Exotic but accessible | TheUnion.com

Exotic but accessible

New street food vendor in Nevada City, Musa Musa, is drawing crowds every Saturday morning with plantains for breakfast.
Submitted by Laura Petersen |

Just six weeks since their opening day at the Nevada City Farmers Market, owners of the new food business, Musa Musa are busily serving up Pan-Latin street cuisine to regulars who seek them out for breakfast.

“We sell out of something every week,” said Matt Wich, who co-owns Musa Musa with his business partner, Tom Cloutman.

Bananas and plantains belong to the genus Musa and are considered important to the food security of many developing countries. Plantains are native to the tropical region of Southeast Asia and western Pacific regions with lead exports coming from Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, according to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Wich spent summers as a boy visiting his cousins in Colombia, the native country of his mother in Northwestern South America. He remembers Colombian street food and eating plantain his mom cooked regularly, at least twice a week.

Every Saturday morning, at Musa Musa, folks can choose from three menu items featuring the exotic but accessible, large green fried plantains.

There’s the standard Tostones: Fried plantain with sauce and slaw.

“It’s more like a potato when you cook them. It’s savory. Once people take a bite, they’re usually pretty excited to have this starchy thing that’s not a potato chip. It’s pretty rad,” said Wich.

Beyond what most people expect when they try plantain for the first time, there is no banana flavor.

Another popular choice is the Breakfast Plate — fried plantain, scrambled eggs, black beans, slaw and sauce (a red tomato-based and green tomatillo-based).

And the Jibarito – invented by the Puerto Rican community in Chicago during the mid-1990s — is a whole plantain, cut in half, fried and used as a bread substitute for a sandwich that is loaded with cheese, chorizo or tempeh, slaw and sauce.

“It’s like a gluten-free sandwich,” said Wich.

Upon request, special habanero hot sauce is available for those that like to spice it up.

Every once in awhile, Musa Musa offers sweet fried plantain with fresh strawberries from Mountain Bounty Farm and powdered sugar or goat cheese and sweet lemon basil sauce.

Wich and Cloutman easily burn through 60 pounds of plantains a week to supply the food cart.

Quality ingredients are an important element of the business. Up to 90 percent is organic with local farms supplying cabbage for the slaw, tomatoes and tomatillos for the sauce. Eggs are sourced from Fowler Family Farm. Plantains are fried in rice bran oil.

During the first week, business was hopping, reaching highs they never anticipated so soon. Already they have paid off their initial investment.

“I knew it was a good idea. I didn’t know it would be a great idea,” said Wich.

Now a line and prep cook at the new Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Company in Nevada City, Wich worked the last several years at the natural food store, Natural Selection. Before that he and his wife Vanessa Patterson ran a small farm in Penn Valley called Willow Springs Farm, from 2010 to 2012. Vanessa is the market manager for Nevada City Farmers Market.

Wich and Cloutman met in the local music scene. Both are DJs known around Nevada City. Cloutman’s food background began when he was 16. In recent times, he worked as assistant deli manager at BriarPatch Co-op for three years. Together, Wich and Cloutman have a history of working food vendor carts at festivals such as the Bay Area-based Magic Curry Kart known for its Thai Curry paste sold at Bi-Rite Market.

This combined knowledge of the natural food and high-paced food cart world has proven to be a recipe for success. They know what works. They keep it simple, don’t offer too many choices, cook within the limitations of a 10-by-10 tent, they hire a good “rotating cast of characters” to serve at the front of the house and serve what customers want — portable quick food that’s out the window in two minutes and two seconds.

“It’s totally fast food,” Wich said.

Already they’re seeing many repeat customers. Upwards of 30 percent of Musa Musa’s customers are people who come to the market week after week intentionally to buy more than two breakfasts to take back home.

“That blows my mind,” said Wich.

For now, the duo is content with letting things grow organically and have no big plans for expansion or moving to other venues any time soon. Come this fall, when the weather cools, fans can anticipate some new equatorial offerings from other parts of the globe.

“We’ve got more tricks up our sleeve,” said Cloutman.

On the Web: facebook.com/eatmusamusa.

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 913-3067.

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