Friday, May 10, 2013

Food trucks

Everywhere you go these days you hear about food trucks. The concept seems to either enthrall people, or repel them. There's nothing new about them though. Food trucks have been around for a long time. America's first "chuck wagon" arose from the need to feed cowboys on long cattle drives. The first one was born in 1886.

Over time, the chuck wagon unfortunately morphed into the "roach coach", a nasty, unsanitary, greasy, bug-infested kitchen that visited dirty construction sites, feeding sweaty men. And unfortunately, a lot of the time the stereotype was true. Regular people just didn't frequent them.

But I'll bet most of us have eaten ice cream from the trucks with the irritating music at least once in our lives, and eaten from a hot dog cart like the ones you identify with places like New York and Chicago. Street food is eaten by almost 2.5 billion people every day. But what we are seeing today is a completely different animal. Even brick and mortar establishments are getting in on the action because food trucks are clearly a leading culinary trend.

There were a few adventurous souls in the big cities of L.A. and New York that started it all in 2008. Kogi BBQ and Nom Nom from L.A. were a few of the pioneers. With their success, more and more entrepreneurs got in on it, taking advantage of the low start-up costs. While a brick and mortar place can run into the hundreds of thousands before even opening, a food truck can cost anywhere from $20,000-$75,000 to start.

And reputation? Now we've even got Zagat's rating them.

Today's food truck has most definitely evolved, offering all sorts of foods we've never seen prepared and served like this before. Sure, there are the typical junk food offerings like hot dogs, hamburgers and fried foods, but also a whole host of gourmet ethnic foods (besides the ubiquitous Mexican) like Thai, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian, to desserts, ice cream and crepes, to the healthy ones that do vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free fare. 

The most successful ones are those that are internet saavy. Creating a strong following is vital, and they're using Twitter and other social media platforms to stay in touch with fans. People are literally watching where their favorite truck will be next.

Food truck events are popular. "Food Truck Thursdays" are a popular draw to places like car dealerships and fairgrounds. They can be found lined up at all sorts of special events, like festivals, street fairs, and sporting events. Where there are people, there are hungry people, and they need to eat! What better than a mobile kitchen that comes to you, serving interesting food, fast.

And how to stand out from the crowd? Long gone are the subdued and boring looks of the old roach coaches. Take a look at some of these beauties.

Outrageous decor and bright colors capture our attention. 

 Today's food truck wants to brand itself and be memorable.

I mean, how can you miss these things driving down the road? 

So it was no big surprise when the company I work for recently decided to get on the bandwagon. Every Thursday now we anxiously await to see what will roll in. Yesterday, it was a burger truck and a taco truck. While at first that didn't sound too exciting, we were actually pretty surprised after closer inspection.

I looked at the burger. Made from 100% angus beef and cooked a lovely medium rare, it rested on a fresh-looking specialty bun that had been beautifully grilled. People eating those were licking their chops. 

My tacos, one chicken and the other grilled veggie, were delicious. Wonderfully seasoned meat, the veggies spritzed with a red pepper sauce, everything full of flavor. Fresh herbs as garnish. The corn tortillas hand-made, not some pre-made, commercial variety. It was delightful! Better than I've had at many brick and mortar establishments.

The food truck has surely come a long way from its humble beginnings.

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