I squinted at the caramel and white chocolate chips dotting the mixed greens. Candy in a pomegranate, strawberry and grilled-chicken salad? From a food truck?

This type of creative concoction is typical at Chutney Mary’s—the latest food truck to hit the Silicon Valley area with a creative, crunchy and colorful menu that can always be found parked somewhere in Santa Clara and San Jose.

Unusual, invigorating flavors are just the beginning of what chef Nerissa Ward has in store. (Yes, that salad was phenomenal.) A Chutney Mary is a British term that refers to a flashy, colorfully dressed woman, Ward explains, and the menu and truck give life to the name.

But what distinguishes Chutney Mary’s from other food trucks is not the hot-pink color of the truck or necessarily the fusion cuisine, but the creativity found in each recipe and the story and hospitable atmosphere that accompany every bite.

“I would say it’s adventurous, very adventurous… because that’s me,” Ward says. “I like taking textures, flavors and different types of spices from different cultures… It’s exciting.”

Her bhel papri chaat is the perfect example. This vegetarian dish is composed of crunchy puffed-rice cakes piled high with boiled potatoes, garbanzo beans, homemade yogurt, tamarind and cilantro sauce with grilled onions, fresh jalapenos and bits of fried chickpea batter sprinkled on top. It is the perfect combination of sweet and tangy, soft and crunchy, mild and spicy. For five bucks, one gets enough for lunch and dinner.

Though born and raised in Calcutta, India, Ward combines her knowledge of cuisines from across the globe to create truly original items. Her experience comes from a long line of cooks and restaurant owners in her family, traveling to places like Japan and Thailand and working with Chinese chefs in college. The Hispanic influence was found here in California, with her work as a chef in international food cafes in valley giants like Google and Apple.

That’s why the menu includes items like Indian or Chinese-style tacos ($5), Armenian wraps ($5), Hawaiian breakfast pitas ($5), Armenian-style loco moco ($5) and, of course, my pomegranate chicken salad with candy chips sprinkled on top ($8).

One morning, I had what I’ve dubbed the “pita sunrise,” a pita stuffed with fresh spinach, savory meatloaf with bacon bits cooked in, fried eggs on top and Ward’s house-made spicy ketchup and bloody-hot special sauce ($7).

I’ve also sampled her chile chicken wrap with crispy, Asian-style chicken ($5), tender mutton biryani ($8-$10) and vanilla-infused chai tea ($3). She offers a base menu complemented by at least three daily specials that she has concocted using her expansive repertoire and even bigger imagination.

Ward’s commitment to sustainability is also of note. Apart from using compostable take-out boxes, she buys local produce and ingredients and limits food preparation. She would rather run out of something than waste it. Ward gets most of her ingredients in Santa Clara at Farm Fresh Produce—a local market on the corner of Scott and Homestead where the truck sometimes parks. You can also find her near San Jose City Hall, the San Jose Police Department, and the Santa Clara Caltrain station.

Ward opened Chutney Mary’s this year after a lifetime of cooking and growing up surrounded by food. She laughs, a flower pin regularly tucked into her hair, remembering the days in Calcutta when her mom yelled at her to get out of the kitchen.
“It never worked,” she says.

Her grandfather was more forgiving, allowing her to turn kebabs on his terrace. “Thus, I have kebabs,” she says, explaining the story behind the dish.

Most items have a story, a memory or an influence. Whether something stems from her mother’s Shepard’s pie and biryani or her dad’s chile chicken, her market visits in Thailand or her work at Google, she takes what she’s learned and makes it her own. “Our house is like an open house,” Christine Ward, her mother, explained. “When [you] come to my home, you can’t go back hungry. You have to eat.”

Chutney Mary’s drives and parks by the same philosophy, reminding us that good food doesn’t have to be expensive, harmful to the environment or devoid of imagination or flavor and, most importantly, that everyone and everything has a story.

Chutney Mary’s
Locations vary