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If you’re visiting New York City and have many sights to see, you don’t have to sit down for lunch or dinner. Writer Aneya Fernando introduces us to the flavors and convenience of food trucks found throughout the city that never sleeps.
Text and photos by: Aneya Fernando
Country: USA

he concept of cheap, mobile food has been around New York City for more than a century. Today, the legacy has expanded exponentially. Mobile food is no longer relegated to sweet treats and soft pretzels; it has become a culinary movement that encompasses gourmet food from around the world.

I set out to make my own food truck trail across the city and learned about what it takes to make this fad last.

My trail begins in Brooklyn, specifically DUMBO (District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), a young, trendy neighborhood known for its art galleries and spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. On Wednesdays, it’s also home to the Morris Truck, which specializes in the grilled cheese sandwich.

I ordered “The Croque Monsieur” (gruyere, smoked ham, mornay and pickled leeks- $9). The sourdough bread was sprinkled lightly with salt, and the mix of the sour pickle, plus the oozing cheese and ham, was divine. It was also incredibly filling.

Pam, a local New Yorker, agreed.

“It’s so hearty!” said Pam, “It’s really delicious.”

And what about that $9 price?

“It’s not as affordable as some other trucks,” Pam conceded, “but I think it’s because of the specialty cheese they use.” Would she go back? “Yes, definitely. I think it’s worth it.” That’s exactly what Ben Latham, general manager of the Morris Truck, is hoping for. “People think of a grilled cheese, (and) they think of white bread and American cheese,” Latham told me. “They can’t really fathomspending $10. But, what you pay for, you’re getting. Not only in a pretty hefty sandwich, but you’re getting local produce, too.”

The Morris Truck was started by Michael Jacober in the summer of 2011, when, on tour with his band, Fang Island, he had an amazing grilled cheese sandwich at a dive bar in Canada. Thus, the idea for the Morris Truck was born. Latham says there are myriad challenges to having a successful food truck.

“It’s tough because (New York City) can be really strict as far as rules and regulations for parking,” Latham says. “We have a five borough, citywide permit, but there’s a 100-page booklet of all the places we can’t park. And the big one is, you’re not allowed to park in metered parking.”

They do it anyway, as do most trucks. No one has kicked them out yet. And how do they attract customers to all their different locations? “Twitter and Foursquare. Every truck is on Twitter,” Latham says. “I think it’s the quickest, easiest way to get word out to as many customers as possible.”

Latham realizes that this current food truck obsession can’t last forever. “Trucks are riding a wave of popularity, I’d say. I mean, it’s definitely peaked. They’re a huge hit with all the TV shows and whatnot. I have a feeling in the next few years it’s no longer going to be ‘cool’ to go eat (at) a food truck.”

So what will the Morris Truck do then?

“We’re really hoping to ride that out, just because it’ll still be cool to go somewhere where you can get seasonal, organic, well-executed sandwiches,” Latham pauses, contemplatively. “I mean, there’s only so many people you can feed with one truck.”

Next, I head to the tip of Manhattan, also known as the Financial District. Here you’ll find men in power suits, women in heels, and, on Fridays, The Mexicue Truck, a hybrid of Mexican and barbecue cuisines.

I ordered the Smoky Carnitas Sandwich (a soft potato roll stuffed with pulled pork, shredded lettuce, pickled tomatillo, chili bean spread and spicy buttermilk chipotle sauce, $ 8.45). It was incredibly flavorful, and the mix of sweet and smoky sauce was divine.

Mexicue was started in 2010 by Thomas Kelly and David Schillace. Kelly tells me he’s been cooking this kind of food at home for years.

“I love the really comforting, slow techniques of barbecue that give you all that great smoky flavor,” he says. “Marrying that with the fresh, bold flavors of Mexican is the way I’ve always loved cooking.”

Kelly says people responded so well to it, they now have two stand-alone fast casual restaurants. He says social media helped their business tremendously.

And what will become of food trucks in a few years? “It’s hard to say. Some of it will depend on how much the city encourages the industry to grow. It feels like it’s starting to plateau a little bit. I think in other parts of the country, you’ll see a lot of growth.” All in all, Kelly thinks the future’s looking bright. So what’s next for Mexicue? “World domination?” I ask. Kelly laughs, “Yep, but first maybe another truck.”

Heading uptown now, I am in the heart of Times Square, where the Nuchas Empanada kiosk is located.

