A food truck is a large vehicle equipped to cook and sell food. Some, including ice cream trucks, sell frozen or prepackaged food; others have on-board kitchens and prepare food from scratch. Sandwiches, hamburgers, french fries, and other regional fast food fare is common. In recent years, associated with the pop-up restaurant phenomenon, food trucks offering gourmet cuisine and a variety of specialties and ethnic menus, have become particularly popular. Food trucks, along with portable food kiosks and food carts, are on the front line of the street food industry that serves an estimated 2.5 billion people every day.
Food trucks service events (carnivals, construction sites, sporting events etc.) and places of regular work or study – college campuses, office complexes, industrial parks, auto repair shops, movie sets, farmers' markets, military bases, etc. – where regular meals or snacks are in high demand by potential customers. Food truck dining has caught on in several U.S. and Canadian cities including Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Vancouver, Washington, D.C., New York, Austin, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Calgary, Portland and Tampa.
In the US, the Texas chuckwagon is one precursor to the American food truck. 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. The need to feed these cattlemen resulted in the creation of the chuckwagon. The origin of the chuckwagon or food truck, stems from the "father of the Texas Panhandle," Charles Goodnight. In 1866, Goodnight, a cattle herder, realized how difficult it was to cook proper meals during cattle drives. With that, he took a sturdy old United States Army wagon and constructed interior shelving and drawers. He then stocked the wagon with tableware and utensils, spices and medical supplies, including castor oil and quinine. Heavy pots and pans were stashed on the lower shelves while food was kept in the bed of the wagon. Food consisted of dried beans, coffee, cornmeal, and other easy to preserve food stuffs. There was no fresh fruit, vegetables, or eggs available and meat was not fresh unless an animal was injured during the run and therefore had to be killed. The meat they ate was greasy cloth-wrapped bacon, salt pork, and beef, usually dried or salted or smoked. The wagon was also stocked with a water barrel and a sling to kindle wood to heat and cook food and so the chuckwagon was created.
By the 1890s, night lunch wagons, which catered to night-time workers, were a common sight in big cities like New York City. "The Owl" was the leading "brand" of night lunch wagon, and although they were entirely portable, many did such good business that they rarely moved.
The gourmet food truck
In recent years, the food truck resurgence was fueled by a combination of post-recessionary factors. The construction business was drying up, leading to a surplus of food trucks, and chefs from high-end restaurants were being laid off. For experienced cooks suddenly without work, the food truck seemed a clear choice.
Once more commonplace in the big cities of the eastern and western United States, food trucks recently have evolved to be found in both urban and rural areas of the U.S. In big cities of the U.S. the food truck traditionally provided a means for the on-the-go person to grab a quick bite at a low cost. Food trucks are not only sought out for their affordability but as well for their nostalgia; and their popularity continues to rise. Chicago is currently the only city in the United States which does not allow food trucks to cook on board so trucks are forced to cook in a commercial kitchen, wrap and label food and load it into a food warmer. Chicago's food truck ordinance requires food trucks to park 200 feet away from any restaurant and cannot sell for more than 2 hours at one location.
The food truck trend has grown as they are now being hired for special events, such as weddings, school dances, birthday parties, retirement parties, and such public gatherings as art festivals and movie nights. Food trucks are now even Zagat rated. Another thing to develop is the food truck festival phenomenon. These festivals are gatherings in which people can find their favorite trucks all in one place and as well provide a means for a variety of diverse cultures to come together and find a common ground over a love for food.
Due to an apparent combination of economic and technological factors combined with street food being "hip" or "chic", there has been an increase in the number of food trucks in the United States. A modern-day food truck isn't just an ordinary taco truck one might find at a construction site. These gourmet trucks' menus run the gamut of ethnic and fusion cuisine. Often focusing on limited but creative dishes at reasonable prices, they offer customers a chance to experience food they otherwise may not. Finding a niche seems to be a path to success for most trucks. While one truck may specialize in outlandish burgers, another may serve only lobster rolls. Food truck franchises began to form, catering to the public who were searching for delicious gourmet treats. Gourmet Streets, one of the most respected food truck franchises in America, became a huge sensation as a result of this gourmet revolution. Another truck that found success was the architecturally-inspired gourmet ice cream maker Coolhaus. With inventive flavors such as Whiskey Lucky Charms and Chocolate Chipotle BBQ with Jack Daniel's, it grew from a single truck in 2009 to 11 trucks and carts, 2 storefronts, and over 2,500 retail partner stores by September 2014.
