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Hands up if you remember pie carts? Oh, how times have changed! Food trucks are in vogue now and this book not only shares 80 different recipes from around the world but also tells us about the hard-working people behind the scenes, as well as the history of their business and their ‘truck’. Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, North and South America are all represented. The common formula is simple – fresh food, locally sourced and prepared by hand – although the vehicles and their owners are a truly diverse bunch.
Who can run a food truck? According to the New York city-based Caitlyn Napolitano, ‘Anyone with passion, gumption and a love of cooking’.
The rise of the gourmet food truck has apparently occurred in the last 10 years or so, coinciding with the growth of festivals and pop-up ventures. As most of the vehicles are mobile their owners are able to move from location to location according to the season or demand. A handful have expanded and now operate permanent restaurants as well.
The vehicles include an old fishing boat now on wheels, a truck covered in Astroturf, and a re-purposed dentist wagon (whatever that may be). One vendor operates from a vintage bicycle and ‘Little Bonnie Dot’ is an enchanting 1930s teardrop caravan. She rolls around the Australian countryside enticing people to her mobile tea parties.
Photos show the people running the trucks exuding happiness and enthusiasm. If there’s a downside to operating a food truck, it’s mentioned only in passing or not at all. Many of them say that the food they offer was inspired by visiting or living in other countries. Some saw a gap in the market they knew they could fill. While some operators have a lot of items on their menu, others have chosen to do one thing and do it well. The recipes have been invented, transformed, and sometimes passed down through generations. Many chefs are self-taught, although a few have undertaken formal study at places such as the Culinary Institute of New York and Ireland’s Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Although many of the featured recipes appear to be quick and easy to prepare, some require more forward planning, such as ingredients that need to simmer for a while and the pickle that must rest for at least 24 hours before use. Most recipes are for main dishes, although desserts are covered too – including pineapple-ginger ice pops, lemon waffles, and a superb caramel flan. There are lots of delicious-looking sauces, onion jams and marinades too. The index is organised by location as well as by the type of dish.
Two of the food trucks are based here in Aotearoa. Although the recipes include ingredients from around the world, most would be easy to find in your local supermarket; if not, there are suggested equivalents. (No mollete available? Use a soft bread roll instead.) The recipes are well-written and easy to follow. There’s a note about how many people each recipe will serve: typically 2 to 4, although the octopus serves 16 – and Banjo’s Blue Cheese slaw supposedly ‘feeds a crowd’.
There are Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter links for most trucks if you’d like to learn more about them. Here are a few to whet your appetite:
Belgian waffles in New York City
Hong Kong’s ‘Princess Kitchen’
I’m always attracted to recipes with interesting names, so the Chakalaka Relish (hot and spicy, packed with vegetables, baked beans, and chopped chilies) is first on my list of things to try. I’m also intrigued by Curry Up’s Chana Masala recipe which includes chickpeas steeped in tea.
‘Sometimes you have to take a leap to be happy.’
- Wes, an ex-advertising executive whose food truck offers more than 30 different types of waffles
The featured food truckers include former engineers, dental technicians, bankers and fashion designers – so if you’ve fantasised about throwing in your routine 9-to-5 job this book might inspire you to launch a new career. It will also appeal to those interested in recreating dishes from a favourite food truck, and anyone planning a trip abroad who would enjoy fresh food prepared in a novel setting. If you have limited space you’ll appreciate the book’s compact size – and as it covers a whole range of topics (including recipes, travel, people’s stories, and the history of the food truck scene) it would be equally at home on a bookshelf in a living room or a kitchen.
Reviewed by Anne Kerslake-Hendricks
Around the World in 80 Food Trucks
by Lonely Planet