Food Trucks gathering at Off The Grid's S.F. Ft. Mason event

By Gurvinder Bhatia | Edmonton Journal

Food Trucks gathering at Off The Grid's S.F. Ft. Mason event

The food truck culture in our city is in its infancy, but you can already see its escalation as more food trucks hit the streets & festivals of #yeg and the diversity of their cuisines expands.

Filistix and Funky Pickle may have been the first food trucks of the modern street food era in our city, but with the addition of Eva Sweet Waffles, Drift Food Truck, Molly’s Eats, Nomad Kitchen, among others, we are starting to see the development of a real mobile food scene.  The public is still catching on and we need to push our city council even more to understand the need to modernize our bylaws to facilitate the evolution of the mobile food culture which serves to get more people out on our city streets…a positive thing for any modern, vibrant, livable city.

Ironically, it is also the food trucks that are helping raise the bar with respect to the quality and diversity of food in our city.  Too many conventional restaurateurs have been stuck in a time warp and have neither evolved their menus nor the quality of their food (and don’t even get me started on their wine lists) since the 1980s.  As the food truck and cafe culture (Elm Cafe, Dacapo, Transcend, Tres Carnales, Wild Tangerine) continue to pull Edmonton’s food scene (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the 21st Century, many of the Rip Van Winkle restaurants may see a decline in customers unless they finally wake up.

But the concept of the mobile food vendor is not new.  In the early 1900s, Greek and southern Italian immigrants in the States sold fruit from push carts in city streets.  Not long after, hot dog carts entered the scene.  Greasy spoon trucks selling burgers and fries were staples at summer fairs. Remember the lunch trucks in the 70s and 80s that would travel from office parking lot to office parking lot in industrial business parks selling pre-packaged, plastic wrapped sandwiches, salads, potato chips, and pop?  And, of course, there were the chimes of the ice cream truck rolling down suburban streets.

But in recent years, mobile dining has brought unpretentious, “gourmet” street food to the masses.  All over North America, food

Lobster roll from Sam’s Chowdermobile in San Francisco 

lovers and curious diners are flocking to roving food trucks and mobile “carts” offering fresh, local, and often healthy foods beyond conventional catering truck fare.   And thanks to the rise of Twitter, these mobile food outlets have found a marketing niche, allowing them to instantly broadcast their changing locations and maintain a following.  They “tweet” their locations and their loyal techie-foodie customers start lining-up within minutes.  It seems to be a natural fit, as the mobile food vendors embody the short-and-sweet nature of their primary promotional tool.

Perhaps the most relevant reason for the rise of “gourmet” food trucks is the recession.  Many  fine dining restaurants have either transformed themselves to more casual dining or simply closed their doors altogether.  But the demand for great quality food has not declined.  In fact diners are seeking out great quality without the pricy, often pretentious extras that accompany traditional fine dining restaurants.  Recognizing the demand, numerous mobile gourmet vendors emerged.

Maui fish tacos from The Taco Guys in San Francisco 

This “upscale” food truck trend seems to have originated in California or New York (depending on who you ask), but has spread across the US and shows flashes of taking hold in Canada.  But the mobile food scene in San Francisco has taken the culture to a new level.  The city by the Bay has experienced an explosion in gourmet food carts serving every type of food, including Mexican, Indian, French, Malaysian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, bbq, contemporary American, desserts, and a multitude of fusion cuisines.  And a number of these meals on wheels have received as much popular and critical acclaim as traditional, stationary multi-starred restaurants.

San Francisco food truck vendors also possess a collegial let’s-work-together attitude (which also seems to exist with Edmonton’s food truck operators), often locating and marketing collectively.  Off The Grid is a food truck

Sweet potato tater tots from Lil Green Cyclo in San Francisco 

extravaganza running on Fridays from 5pm-9pm in the Fort Mason  parking lot bringing together a diverse group of mobile food vendors and live music, craft beer and wine to the Marina neighbourhood.   I’ve attended a few times and each time hundreds of diners and families packed the parking lot in a fun, food carnival sort of atmosphere.

Mack Male and Sharon Yeo should be congratulated for putting on the Off the Grid-inspired “What the Truck” event in downtown Edmonton this summer.  There was a great turn out.  We just need a more diverse group of food trucks (which is starting to happen) and we need the city to continue to work with organizers to allow more events like this.

San Francisco has always been a city that loves its food and sets the trends.  Things haven’t been any different with food trucks.  Hopefully we aren’t too far away in Edmonton from making an event like “What the Truck” a weekly occurrence.