Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Street Food - Part 2

I enjoyed writing about street food in India and reminiscing the good old days. In the United States, I have traveled extensively to the north-east, the mid-west and a bit of south-east. The western part is still a mystery for me. So this blog post mainly talks about street food in these regions.
I will start from the most current experience and go back to what I have been noticing over the years. I have lived in DC for a little over three months now. My colleagues I and A were the first to introduce me to food trucks in DC.

Let me tell you that people in DC take their food trucks very seriously. There are dedicated websites not just for the food trucks, but also to locate them. Some URLs of websites of food trucks are: http://takorean.com/, http://fojol.com/, http://www.eatsauca.com/ and many more. Unlike India - they do not park themselves at the same place, same time every day. They are more mobile. I have not had a good experience eating good Indian food in restaurants in DC. Some of the best Indian food I have had though is at these food trucks - made by non-Indian people! The food offered by these food trucks ranges from everyone's favorite pizza to Mexican food, Thai food, empanadas, a lot of kabab trucks, Indian, Ethiopian and other cuisines. Because of my egg allergies, I have not had the cupcakes. I once got a cupcake for A and he absolutely loved it. Oh and yes - to further satiate your sweet tooth, there are specialty ice-creams and gelatos also.

The first time I went to the food truck was during our lunch break. I could not wait to get back to my desk and eat. The Bombay Chicken was yummy. What I really liked was that they had used very good spices. And you could know from the taste, that they ground their own spices - rather than use the ubiquitous 'curry' powder. Since that time, I have had Korean tacos, vegetarian empanadas (I got lucky as they didn't have egg), Mediterranean food, Indian and Ethiopian food. I had never had Korean tacos before. They were served on a corn tortilla with fresh salad called kimchi. It was made with red cabbage, cilantro and lemon. The crispy salad went perfectly with the filling and the soft taco. During the summer and fall months, there is a once-a-month festival called 'Truckeroo'. Food trucks within DC participate in it. They all gather at one big open area and park themselves from 10 or 11 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night. I went to the last one a month back. I have to admit that I called A from there and told him I wanted to eat everything over there! I have not seen something like this elsewhere happen on such a regular basis. This is what I mean when I say that people in DC take their food trucks seriously. Currently DC citizens are trying to save the food trucks as they are competition to the restaurant business and so the latter does not want the food trucks. The only flip side is that if you went to a particularly famous food truck, chances are you will have to wait a little before you got your food.

Moving on, some of the most well known food trucks in Columbus, Ohio were taco trucks. Several of them were owned by Mexican folks who didn't know or speak English. One website spelled things out for a person to order when s/he went to a taco truck and not confuse or get confused. A lot of food trucks in Columbus mushroomed late at night - after 10:30 or 11 PM and that too close to the bars and night clubs and of course close to campus. A once had the lamb gyro late at night and really liked it. They were very accommodating and customized his order. When I met my friend K A-H a few months back, she said that work was being done at the local level to offer more healthy food at the food trucks. This would provide a boost to those who wanted to eat tasty, yet healthy food and not resort to unhealthy food, just because it was street food. Columbus has the largest college campus in the country. The business of food trucks or food vendors would thrive if they could sustain themselves on or near campus. During the three years I was there (2008-2011), I didn't see a lot of options apart from the usual Panera bread, Wendy's, Chipotle and the like. I think having food trucks or food vendors in the campus area would be a great way to diversify the culinary appetite of students, faculty and staff.

The first time I had food from a food cart was masala dosa and it was in New York city (NYC)! Yes - it was masala dosa! I was at a South Asian Journalists Association's annual conference. I had been in the country only four months and I saw this advert about the dosa truck at several places. And people were already talking about it before lunch. I was curious why everyone was raving about it and so I tried it. After eating the first few bites, I understood why everyone was talking about it. The dosa (similar to a savory rice crepe) was crisp, light and the masala was adequately spiced to serve various palettes.

Thiru Kumar, also known as 'Dosa Man' is very well known and also has a loyal clientele that is willing to wait in the long lines. He dishes out masala dosas that you definitely want to try if you are in the city and spot his truck in your vicinity. A loves the food trucks and food carts in New York City. He loves the kababs and gyros that the city offers. They are quick to order, and easy to handle if you are on the go and need something handy that will not spoil your blazer during a work week. With NYC's cosmopolitan crowd and a population that is willing to try food from different ethnicities, it is no wonder that food carts and food trucks are so well known. Apart from these, there naturally are the hot dog carts and the carts that sell things ranging from small pizza slices to candy to peanuts and hotdogs.
When A and I lived in Connecticut, I began working in downtown Hartford a few months before we moved to Columbus. So I didn't get a chance to explore it as much. Hartford, being the insurance capital of the country, had several big firms, IT firms and more. This was one of the main reasons that food carts were seen mostly in downtown Hartford. The way even small cities in India have a major street food presence, it is not the case in the United States. You are not very likely to see food carts or food trucks in small cities. What one may find in smaller cities though is specialty restaurants that serve some of the best local cuisine, and people from other parts of the country come to try that.

Again - please do share your share of experience with food trucks or food carts in the United States. If you have never been here, what is something that you would like to tray?

*Pictures of New York dosas taken from http://newyorkstreetfood.com


  1. totally delicious! Can't wait for the next Truckeroo!!

  2. Loved this post more than the first one. Almost drooling now. Great stuff Amishi.

    1. Ashish, you eat everything, so you'll love it all the more. You'll have more options. And you are a foodie too!

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  4. man, you make my mouth water, feel like leaving right now for DC or columbus!!

    yes, living in bigger cities gives the advantage of more cuisines and especially the food trucks etc...on the same lines, there is this place in houston called BANSURI, has awesome gujarati dabeli, vaada pav, masala soda, raagda pettis, sev usad etc... unable to attach picture i have of that truck but worth trying...

    and then of course Sankalp from ahmedabad has now opened at several places in USA and great place to go for osuth indian food...

    1. Hahaaa! Amar - there are several of our class folks on the east coast. If you make a trip, definitely let me know. I have never been to the south, so I don't know a lot about the food culture there. Nor did I know that Sankalp has opened food places here. We get our share of good Indian food, especially Indian chinese when we go to New Jersey to meet family.