Nov 20, 2012

Food Trucks in Rome

I first started hearing of construction site–meets–Hollywood film set roach coaches turned into gourmet gatherings in L.A., by friends and family who raved about top chefs going mobile, and mouthwatering tweets that informed hungry patrons at which corner the best Asian taco truck would park that day. The food truck buzz was too loud to ignore, so taking advantage of my nephew's wedding in Texas this past July, trip that included some quality time in California, I decided to investigate the US food truck scene in the only way possible. Eating my way through it.


First up I hit Dallas, and found an astonishing street food scene. Not all fried green beans and ribs, here I tasted some of the best Korean fusion and tacos north of San Luis Potosì. If the term "kimchee fries" says nothing to you, look up ssahmBBQ.com. Austin showed some pretty nice food on wheels – can't forget the fried chicken, shrimp and avocado coated in an almond, sesame seeds, cornflakes and chili panure – as did Houston, with it's superlative Tex-Mex and sensational food-truck meetups advertised in the lifestyle section of the paper.

Then it was San Francisco, with its illuminated food culture and eating activism. The city's food trucks went beyond fusion and value meals, these put actual white tablecloth restaurant chefs on the expandable/collapsible kitchens for some serious high-end, gourmet mobile eats, like the former organic farming students that run a rotisserie truck that serves 
heritage pork, free-range chicken and local lamb. Awesome! 
At the Monterey weekly farmer's market, the tandoori oven on wheels fed flocking crowds some of the best chicken and chapatti I've had in a long time. Next in line I checked Los Angeles, another epiphany: Reuben sandwich trucks, breakfast food trucks, bacon-with-everything trucks, fried chicken and waffles trucks, BBQ burger trucks, cold stone ice cream trucks, thai-mex trucks, lobster sandwich trucks, sustainable trucks running on vegetable oil, dumpling & samosa trucks... each selling all kinds of awesome grub. 

Every single pop-up wheeled enterprise I tried, offered great food that was cooked well, and cost reasonably little. Each business I ate at had a Facebook page, a Twitter account, QR codes and catering gigs lined up 'til 2014. These people understand the importance of communication, image and hard work: they dish out an average of 300 lunches a day, and besides creating a new food trend, they keep their clientele informed and happy, raise good cash, and most importantly, are bringing people back to dining.

photo © www.cousinsmainelobster.com
I began to feel a little envious. Seriously, why can't we have that here? Can't we replicate this genius phenomenon in Italy too, where food can be good but lacks international variety, the economy is in a down-pointed vortex, and any food fad tagged USA is a sure hit (well, except for Starbucks)?

Does the average Italian Joe that lunches out need to necessarily sit at a table, read his meal off a menu (albeit scribbled on a chalkboard) and perforce use silverware? Is the food truck concept too alien for Italians? Might the idea of a mobile cuisine be scary to the locals, who tend to associate it with the dubiously painted and hygienically–challenged panini-gelato-pizza carts that charge €5 for a bottle of lukewarm mineral water, and that Roman rodents are so fond of? Or can present day Italy, habitual to street food and regular historic invasions by foreign cultures, actually become the next food truck frontier? Mauro Uliassi, a cheerful Michelin-starred chef from Senigallia, is probably the first trying to make it happen, with his mobile food caravan.


photo © dissapore
At Torino's recent Salone del Gusto - Terra Madre world food extravaganza, Uliassi, who wisely focuses his efforts on street food, parked his little "StreetGood" kitchen cart in the middle of Lingotto's Padiglione 2 and sold fried morsels and gourmet sandwiches to the audience. All food coma and festival stupor aside, I think his was one of the best ideas present at the Salone del Gusto. He proved that good, affordable food can be brought to the many, and be available via roving kitchens.

I interviewed a friend and fellow expat foodie living in Rome who dispenses wine pleasures with her Vinoroma wine tasting venture, and that is strongly invested in the Rome food scene. When I asked her opinion on food trucks having a chance in Rome, the response was more than enthusiastic. It sounded like a business pitch. This got my metaphoric glands salivating.

So here I am calling out to you, my fellow expat friends living in Rome, with an idea. I'm looking for partners in a crazy venture. I want to start a Rome food truck movement, in a moment in which Italian food is in dire need of a revolution.

