Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Food Truck Madness

You can barely toss an arepa in New York City these days without hitting a food truck of some sort or another. Now there’s a whole book about it, Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels, by Heather Shouse.

One of the nice things about this book is that it covers the two ends of the food truck spectrum: the Jamaicans, Cubans, Indians and other immigrants whose trucks cater to their own communities, and “the gourmand with social media savvy and a flush audience of followers.”  The first category entered its golden age after immigration quotas were lifted in 1965, writes Shouse. Up until then, street vendors consisted mostly of Greek and other European immigrants (not that there’s anything wrong with gyros). Today, there are halal carts in Midtown, and pan- everything: pan-Latin, pan-Asian and pan-Arab carts. You could never sit down at a restaurant and eat pretty well for a year, I bet.

For would-be food truck moguls, the big problem in New York is obtaining a permit to legally operate these rolling cash generators. There are 2,800 permits available for the entire city, Shouse reports, plus an additional 50 per borough. The waiting line is longer than the Brooklyn Bridge, she adds; I've heard hopefuls who claim it takes special pull at City Hall to somehow actually snag one. Shouse says that on any given day, you can buy a “turnkey” mobile kitchen for $20,000 to $30,000 through Craig’s List. But the operation with a two-year citywide permit? That will cost you $80,000.

Food Trucks covers the country, and in New York, highlights NY Dosas (which has fan clubs in Japan, Canada and San Francisco!) run by Sri Lankan immigrant Thiru Kumar; The Arepa Lady, 65-year-old Columbian  Maria Piedad Cano, who turns out cheese and chorizo cornmeal arepas; Jamaican Dutchy, the Bob Marley-blasting jerk chicken slinging brainchild of O’Neil Reid;  Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, the passion of Juilliard-trained classical bassoonist Doug Quint, and Abdul Sami Khan’s Trini Paki Boys halal curry chicken cart at 43rd St. and 6th Ave.

At a recent event I attended sponsored by the catering company Great Performances and Edible Manhattan, GP CEO Liz Neumark proudly announced that her company now has its own The Katchkie Truck. Named after GP’s 60-acre organic farm in Kinderhook, NY, it spends six days a week at Wave Hill and Mondays at GP’s 304 Hudson Street headquarters (between Spring and Vandam Sts.). The emphasis is, fittingly, on vegetarian dishes, including a veggie slider with feta cream on a brioche bun and a mozzarella and tomato sandwich with Katchkie Farm pesto on ciabatta.
The Katchkie Truck

Finally, just as I was about to write this little report, I saw Rozanne Gold’s latest post, on a discovery her son made: The Roamin’ Cannoli truck in San Bruno, Ca. Sounds right up my alley. Maybe not as exotic as the braised lamb cheeks sandwich from Spencer on the Go in San Francisco, or the potato poutine from Potato Champion in Portland, Ore., but one that Ferrara or Villabate could do well with here. Get in line for a permit, guys! 

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