National Geographic : 2015 Jul
72 national geographic • July 2015 maps real-time locations of hun- dreds of food trucks in cities across the country. “ You have to have a brand and a strategy.” More often than not, branding starts with a punny name: Bánh in the USA (Vietnamese sand- wiches), Belly BombZ (spicy chick- en wings), Dog Gone It (hot dogs), Ragin’ Cajun (Creole), Waff-N -Roll (waffle sandwiches). Strategy often involves finding a niche, as did the Polka Pierogi Truck, which makes Sunday-morning pilgrimages to a predominantly Polish church. Branding also is emblazoned on the trucks themselves. Leaving be- hind bare, quilted-aluminum siding, today’s trucks are heavily adorned with graphics, spray-painted art, stickers. Their exteriors are almost as heavily tattooed as the typical young chefs working in the trucks’ cramped interior kitchens—roughly the size of two large dining tables. Although trucks strive to make their brands unique, there’s also strength in numbers. Many trucks congregate in high-pedestrian ar- eas. On any given day, a dozen or more trucks line up at lunchtime along Wilshire Boulevard across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. With office buildings on one side and the muse- um on the other, trucks can rely on a steady stream of customers. One busy Monday, hundreds of office workers and visitors chose from a veritable smorgasbord on wheels, from Azteca Mexican dishes to Chow Mein Chinese food, Dogtown hot dogs, Kabob Kings, and Roadhouse Rotisserie barbe- cue. Venice Beach’s trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard hosts a bustling food truck rally every first Friday of the month. Food flies fast at the festival, and trucks can bring in thousands of dollars in business. That’s a lot of two-dollar tacos. Back at the Kogi BBQ truck on that cold Saturday night, the line slowly snakes forward but stretches lon- ger and longer as more customers arrive. Smartphones in hand, the mostly hipster crowd snap photos of their tacos and send tweets. A mur- mur rumbles through the crowd that the truck has run out of kim- chi, the spicy fermented cabbage that’s a staple in Korean cuisine. No problem. There’s plenty else on the menu, though people aren’t neces- sarily here just for the food. Drifting along with the scent of spicy grilled meat is a whiff of community, a sub- tle sense of camaraderie in a shared experience. There’s a social nature to lines. Strangers spark conversations. A young couple from Cleveland on a California holiday reveal they drove two hours to stand in line. The pair ahead admit they walked two blocks from their home, dog in tow, for a quick Kogi fix. The couples share laughs, stories. They order, they get their food, they dig in. Simple, soulful, satisfying. That’s not such a crazy idea after all. j @pienburger At Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, the Pie ’n Burger food truck (bottom right) provides food and drink to tutu’ed participants in the Epilepsy Founda- tion’s fund-raising walk. Snapping photos and sharing via social media (top right) are as much a part of street food culture as the food itself. Mrs. J @mrsjjohnston Props to @dogzillahotdogs for the recommendations!!! Yakisoba and an egg on my hot dog? Yes please!