You can’t walk down the street in New York City today without running into one of the city’s myriad restaurants-on-wheels as the food-truck craze has taken over most major cities in America. So obviously, a guide to these street eats had to be written. Heather Shouse has just released Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes From the Best Kitchens on Wheels, offering an intimate look into the seemingly omnipresent trend.
The book begins with a short overview of the movement, tracing its origins to 2008. Shouse writes, “No, Kogi did not invent the food truck. But they might just have reinvented its wheels.” Indeed, much of the food-truck craze began on the West Coast, and the book — which is part guidebook, part cookbook, and part anthropological study — begins with a look at Los Angeles’ taco trucks and works its way across the country, hitting the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, South, and finally East Coast.
The New York City section highlights the NY Dosas, the Arepa lady, Jamaican Dutchy, the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, and the Trini Paki Boys Cart, and has a brief overview of Roosevelt Avenue. Smaller sidebars also highlight Kwik Meal, the Wus, Huan Ji Rice Noodles, All Natural Hot Mini Cakes, Van Leeuwen, Endless Summer, D’Angelo’s, Dominick’s, Rickshaw Dumpling (which is erroneously described as being overseen by Anita Lo, even though that partnership fizzled a year ago), Heavenly Delights, and Cravings Truck (which is now the Bian Dang Truck). While most of these are tasty eats, it’s particularly interesting that Shouse devotes so much space to food carts since the book is called Food Trucks. A minor quibble, and one that probably has more to do with mass-market appeal of the food-truck movement compared with general street eating.
In her introduction to the New York section, Shouse relies heavily on Our Man Sietsema (holla!), noting the rise of different ethnic foods following increasing immigrant populations. A more extensive overview of the history of street eating beginning with the city’s old-time street vendors would have been nice, but understandably beyond the scope of this book’s intentions.
Yet what is ultimately most interesting about the book is not the descriptions of the food or the discovery of new food peddlers, but the portraits of the people making each dish. The story of how Thiru Kumar originally worked in construction but then set up a food cart and didn’t blend in with the other vendors because of his vegan outlook is poignant. O’Neil Reid’s tale of working security and his resolution to create his own food cart after eating at others’ and deciding he could do better illustrates the gumption and perseverance it takes to operate a street food business. How the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck got its name is simply cute and funny.
The New York section features a nice variety of recipes, including Special Rava Masala Dosas, Arepas de Queso, O’Neil’s Jerk Chicken, and instructions on how to make several treats from the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. But where’s the fun in making food-truck food at home?
Just last week, the Los Angeles Times predicted the end of the food-truck craze, noting that some believe the culture has been “prostituted” and that copycat trucks now run alongside originals, only in it for the profits and not the love of the craft. Indeed, it will be interesting to see if food-on-wheels is an ephemeral trend or if it will have lasting power in creating our country’s foodscape. The choice, though, obviously remains in the hands (and dollars) of consumers. And they’ll now have this book to guide them.