio said, she’d hide them behind her back and nibble them on the sly.
Having her own food business “was a long dream of mine,” Antonio said. She launched Maritela’s in the fall of 2021 after graduating from the Community Kitchen Academy, a Vermont Foodbank program in partnership with Feeding Chittenden.
The Colchester resident prepares her food in a commercial kitchen space in Burlington. Maritela’s BTV Market menu changes weekly, but it always includes lumpia ($4) filled with well-seasoned ground pork and vegetables. Every Saturday, Antonio sells about 100 of the six-inch tubes, sliced in half on the diagonal.
She also serves a rotating meat entrée with garlic steamed rice, such as skewers of sweet and smoky Pinoy BBQ pork ($10 as a plate or $2 per skewer and $3.50 for rice), which she marinates in soy, garlic, mango concentrate and the uniquely Filipino banana ketchup.
On the side, she offers a refreshing mango, tomato and red onion salad ($6) and a couple of weekly sweets, such as ube crinkle cookies (three for $5). Antonio makes the familiar American soft, cracked cookie with purple yam, a favorite Filipino ingredient. “We love purple yams!” she said with emphasis.
In the Philippines, Antonio said, she’d have been able to pick many of her ingredients, such as mangoes, out of her garden.
“The freshness,” she said, “that’s what I miss the most.”
— M.P.
On a recent Saturday morning, Hue Tran kept a close eye on the oil bubbling around sesame balls in a fryer behind the Vietnamese Community Group’s table. Her market colleague, La Trinh, sat in a folding chair beside another fryer, which the pair uses to make crisp egg rolls with a vegetarian or chicken filling.
The two women are good friends and the main cooks for the group-run market stall, said Autumn Vo, one of several other members of the local Vietnamese community who help out. “These ladies get very busy cooking,” Vo said.
Trinh, her hair tucked into a knit cap, is 79. Originally from Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, she has lived in Vermont for 25 years. Tran, 70, moved about a year ago from the province of Ninh Thun.
The Vietnamese Community Group divides its market stall proceeds between the two women’s respective houses of worship. Trinh is Catholic; Tran, Buddhist.
“I admire their friendship,” Vo said. “They go to each other’s church and temple. That’s the beautiful thing about it.”
Trinh and Tran also work well together in the kitchen. Sesame balls ($1.50) are optimally eaten fresh from the fryer. Theirs are compellingly chewy, with a nutty touch from the sesame seeds and a soft, sweet white bean filling. Vo explained that Vietnamese sesame balls typically feature mung bean paste, instead of the dark red bean paste that commonly fills the Chinese version of the dish.
The crunchy-skinned egg rolls are well stuffed with shredded taro, yam, carrot, vermicelli noodles and mushrooms, plus tofu for the veggie option ($1) or chicken ($2). Puffy, crunchy shrimp crackers come in pastel shades of pink, yellow, green and white (five for $1).
On the non-fried side of the menu are fresh vegetarian spring rolls ($2): veggies, noodles, tofu and abundant mint swaddled tightly in rice paper wrappers. The mint, Vo said, is grown by community members.
The cooks beamed when asked if they enjoyed bringing their food to the market. “She is very happy doing that,” Vo said, translating Trinh’s response.
— M.P.
Said Bulle can’t stop moving. The Somali-born cook and musician, who is perhaps best known for fronting local hip-hop sensation A2VT, works at Klinger’s Bread and Manhattan Pizza & Pub. In his spare time, he runs his own food business, Jilib Jiblets.
“I have to keep moving, man,” Bulle, 33, said with a laugh. “I got to make it happen.”
Jilib Jiblets is a regular at the BTV Market, but Seven Days caught up with Bulle at the weekly Leddy Park Beach Bites series, where he displayed a menu that led with the fried chicken that started his business.
“I would get calls from people in my community,” Bulle recalled. “If there was a wedding or a party, everybody would ask me to come and fry chicken. It got me excited to do more cooking.”
At $6.50 for two big pieces, the fried chicken has a loaded flavor palette, which Bulle attributes to a mix of Somali spices his mother taught him. The blend is made with toasted ground cumin, toasted ground coriander, ground cardamon, ground turmeric, oregano, basil and cilantro.
“People in Vermont don’t get a lot of Somali tastes,” he said. “I learned to use them when I was a kid. I was always in the kitchen with my mom.”
Bulle’s mother ran a small restaurant in Jilib, Somalia. After he moved to Vermont in 2015, Bulle began to make use of some of the skills he’d learned watching her, as well as her recipe for the hot sauce he serves with his food.
“The key to the hot sauce is making sure it is hot, but the flavor has to come through,” he explained. “What I do is mix the flavors together, grind them up really good, boil them and let them cool down. It … makes them stand out.”
He also serves beef and vegetable sambusa ($3.75), which can be paired with Somali fried dough called mandazi ($5).
When Jilib Jiblets does a catering or pop-up event, Bulle’s menu grows. “My favorite thing to cook is goat with rice,” he said. “If I do a pop-up, I’ll prepare that and salad and sambusas, fried chicken, bananas, chicken stew, goat stew, beef and vegetable stew, too.”
Besides its Saturday gig at the BTV Market, Jilib Jiblets can be found all summer at the Leddy Park Beach Bites series on Wednesdays and some Thursdays at Farm Night at Earthkeep Farmcommon in Charlotte.
— C.F
The original print version of this article was headlined “Global Grazing”
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