First published on 13 Feb 2012. Updated on 30 Apr 2012.
They say the best food you can get in LA is out of a truck. In the past ten years the dining scene in the City of Angels has hit the road: from hotdog sellers on the Sunset Strip to roaming trucks selling ice cream sandwiches and burgers and, of course, Roy Choi’s world famous Korean taco truck, Kogi. LA’s meal-on-wheels have captured the imagination of food fans the world over and London and New York have followed suit. Now, the trucks are rolling into Sydney.
Time Out, for one, has been campaigning for food trucks for more than two years. In late 2011 the City of Sydney got the message and started taking meetings with interested chefs and restaurateurs. Thirty applications were received for the ten licences that will permit the trucks to take to the streets in March. (Disclaimer: Time Out was part of the City’s tasting panel). The successful applicants are allowed to operate until 3am.
So why has it taken so long to happen? “I guess it hadn’t been on my radar,” admits Lord Mayor Clover Moore. “I think as soon as it really became something we were asked to do to try and improve the late-night economy, we got on and did it. I also think it’s really important to get it right.”
For young chef and now first-time business owner Stuart McGill, it’s a great opportunity. “I’m really excited about doing my own food,” he says. Before launching his Eat Art Truck, McGill was sous chef at Tetsuya’s. He’s now swapped chef whites for civvies (“I’m never wearing a chef’s jacket again”) and fine dining for street food. When the truck is ready mid-March he’ll be dishing up the likes corn on the cob, fried school prawns and soft rolls filled with pulled pork.
For every person out there excited that food trucks are happening, however, there’s someone else giving them the thumbs down. “Sydney’s small selection of hand-picked trucks, complete with its qualified chefs and adhering to strict local government bureaucracy, will never compare to the real thing,” commented “Scott” on Time Out’s website. “LA’s taco trucks are everything our version isn’t.”
Chef Colin Fassnidge from the Four in Hand and Paddington Arms is also skeptical. Fassnidge attended the initial City of Sydney meetings but bowed out soon after because of the hoops he was obliged to jump through. “I was really enthusiastic about making something of late-night Sydney because we all know how bad it is,” he tells Time Out. “For me, it was all cool and we were going to get our name out there again and make some money, but then they just dumbed it down. They took the parrot and caged it. It’s not very rock’n’roll, is it?”
So why isn’t City of Sydney doling out licenses to anybody that wants them? “Big rats,” says the Lord Mayor. “I know people who have had good intentions, collected food from cafés and taken them around the city to give to homeless people, but the end result has often been the food gets dumped, there are lots of rats and I get the complaints about it.
“It’s all about balance and management. We’re really changing the whole night-time paradigm and once we do that things will get easier.”
Whether or not the trucks find their market of hungry punters within this trial period, there’s a sense of inevitability about them in the city’s food scene. “A lot of the guys that I’ve worked with are coming to an age where they want to start doing this kind of thing,” says McGill. “I think you’re going to see more and more of it.”
These guys will be banging out tacos, nachos and burritos. We’re predicting big things for them on the festival circuit. Who doesn’t like a brain-sized burrito or nachos after a few too many beers?
Bite Size Delights
Thirty different types of pastizzi on wheels including a sweet poppyseed number and old-school favourites such as spinach and fetta. They cost more than at the pastizzi cafés, but they come to you
All-organic spelt pizze and killer chocolate brownies are on the cards here. Go for a bacon-and-egg pizza first thing in the morning or maybe just before bed. It’s breakfast for supper.
Suckling pig on steamed Chinese buns with pickles? Hell yeah. These bite-sized puffs of deliciousness will be on offer, alongside tasty things on sticks such as kaya and Milo.
Rafael Rashid started this popular van in Melbourne (along with his burger van, Beatbox Kitchen) and is now revving
up in Sydney, offering his take on tacos.
Expect soft-shell tacos made in-truck, filled with meat cooked on the spit over fruitwood and an incredible range of salsas (including a fascinating dry version) and hot sauces. Ay caramba!
It's not all tacos and burgers; when Urban Pasta's truck hits Sydney's streets in June, you can expect to get pasta dishes just like nonna used to make only hipper, and on wheels. If it's carbo-loading you're after, this is one truck stop you will want to make.
Eat Art Truck
Progressive snacks from former Tetsuya’s sous chef Stuart McGill. Expect dudish street food including deep-fried school prawns, flank steak bo ssam and pulled pork sandwiches.
Let's Do Yum Cha
Steamed dumplings and buns from a trailer that folds out into an Asian-style dining cart. You’ll never need to line up in a hot room and get yelled at by Chinese nannas again.