By Shawna Muckle
Jesuit High School (Portland, Oregon)
Bobablastic, a food cart situated right across the street from Portland’s iconic Voodoo Doughnuts on SW 3rd Avenue, has a conspicuously red exterior that suggests style and exceptionality. However, its passion fruit lemonade augmented with honey boba is, generously, remarkably unremarkable.
From afar, the food carts by Voodoo Doughnuts have a mystical intrigue. Questions such as “Why are there only four of them?” and “Why are they there?” leave passerbys inquisitive and mildly curious. Once you get within about 20 feet of the food carts, any of that attractive ambience immediately dissipates.
Most of the food carts are shuttered, closed by 3 P.M. Bobablastic is the only open food cart; it boasts an appallingly bland food menu, including a strange amalgam of greasy food more likely to be sold at the county fair (nachos, hot dogs) and generic Asian food cart food like spring rolls. Three spring rolls cost a whopping four dollars, detracting from their universal marketability. Only a ravenous raccoon would dare eat their food, and even the raccoon would do so with disinterest.
The boba menu is extensive, which may satisfy the inexperienced boba enthusiast. For those that have some familiarity with the Portland bubble tea scene, however, they know that a large menu inherently entails mediocrity. The drinks are certainly made with mixes and powders, creating a disgustingly sweet, watery concoction. Worse yet, the boba isn’t even free. Each topping costs sixty cents, and the drinks themselves already cost between four and five dollars. The passion fruit lemonade with honey boba, served in a 24-oz cup, cost $5.25, an utterly ridiculous sum for any drink, let alone one from a failing, unpopular food cart.
When I tasted the passion fruit lemonade, I was immediately left convulsed from its pungent, raw flavor. I was so overwhelmed that I hardly noticed that a boba had entered my mouth until I almost swallowed it whole. Even after I had recovered the boba, it was not the sumptuous, grainy ball of sweetness that boba lovers treasure. It was slimy and slick, with no discernible shape, and had an unusually strong aftertaste of rotting wood and black licorice. The two incredibly unpleasant sensations left me reeling in horror after a single gulp, and I found my appetite immediately diminished. The drinks, I had found, set an even lower standard than the unimpressive food menu.
In fairness to Bobablastic, I had tried a rather unorthodox combination. Perhaps if a customer were to order a milk tea or infusion that typically accompanies boba, they likely would have found an acceptable, if slightly bland, little treat. Or, for all I know, they may have found an unwelcome surprise. Someone with more courage than I would have to try it to know with absolute certainty whether the rest of the drink menu at Bobablastic is adequate.
According to the cashier managing the food cart, Bobablastic has occupied its SW 3rd Avenue location for two years. The cashier also revealed that, to no one’s astonishment, the food cart is rarely busy, save a few measly half hour blocks on weekend nights. The only consolation for Bobablastic is that it hasn’t been around very long, so when it inevitably becomes unable to generate enough revenue, or when the city of Portland finally finds a new purpose for the plot of land where the food carts currently sit, it won’t have lost many years of work (or many regular customers).
This story was produced by student reporters as part of the WANT Summer Journalism Fellowship, an annual collaboration among aspiring young journalists. For more information, go to YouthJournalismPdx.com.
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