If you take a walk through the Brown campus down Waterman St. around midday, you’ll most likely see small clumps of people gathered around various food trucks parked on the side of the road. Walking by the Lotus Pepper truck, you’ll get whiffs of delicious Vietnamese cuisine. Students and adults alike will leave the truck smiling as they bite into their Banh Mi sandwich, a fresh baguette filled with crispy pickled carrots, cilantro, and traditionally, pork. A little farther down, you might pass Rocket Fine Street Food, a truck that sells specialty burgers and hotdogs with toppings like caramelized onions, homemade roasted garlic aioli, and candied jalapeños. If it’s a warm spring day, perhaps you’ll want want to treat yourself to a Thai style ice cream roll from Mike’s Ice Truck.
The trucks are a big hit everyday, with lines that stretch down the sidewalk, full of people chatting as they wait for their lunches. They’re convenient, quick, and delicious, and they’ve sprung up in cities all over the country. But when did food trucks become such a big hit?
The history of food trucks extends back to the days of simple food carts on bustling city streets. What began as small sausage stands and peanut stands on wheels turned into ice cream trucks, and, eventually, to taco trucks. Cheap and quick Mexican food was the first type of food to be sold from trucks. Over the past few decades, the days of cheap tacos have gradually turned into gourmet food. Nowadays, many food trucks post on Twitter and Facebook about their whereabouts, collecting a following of people who will seek them out on their daily lunch break. There are even food truck fairs, where several food trucks will congregate around one another, and patrons can come and try something from each one. With the rise of food movements such as veganism, vegetarianism, and gluten-free diets, new food trucks have sprung up, catering to specific niches. Some restaurants have expanded by opening food trucks as a way of making their food easy and accessible.
Occasionally, I’ll walk past a food truck near Brown that I’ve never seen before, and being the foodie that I am, I can’t help but take a glance at their menu. One truck that I walked by recently, called Plouf Plouf Gastronomie, had a menu that made my mouth water but also reminded me that I’m on a college student budget. Their lunch and dinner menu features a gourmet “steak frites à l’échallotte” for $18 and “grilled salmon and squash puree” for $17. The prices may be high, but Plouf Plouf promises locally sourced, fresh, authentic French, and home cooked creations—nothing like what one might imagine eating from a grungy food truck on the side of a busy street. Another truck that I happened to check out was Portu-Galo, which also focuses on locally sourced ingredients, combined with authentic Portuguese cuisine. The menu features the “St. Michael Bifana,” which consists of “marinated pork loin, sliced cherry peppers, mixed greens, aioli and piri piri sauce served on a papo seco.”
Although there are still many food trucks out there that serve items like traditional greasy sausages and classic hot dogs, the food truck industry has boomed into something else entirely. It’s no longer just a cheap, fast alternative for a quick meal on the run. At first, I scoffed at the outrageous and extravagant meals served at Plouf Plouf Gastronomie. Why spend that money at a food truck when you could get the meal for the same price in a nice restaurant with ceramic plates instead of styrofoam, metal utensils not plastic ones, and ambiance to accompany it? However, after some thought, I realized that the rise of expensive and specialized food trucks actually has advantages.
Traditionally, fast food options have always consisted of mass produced, cheap, and unhealthy choices. In recent years, consumers have fought back, calling for healthier alternatives and for quality food to be made accessible to more people. As a result, healthy fast food chains, such as Sweetgreen and B. Good, have sprung up around the globe. The food truck industry has also experienced this shift from just serving cheap food to becoming an option designed to fit the desires of more consumers. Everywhere, quality food is becoming increasingly easier to find. While the prices of many gourmet food trucks may be high, the fact that more and more trucks are starting to emphasize quality food suggests a shift in the right direction. If it follows in the footsteps of the fast food industry, the prices will gradually decrease.
So, whether you’re looking for a vegan lunch, an authentic French meal, or just a classic burger, chances are there’s a food truck out there roaming the streets with just want you want.
Photographs by Alina Husain.