Food truck rallies are also growing in popularity across the United States. On August 31, 2013, Tampa hosted the world's largest food truck rally with 99 trucks attending. Additionally, the popularity of food trucks is leading to the creation of associations that protect and support their business rights, such as the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association.
Tracking food trucks has become much less difficult. With the help of social media like Facebook and Twitter, a person can find where their favorite gourmet truck will be at any moment and get up-to-the-minute updates on specials, new menu items and location changes. In fact, it could be argued that these social media outlets were the biggest contributing factor to the success of the gourmet food truck. In addition to social media, there are a number of food truck tracking programs for smartphones. Some cover specific geographical regions, and others work everywhere.
Business and economics
Food trucks are subject to the same range of concerns as other foodservice businesses. They generally require a fixed address to accept delivery of supplies. A commercial kitchen may be needed for food prep. There are a variety of permits to obtain, and a health code to observe. Labor and fuel costs are a significant part of the overhead.
Legal definitions and requirements for food trucks vary widely by country and locality. For example, in Toronto, Canada, some of the requirements include business and liability insurance, a Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration for the truck, permits for each municipality being operated in (downtown, various suburbs), a food handler certificate, appropirate driver's licenses for drivers, assistant's licenses for assistants, and a health inspection.
As the rising number and popularity of food trucks push them into the food mainstream, region by region, problems with local legislators and police reacting to new situations, and brick-and-mortar restaurants fearing competition, have to be worked through, in some cases creating significant business uncertainty.
Around the world
In Asia, the cuisine offered by food trucks requires simple skills, basic facilities and a relatively small amount of capital. They are plentiful, with large potential for income and often a very large sector for employment. Individuals facing difficulty finding work in formal sectors, will often venture into this industry, as it allows entire families to involve themselves in the preparing and cooking of foods sold to the public. The appeal involved in sustaining a food truck lie not only in the low capital requirement, but also in the flexibility of hours, with minimal constraints to locale. Street foods predominantly reflect local culture and flavor. Food trucks appeal to consumers in that they are often an inexpensive means of attaining quick meals. Location and word of mouth promotion has been credited for their widening success.
Food trucks are increasingly common in Australia. This is likely to increase as more councils open their streets to the mobile restaurants.
In Canada, food trucks, also commonly known as cantines (French for cafeteria) in Quebec, are present across the country, serving a wide variety of cuisines, including anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to Mexican. In 2013, Vancouver-based food truck, Vij’s Railway Express, serving fresh Indian cuisine, won the People’s Choice award for Canada’s best new restaurant of the year, in national airline Air Canada’s enRoute Magazine poll, facing off in the finals against 34 conventional restaurants.
Although food trucks are common at outdoor markets, American-style trucks selling restaurant-quality food first appeared in Paris in 2012. Their owners needed to obtain permission from four separate government agencies, including the Prefecture of Police, but the trucks' offerings—including tacos and hamburgers—have reportedly been very popular.
Although street food in Mexico is illegal and unregulated, food trucks are becoming increasingly popular as of 2013 and owners have created an association to pursue the professionalization and expansion of this commercial sector. In addition to the food trucks catering on the streets, there are regular bazaars organized to introduce their products to the consumers.
With the advent of motorised transport during World War II, food trucks came into common use. Mobile canteens were used in almost all theatres of war to boost morale and provide food as a result of the successful tea lady experiment.
Food trucks today are known as snack vans and can be found on nearly all major trunk roads at the side of the road or in areas that have a large pedestrian population, such as at village fetes or town centers. These vans can specialise in a myriad of different food types, such as donuts, hamburgers, chili and chips, as well as ethnic food. Some people prefer to stop at snack vans when travelling, due to the low price, rather than stop at a motorway service station where prices can be extremely high.
In popular culture
The food truck phenomenon has gained national attention and can now be seen regularly on television. Both The Great Food Truck Race (a reality series on the Food Network) and Eat St. (broadcast on the sister station, Cooking Channel), feature food trucks and mobile food carts from all over the United States. The Food Network show Kid in a Candy Store also visited food trucks, and peeked behind the scenes of gourmet dessert truck Coolhaus to show Balsamic Fig & Mascarpone ice cream in the making. On Canada's Food Network, Food Truck Face Off four teams battle for the use of a customized food truck for one year.
- In the 2014 American comedy-drama, Chef, a high-end chef has a meltdown and rediscovers his passion for cooking while driving and operating a simple food truck across America.
List of food trucks
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- Media related to Food trucks at Wikimedia Commons