A taste of travel: the rise of food trucks
There’s no denying that food trucks have become an integral part of cuisine in many big American cities – from NY to LA, it seems food trucks are taking over. But where did the phenomenon start?
The food truck’s roots can be traced all the way back to the post-Civil War United States. Everyone was moving West, and the market for beef was growing, especially in Texas. There were no railroads in this part of the country at the time, so cattlemen were on the road for months at a time. But where would they eat? In 1866, Charles Goodnight, fondly known as the “father of the Texas Panhandle,” realized the difficulties of cooking meals while on the road and set out to solve the problem. With an old US Army wagon, he built shelves and drawers to house utensils, spices, medical supplies, pots and pans, and of course, food. The food consisted of mostly beans, coffee, cornmeal and salted or cured meats.
By the 1890’s, ‘night lunch wagons’ became a staple in big cities like New York, catering to night time workers. Many did such good business, that despite being portable, they stayed stationary. Later versions of the food truck included mobile canteens that operated on US Army bases and other ‘roach coaches’ that served the blue-collar working force. One could even argue that ice cream trucks kept the notion alive through the 20th century.
It wasn’t until the recession that the food truck we know and love of today became popular. Many chefs found themselves out of work at the time, and food trucks seemed like a great choice. Much of the work-force also found itself counting pennies and looking for the best bang for a buck. Food trucks were a clear choice: gourmet cuisine that was not only delicious, but prepared quickly and for a reasonable cost.
Twitter also helped fuel a resurgence with food trucks, as it was finally easy to track and find out where your favorite one would be. Many argue that social media outlets are what made the food truck phenomenon.
Today, these food trucks have taken the quick, cheap bite to a whole new level. Many of the gourmet menus food trucks offer are of ethnic or fusion cuisines. Creative dishes at reasonable prices offer customers a chance to explore new, extraordinary dishes. It seems the most successful food trucks are known for a particular dish, such as the Schnitzel and Things Food Truck in NYC – serving up huge plates of traditional Schnitzel with new twists like Cod Schnitzel as opposed to the traditional pork.
Street food has transformed into a chic concept – food trucks are prominent in many big cities in America (with Chicago being the exception, where strict rules are imposed on food trucks). Now, many are taking the plunge to rural areas of the US. As the food truck trend has grown, so has their use – weddings, corporate events, parties and public gatherings have even become venues for food truck appearances.
Today, food trucks offer menus featuring everything from sushi or dim sum to Brazilian barbecue or Greek sausages. Sweet trucks are also gaining popularity: trucks featuring red velvet pancakes, cupcakes and even ice cream sandwiches with edible wrappers! Next time you’re traveling, skip the expense and stop at a food truck for a gourmet lunch. Often times, the menu will best represent the demographic and feature extremely fresh, locally grown food.
Not able to make time for a food truck stop during your trip? Not to worry – airports across the country are allowing food trucks to set up in their cell phone parking lots. Tampa International is the shining example of a vast selection of food trucks at any given time, while LAX even has plans to build a structure that looks like a food truck! ✈
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