I remember my first experience with Food Trucks. I used to spend my summers in the 1980′s working with my dad at his transmission shop. Around 11:30 every morning the industrial complex on Old Camden in Campbell, California would reverberate with the siren call of the silver and white “Roach Coach”. The owner, Kaz, would lean on his horn and unleash the first two repetitive measures of La Cucaracha and pause for about 1.5 seconds before repeating the same two measures once more. This may have been a genius marketing ploy. By not playing the third measure of the song, my mind would fill it in automatically. With my brain in full Pavlovian mode as the second blast sounded, I’d sing these words to myself as my stomach rumbled in perfect rhythm:
“I am so hungry”
“I am so hungry”
“Double bacon burger for me”
The old food truck (left) versus the new RV or Restaurant Vehicle with tables on the roof (right).
Today there is a “NEW” type of Food Truck making it’s way from one work place to another and it caters to a much more sophisticated palette. No longer sentenced to meander the industrial or construction work sights far from white collar America, these miniature mobile restaurants are making their way to financial and business districts, even the high tech parking lots of Google and Facebook.
Two examples of how food truck menus have changed older (top) and newer (bottom)
Regulations in the mobile food industry have been in place for a lot longer than you’d probably think. Mobile food has been around since the American Civil War and government health regulations shortly after. Food Trucks are typically held to the same standards as brick and mortar restaurants. In Los Angeles and much of California, they receive letter grades A, B and lowest acceptable grade C. Vendors that score below 70 out of 100 can be shut down immediately. Most counties require the operator to have a licensed food preparation specialist on board as well as a business license and their latest health inspection report. Some states require these to be prominently displayed at all times. If your state doesn’t you are well within your rights to ask to see these certificates and if they aren’t provided you may choose to eat somewhere else. Another quick way to tell if the truck is not up to date is to check the registration tag on the license plate. If it’s out of date most likely so is everything else.
Unlike restaurants most of the kitchens on these trucks can be seen from different vantage points. Take your time and walk around it if you’re apprehensive. Here are a few tips on spotting a clean food truck verses one that’s not so clean:
1. Does the truck look clean?
2. Are the smells wafting from it pleasant or at least similar to the cuisine they advertise?
3. Do they use disposable gloves and replace them when preparing different types of food?
4. Take a look at the cooks fingernails. Are they fairly clean or do they resemble ten personal portable E coli farms?
5. Are the cooks wearing hairnets?
6. You should not see food stored on the floor.
Typical food truck interior.
Although we had many nick names for the catering trucks and joked about their lack of cleanliness no one I know got sick in the 11 years Kaz and his competitors served our lunch time needs. I still remember the times I had around the “Roach Coach” at lunch. I’d be one of the first in line almost every time waiting for the metal skirt of the truck to be raised exposing the myriad of mobile culinary treats such as deep fried burritos, sausage, bacon and egg sandwiches, various hot meats on a stick, prepackaged pastries, cookies and candy bars. Standing on the black parking lot as temperatures reached into the high 90s, you couldn’t help but be drawn to the rainbow of beverages on ice. There were literally dozens of choices from fruit juices to sports drinks, from iced coffees to soft drinks all seductively shimmering on ice and bedazzled with beads of crystal clear water droplets. Soon, as many as 15 greasy, sweaty, hungry men from various auto shops would be jockeying for position to place an order and telling the latest crude jokes. The Catering Truck will always have it’s detractors but for many of us we’ll remember the good food, good fun and good friends with whom we shared those times.
Image information, starting from the top from left to right:
Image 1 http://www.dfwfoodtruckfoodie.com/2012/03/denton-considering-allowing-food-trucks.html
Image 2 http://www.slashfood.com/2010/06/09/in-rolls-the-next-generation-of-food-trucks/
Image 3 http://www.sactomofo.com/tacos-chavinda-menu.jpg
Image 4 http://www.foodtruckmaps.com/la/food_truck/lobsta_truck/menu
Image 5 http://operatorchan.org/v/res/1189.html