FOOD TRUCKS… They’re not just selling hotdogs and fries anymore.

Written by Dawn Tyson

This is not a new phenomenon. Food trucks have been around for sometime. Food trucks, food carts, mobile kitchens, catering vans whatever you want to call them. What I found interesting when digging deeper into the history of the food truck is that they started many years ago. The “chuck wagon”, for instance, is a precursor to the modern day food truck. You’d have an open field, hungry workers, and hot, mobile food. The chuck wagon was clearly the forefather or a “distant cousin” of the food truck.

Let me give you a bit of history that I found. “After the American Civil war, the beef market in Texas expanded. Some cattlemen herded cattle in parts of the country that did not have railroads, which would mean they would be on the road for months at a time (1). This is the turn of the century there are no conveniences like McDonalds or Burger King so they brought their supplies and chef with them. The first food truck serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to hungry men at work. History books say that Charles Goodnight was “the father of the Texas Panhandle” and in 1866, Goodnight, a cattle herder, realized how difficult it was to cook proper meals during cattle drives. He took a US Army wagon and constructed the “food” wagon. Stocked with all the supplies, including spices, medical supplies, pots, pans and utensils. There was no fresh vegetables, fruit or eggs available. Meals consisted of dried beans, coffee, cornmeal and other preserve food. The meat they ate consisted of salt pork, and beef but it was usually dried or salted or smoked. Fresh beef was not eaten unless there was an injured animal during the drive and therefore had to be killed (2). Then in the 1890 you had the “night lunch wagons” in New York City that catered to the workers of the night (3). They opened all night when the regular daytime restaurants and eateries were closed. Many of these lunch wagons had a great following and rarely moved. Later, in 1950, the mobile canteen were created by the U.S Army and operated on stateside army bases (4).”. It made all the sense in the world because chuck wagons or “old school food trucks” came out of the need of the working people. Just like today.

Okay, enough about the history, you get it – the food truck is an old concept that has made a resurgence in a very cool way. Today, in many parts of the country there are food trucks peddling everything from BBQ pulled pork sandwiches to duck confit salad with roasted beets and goat cheese to just crepes. For instance, the other day I was walking down an avenue in New York City and checking out the rows and rows of outstanding gourmet delicacies – the food was fresh, farm to table, rich, decadent, creative – each one was a different mouth adventure. The food truck has stepped up its game in a big way.

These trucks are offering authentic fusions and creative gourmet foods at reasonable prices. We are able to experience these tasty morsels without breaking the bank. Consider this, a Kobe burger in a top NYC restaurant could run you anywhere from $85 to $175 depending on where you eat. Yes, just the burger at that price. How about a Kobe burger slider and sweet potato fries for $16? Who wouldn’t like a gourmet burger done very well and at a reasonable price? Check your Zagat or Yelp reviews because food trucks are being rated. This is what I am saying people, go out, try something new. These “new” food trucks are offering so much.

And how do I find the food truck where I had that great Thai Dumpling or Kobe beef hotdog? Easy, my friend, there is an app for that. Smart phones now have apps that allow you to tracking the location of your favorite truck. You can also check their Facebook page for menu updates or get a tweet of location changes.

The networks are following this “craze”. Both the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” and its sister station the Cooking Channel’s “Eat St” are gaining national attention and feature food trucks and mobile food carts from all over the United States.
Recently, I went to see the movie “Chef”, written, directed by, and starring, Jon Favreau. In a nutshell, Mr. Favreau plays a chef who loses his restaurant job and starts a food truck in the effort to find his “creative drive” and regain his family. I liked it but I thought “a master Chef starting a food truck?’ Yes, many are and we are benefiting from it.

So, on Monday when the grumble in your stomach is telling you it is lunchtime. And you look into that side draw of your desk and see the many delivery menus, think again. Get up from your chair and go outside. Walk a couple of blocks and “low and behold” there’ll be a line at a truck featuring let’s say “authentic Cuban sandwiches” or “Chinese pork rolls with a side of apple slaw”. Grab some lunch, cop a squat and enjoy; while getting some sun on your face.

“Keep it Cookin” – Chef Dawn

(1) Thompson, Bill. “American Chuck Wagon Association”
(2) Sharpe, P. (1996). Camping it up. [Article]. Texas Monthly, 24(9), 92.
(3) Ryssdal, Kai, Food Truck Nation, American Public Media, Friday, July 30, 2010.