The blossoming of the United States of Food Trucks has been slow but steady. Aspiring chefs, hungry but poor, comandeered taco trucks to escape the crushing startup restaurant costs of Los Angeles.
Once the notion caught on in Manhattan, it was open season, from coast to coast. The food truck became the first restaurant of choice for many ambitious cooks, a relatively low threshold for inspired cooks to take their crazy ideas and see if they'll sell in the real world.
Now award-wining food writer John T. Edge has traveled across America in search of the choicest morsels, and the stories behind their creators, in "The Truck Food Cookbook." He came back with truckloads of recipes, and plenty of details to help those at home re-create what makes the food so good.
The background Edge provides about the people behind the trucks makes a fine stew of pluckiness, determination and flexibility, and could inspire would-be mobile food service entrepreneurs everywhere. Perhaps sensing that his book could be the Tome that Launched a Thousand Trucks, Edge includes a bracing afterword, a sort of corrective tonic that details his stint as a mobile food vendor. Edge did most of his truck chasing in 10 U.S. cities besides L.A. and New York, including Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis.; Seattle; Tucson, Ariz.; Houston; and Durham, N.C. Several trucks with national reputations are represented. The majority are strictly local heroes, though.
Edge points out that while a Subway franchise could cost $200,000 to open, used food trucks show up on eBay for $10,000, and food carts for $2,000, putting culinary experiments within reach for more people.
In Wisconsin, Edge encounters jerk chicken and fried meat pies, and African peanut chicken stew. In Austin, there's ancient Mexican standards like mutton soup, and newly arrived chicken kaarage, chicken nuggets Thai style, served in heaps of herbs like cilantro, mint and royal basil.
In Portland, he finds a food truck culture challenging for the title of American Food Truck Capital. "In Los Angeles, you get the impression that while taco trucks are there to stay, the spike in gourmet trucks may be short," Edge writes.
"In Portland, where nothing is gourmet, but so much of the food is sourced and prepared with integrity, the pod-based revolution appears to be permanent. And it appears to be sustainable."
The Truck Food Cookbook
By John T. Edge
Workman$18.95, 294 pages