By Jeff Houck | The Tampa Tribune
How do you wrap your head around something billed as the “World’s Largest Food Truck Rally?”
The truth is, you can’t.
Where most food truck events feature a dozen or so vendors at most, the gathering of mobile food scheduled to take place Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds will be at least eight times larger than usual, if all the trucks show up as expected. Just thinking about all the smells and flavors and shapes of trucks is overwhelming.
The more difficult challenge: pitting your stomach against the dizzying array of food scheduled to be served.
With more than 90 truck operators expected to participate, from as far as Texas and North Carolina, the one-day event has been months in the planning by Jeremy Gomez of Generation Food Truck. Gomez, who owns Not Your Ordinary Food Truck, says his goal is to surpass a gathering of 62 trucks in April at the Magic City Casino in Miami and earn a Guinness world record.
How best to chew your way through such a behemoth? Gonzalez had a few ideas to pass along, including, “Pace yourself. There will be a lot of food out there to try.”
Perhaps the best suggestion comes from co-organizer and food blogger Carlos Hernandez of CarlosEats.com. His two words of advice:
There’s no solid estimate on how many customers will be in attendance. With 90-plus trucks, the crowd should spread out fairly evenly. But Gomez says it will pay to arrive early, since trucks can carry only so many provisions. It’s possible that some trucks will run out of food early while others will be serving until the 8 p.m. closing.
And because some trucks will have a greater appeal than others, be sure to hit those first to avoid lines later in the day.
CASH OR CREDIT
Most trucks use mobile devices to charge debit and credit cards. Cash isn’t necessary. “Plus, the trucks don’t always like to carry a lot of cash,” Gomez says. After your card is swiped, the trucks can then email you a copy of your receipt.
TruckSpotting.com, one of the sponsors and organizers, will be tweeting updates all day about the trucks and the menus being offered. The site’s Twitter handle is @TSPOTTING.
IT’S MORE FUN WITH A GROUP
The more people you eat with, the theory goes, the more bites you can share of each other’s food from each truck.
“That’s my strategy,” Hernandez says. “You get to try more stuff. That way you get a better idea of the full menu of what each truck offers.”
EAT DESSERT LAST
Saving room for sweets will be difficult, but Hernandez says that lunging for cake or Italian ice before eating savory dishes will fill the belly quickly.
“You’ll be miserable if you do that,” he warns.
PACK AN UMBRELLA
After a parade through Tampa at 9 a.m., trucks will park near the fairground’s southern entrance. Although there will be shade, there will be no shelter. Gomez says weather forecasts call for only a chance of rain, but he suggests bringing an umbrella. Also, there will be some seating and tables, but those will go fast. “Bring chairs, too,” he says.
TRY SOMETHING NEW
Hernandez suggests thinking of the rally as a tasting instead of a meal. That includes hitting the trucks that aren’t from your local area. It also means pushing your comfort zone in terms of food you normally eat. Give the benefit of the doubt, for example, to something like the Kangaroo on a Stick at Not Your Ordinary Food Truck.
“I really want to try the Bem Bom truck, a Portuguese truck from Orlando,” Hernandez says. “We have our specialties in Tampa, like the Cuban sandwiches, but there will be food you don’t usually find in the area.”
Hernandez also is keen to visit the Mayan Grill from Orlando, a truck that serves pupusas. Think of them as Central American Hot Pockets with beans and pork and other good stuff.
The ideal is that this will be one big chowdown of great food. The reality is that most of this food was never intended to dance in your belly together at one time.
Antacids, Pepto Bismol and whatever stomach and gas relievers you enjoy would be wise accessories for your day.
“Normally, I try to hit every truck,” Hernandez says. “I’m pretty ambitious. But honestly, its impossible to eat at all 90 trucks. If I did that, I think I’d die.”