Winnipeg, CAN: Ethnic Food Carts – Why Not?

Greek fare on offer on the streets of Vancouver. Is Winnipeg ready for the ethnic experience? MARK VAN MANEN / POSTMEDIA NEWS ARCHIVES

By Lindor Reynolds | Winnipeg Free Press

Greek fare on offer on the streets of Vancouver. Is Winnipeg ready for the ethnic experience? MARK VAN MANEN / POSTMEDIA NEWS ARCHIVES

Folklorama food spirit might work on city streets

Let’s be clear: I have absolutely nothing against hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries, the people who sell them or the people who eat them.

Put down your laptops, pick up your bratwurst and relax.

But why is it that Winnipeg, home of Folklorama, doesn’t sell anything more interesting from its mobile vending carts? Why isn’t Broadway chockablock with samosa, spring roll and missi roti stands? And why can’t you find Big Bob’s Falafel Station on a street corner near you?

Well, some of that has to do with the strict guidelines governing food carts. They need permits, of course and can only sell precooked foods because, according to a City of Winnipeg spokesman, they don’t have the commercial equipment and conditions necessary to process raw foods under the same sanitary conditions as a full-service kitchen.

The city would rather you not be poisoned while enjoying a less-than-sanitary lettuce wrap on a sunny day. We are grateful.

The carts must have barbecues to reheat food, a hand sink for washing hands and a refrigeration system capable of keeping food at 4 C or cooler.

Food carts aren’t to be confused with outdoor mobile trucks. Those can have fully equipped kitchens with commercial refrigeration units, deep-fryers, grills and three compartment sinks. Those are just a few of the requirements needed to operate a “full-service mobile food establishment.”

These units have no restrictions on the type of food they can serve. Right now there is one truck selling tacos, another spring rolls, a doughnut truck and a pizza truck.

The city spokesman says smokies and hotdogs are the most popular types of foods sold from the mobile carts. Last year, the city gave permits to 147 mobile food vendors. That includes both carts and trucks.

So those are the restrictions. But why is it cities such as Vancouver and Toronto have ethnic food carts and we don’t? According to a recent Globe and Mail article, there was a donnybrook when the approval of 19 new food carts was granted. They will, according to the Globe, feature Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese and other ethnic offerings.

One woman is selling varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches. Another offers different kinds of juices.

Vancouver wanted carts that emphasized local, organic items. Such a fight broke out that two people resigned from a panel that approved the new vendors. But the majority ruled and things are more interesting on the streets of Vancouver.

In Toronto, they’ve got Caribbean and Asian cuisine, Greek food, Korean food, Middle Eastern cooking, South and Central Asian cuisine and Thai food.

I spoke to Folklorama president Mohamed Ismath to see if he could explain the dearth of ethnic food carts in Winnipeg.

He’s a sly one.

“It would be great if Winnipeg had more ethnic food carts,” Ismath said. “Winnipeggers like a variety of food. But if they really want to eat the ethnic food they can come to Folklorama.”

Yes, that was a shameless plug.

So what do you think? Would there be a market for non-traditional mobile food carts? Would you be willing to stand in line for chin chin or a flying fish sandwich? What if prices were low and the food nutritious?

There’s a market here and I’m not sure why it hasn’t been filled. Sure, the carts and their licensing are expensive. Our outside seasons are painfully short. You’d be taking a gamble.

But the wealth of ethnic restaurants in this city proves we have a literal appetite for interesting food. Baseball fans are happy to chow down on poutine and perogies at Goldeyes games.

Why not find a way to share the culture of our city, one food cart at a time?

If they built it, would you come?