It was not so long ago that we hadn't any street food culture whatsoever. And now look at us! We're already grumpy old spoilsports, all set to complain about what we do have. While that may seem ungrateful, anything good can be made better. We bring you five things that would drastically improve our food truck scene.
1. Food truck vendors with more kitchen experience.
Four wheels and a pair of tongs do not necessarily make a successful food truck. Many a food-lover has a dream of making food and selling it to the masses. But very few, even in the traditional restaurant scene, truly do it well, and do it consistently well.
Before going into the food truck world, it would be wise to spend some time in professional kitchens. Develop some chops, see what it's like to work in hot and sweaty environs, learn a few techniques. It doesn't have to take forever, but it's a worthwhile way to spend a year or two before making a hefty investment. You reduce your chances of subjecting the general public to mediocre or bad cooking before ultimately seeing that hefty investment flounder.
2. Smaller, more focused, and more adventurous menus.
Too many menus seem like a compendium of food truck menus that have gone before. Trucks rove the streets without a solid point of view or vision, and with offerings that seem to go a lot like this:
Rice Bowl with Pulled Pork and Tangy-Citrusy-Spicy Slaw
Pulled Pork Tacos on Corn Tortillas with a Spicy Aioli
Noodle Bowl with Bacon and Kimchee
Thai Chicken Rice Bowl
That said, the elevation of the scene is not only in the hands of the purveyors. Diners need to be willing to take a chance on chefs who only do one thing but do it very well. Don't pass up a menu just because it doesn't offer a little of everything. It's probably a good sign.
3. A city that trusts street food culture.
True street food culture is eclectic, loose, and accessible. In order to be successful, it shouldn't be relegated to daylight hours on stretches of road between office buildings.
Like liquor sales on Sundays, the populace is ready for street food at bar close. We need street food at bar close. Lots of bar and restaurant kitchens close at 10 or even earlier, making it difficult to get all-important calories while imbibing.
Allowing vendors to flow into other parts of the city, including neighborhoods, would increase the vibrancy of the city overall. It would spread the love and mitigate the problem of overcrowding and competition during the downtown lunch hour. These micro-businesses can enjoy a loyal following and make a decent living if they're allowed to operate independently and repeatedly on a familiar corner. And who wouldn't want access to great street food in their very own neighborhood?
4. Less expensive and unwieldy equipment.
A brand new food truck can cost upwards of a hundred thousand dollars. Even a used one can cost half that. Since the city requires "water heater capacity" and "fresh water capacity," plumbing, an exhaust hood system, stainless steel walls, and a whole slew of other (expensive) features, it can price out the true micro-business.
In many places the world over, street vendors operate safely and beautifully with little more than a pot over a single propane burner. These are some of the best street food vendors, in fact. The expense of the trucks plus the many accessories they contain encourages vendors to do too much, too soon. The end result is that the whole scene is dumbed down without the efficiency and ingenuity born of limitations. Those limitations are the mother of invention that perhaps spawned the true beauty and flavor of street food culture to begin with.
5. A world outside the street food fair.
Food truck fairs are fine, but this brand of outdoor food could just as easily be made by guys and gals at tables and grills, as it had always been in days of yore. Keeping food trucks penned into the perimeters of particular days, times, and parking lots results in a glorified carnival. While a sunny Sunday hoovering as many tacos and mini-donuts as you can is pretty damn nice, it doesn't result in a dynamic street food culture.
Avid lovers of street food instead want to integrate it into their actual day — maybe grabbing some cut fruit on the way into work, a light snack before the dinner hour, or the all important post-bar repast. Confining trucks to parking lots and breweries with long lines and throngs of sweaty bodies vying for yet another pulled pork rice bowl just feels a little tired.
What wouldn't feel tired would be a more diverse (ethnically, culinarily, geographical) dispersion of small-vendor food production all around the city.
If every one of us were able to realize our one and only true food dream, what a surprising, delicious and wonderful world it would be.