National Geographic : 2015 Jul
OnARoll 63 slide open, and the phenomenon that is the Kogi BBQ food truck kicks into high gear. Kogi BBQ has been drawing crowds, and accolades, since 2008, when two friends hatched a plan to fuse Korean barbecue with Mex- ican tacos and then hawk them from a truck on L.A.’s streets. Food trucks aren’t new to the city’s land- scape. For decades they’ve offered cheap eats along roadsides and at construction sites across southern California. But they were often disparaged as “roach coaches.” So a Korean-taco truck was “a crazy idea,” writes Kogi BBQ founder Roy Choi in his memoir, L.A . Son. That idea turned out to be “ge- nius and ingenious,” says Barbara Fairchild, former editor of Bon Ap- pétit and a longtime L.A. resident. The genius came in the kitchen. Choi, 45, was born in Korea and immigrated with his family to L.A. when he was two. Drawing on flavors from his native cuisine— fused with Mexican dishes—and his top-notch chef training from the Culinary Institute of America, he concocted the deeply flavored car- amelized short-rib barbecue and smoky-spicy salsas that top two crisp corn tortillas. The resulting tacos, what Choi calls “Los Angeles on a plate,” were an instant culi- nary classic. Through his simple yet revolutionary cooking, Choi un- leashed the power of food to cross cultures and race. “I picked up on the feeling that food was important,” he writes, “and not just a meal to fuel yourself to do something else.” What put Kogi on the map, though, was its early adoption of social media to lure customers. Ini- tially Kogi’s small crew didn’t have much luck selling to buzzed late- night bar-hoppers outside night- clubs on Sunset Boulevard. Then the team tapped into the emerging It’s 10 p.m. on a chilly Saturday in Los Angeles. Some 30 people, braving 48oF weather—hat-and-scarf cold for L.A .—line up along the sidewalk in front of a converted step van parked on the street. The windows By David Brindley Photographs by Gerd Ludwig @RiceBallsOfFire Trucks use Twitter to broadcast their daily locations, such as this car show and race in Fontana, California. Posing in front of the Rice Balls of Fire truck, model Tyler McEwen displays fare from nearby @Berlinfoodtruck.