I got an Argentine empanada (Pat Lafrieda’s ground beef, onions, peppers, scallions, potatoes and olives in white dough) for $3. The empanada was spicy and flavorful, if a little small.

An Argentine named Ariel Bourbouth started Nuchas three years ago. He came upon the idea when his American friends came to visit him in Buenos Aires, and all they could talk about were the empanadas. That’s when the idea for a food truck in the U.S. came to mind.

I spoke with Yannis Moati, the catering manager of special events, who told me about how they planned for a truck initially, but fate had other ideas.

“In the midst of our plan, (Mayor Michael) Bloomberg was changing the city, turning it into a much more pedestrian friendly place,” Moati tells me. “Reinventing Times Square was one of those ideas. It would create a space for original food made by young entrepreneurs. Ariel and Nuchas were a perfect fit for that. We won the bid out of 300 other competitors.”

Nuchas currently has a permanent kiosk in Times Square and a food truck that visits different locations daily. Moati tells me he had no idea how important social media would be to the business.

“There would be no food truck if there was no social media,” Moati says. “Otherwise, every time clients would find us, it would be a chance meeting. And you can’t set up a business on a chance meeting.”

Nuchas has high goals. They want their empanadas to be sold in sports arenas, concert venues, and even grocery stores.

Maoti explains: “In sports and concert arenas, you have this old-school type of food like very tired hot dogs and popcorn that don’t taste like anything. Empanadas are healthy, flavorful and can be eaten anywhere. It’s the perfect snack.”

And customers seem to agree.

“It’s very tasty, and it’s nice and fresh,” says Kirtee, an Indian woman living in New York. She appreciates the variety of vegetarian options and believes the price is reasonable. In the end, she says, she goes to Nuchas “because it’s established, and I trust them.”

We end our food truck trail in the beautiful, tranquil center of chaos — Central Park ’s Great Lawn. That’s where you’ll find the Wafels and Dinges cart. What better way to end our adventure than with some yummy dessert? I got a “Da Bomb,” a soft waffle with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, smothered in Belgian chocolate sauce. It was incredibly delicious and definitely satisfied my sweet tooth ($7).

Wafels and Dinges was started in October of 2007 by Thomas DeGeest, a former IMB employee who heard reports of ‘soggy’ Belgium waffles in the U.S. DeGeest simply wouldn’t stand for it. Thus, Wafels and Dinges was born. Today, they have more than seven trucks, have been on national television, and even got a visit from the Belgian Royal Family. The day I went to visit, the line for the truck went on for what seemed like miles. Everyone I spoke with raved about the waffles; the children were especially enthusiastic. It’s safe to say Wafels and Dinges have found bonafide success in the city that never sleeps.

The culinary culture in New York is constantly evolving, and food trucks are the hottest trend at the moment. Who knows how long America’s current obsession will last? In the meantime, just remember: next time you come to New York, ditch the fancy restaurant and hit the streets for some grub. You won’t regret it.

INFO BOX

  • There are more than 50 food trucks that are official members of the New York City Food Truck Association
  • International cuisine includes: Taiwanese, Moroccan, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Polish, Colombian, Greek, Caribbean, Lebanese, Argentine and Belgian. Plus lots of hybrids and of course, good old fashioned American food
  • My food truck trail from Brooklyn to Central Park covers 12.1 miles (19.4 kilometers) Taking the subway, it would take you 42 minutes.
  • To contact/find out more about the trucks profiled here:
    The Morris Truck (@morristruck)
    Mexicue (@mexicue)
    Nuchas (@NuchasNYC)
    Wafels and Dinges (@waffletruck)





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Munching On The Move .

New York is famous for its many sights and great restaurants, but now you can also find cheap, good food at the many food trucks that roam the city. These food trucks can be found all over the city, in the trendy neighborhoods, in the Financial District, and even near Central Park..

The food trucks have all types of food. You can find fancy sandwiches like “The Croque Monsieur” (gruyere, smoked ham, mornay and pickled leeks – $9) at the Morris Truck, international snacks like the empanadas at the Nuchas Empanadas kiosk, or hybrids like the Mexicue Truck, which combines Mexican food with barbecue. You can also get sweet dishes like the ‘DaBomb’, a soft waffle with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, smothered in Belgian chocolate sauce. The prices also vary from affordable to expensive dishes.

The food culture in New York is constantly evolving and right now food trucks are the most popular places to eat.


 

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