I am speaking to you. You who will sell a limb for a decent burrito. Yes, you right there stubbornly believing Rome will one day deliver a properly toasted bun for that 25% fatty burger you crave. You, with the Asian noodle fetish, and you there, in constant unfulfilled Rome ethnic food lust: if you haven't surrendered, come to me. Let's pool ideas, let's get serious, brainstorm, talk Kickstarter and buy that old Airstream van in the Cinecittà scrap heap. The required start-up capital should be minimal. Let's get this Rome food truck scene moving, and let us "stranieri" give Rome the dream. Starting with fulfilling our own, down in the streets.

foto © allbarnone

27 comments:

  1. Alas, we already have a mafia (and a surplus) of food trucks here and they are far from being gourmet...

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    1. That's why we need to implement good ones, don't you think?!

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  2. What an interesting idea for a venture, I will follow with interest Eleonora. :)

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    1. Yay! What's your specialty/desired truck food of choice?

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  3. What an interesting idea for a venture, I will follow with interest Eleonora. :)

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  4. I bet the young people would really go for this. (The older folks not so much, unless things have really changed since I lived there...) And I couldn't agree more, as wonderful as the food scene in Rome is, it could use some more variety.

    Best of luck!

    Frank

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    1. There's no time limit on being a food-lover! I bet the younger crowds would be the first to jump on board with this new trend, but perhaps more mature palates might appreciate a little change in flavors! Thanks!

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  5. We have food trucks here in the UK .. I have eaten from a few when I have been to a Formula 1 Grandprix .. but here they are sooo over priced.
    Otherwise I would not eat from a Food truck here.

    Uliassi, does seem to have the best idea ..so I think I would give his a try at least.

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  6. Mon ami, you are the perfect person to do this. It's a great idea. Go!

    Jeff

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  7. I love this idea. I too have heard about the food trucks across the ocean with envy. I think Rome would fall for the concept too. I can name more than a handful of people ready for something other than pasta and pizza. Unfortunately, I can't really help with getting an airstream (!) but could pitch in in any back end kind of way. It's definitely an idea worth pursuing.

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    1. You could definitely be part of the editorial team! :))

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  8. Ciao Ele! was on the road in Turkey & Georgia and just got around to reading this - let's talk very soon about this.

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    1. Great! I knew you'd still be interested in this topic... :)

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  9. Great idea! I hope you find some partners and get it going. Do you think you'll encounter problems with regulations, government stuff, locations?

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    1. Surely! This is Italy after all!! Makes the challenge even more fun

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  10. Great idea! I hope you find partners to get it going. Do you think you'll run into problems with regulations, government stuff, locations?

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  11. I'm torn on this. While I've had lots of delicious food from food trucks here in the States before, somehow I just don't see gourmet mobile eats fit into the Italian culture at all. Traditional Italian cuisine going mobile would not be a bad idea, but wouldn't that make it a little too "Americanized"? But then again, last time I traveled in Italy was probably when I ever saw so many men indulging their taste buds with a bowl/cup of gelato on the streets...

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  12. I'm a huge fan of food trucks and the growing trend of them. So this fab post about Rome food trucks is a keeper,thanks!

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  13. I'm considering this idea for a long time, because in Italy and especially in Rome there are these realities, but rather are limited to the sale of drinks and "pork". Unfortunately, the wall against which it stops is because the bureaucratic licenses are suspended and those that are for sale are managed by "....", my opinion is authoritative because I'm a lawyer. must study the right way ...
    Andrea

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  14. You know why Italy doesn't have this because Italian comes with elegance. When you go to Italian restaurants it won't be like any other restaurants in the world. It always makes you feel like you are in a first class restaurant, enjoying your food with a good ambiance.
    But this idea is good this is new and it would really be a hit, so keep it up! :)

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  15. I love this! Me (an American living in Germany) and my German fiance and I will be getting married in Rome early next summer. If you have a truck by then, maybe you could cater? What kinds of food were you thinking about offering? Do you know of any other great catering options? If so, please email me at: pcstrickland@gmail.com

    I hope it works out! My future husband's family has a house outside of Rome we are there every year. I would definitely be a patron of a great food truck biz.

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  16. Ciao ciao!!

    I am wanting to start a food truck (post culinary school), and I was saying to my friends why does Italy not have great food trucks? Where is the post-disco/bar food truck like in the US?! Who doesn't want a late night snack on the walk home! And with open container it would be better than in the US! I asked all of my friends (Italians ages 18-25) and they agree! My fellow culinary pursuing friend Marco thought it was brilliant. I hope to bring this idea to life and was so glad to find your post that someone else feels the same!!

    *** I am just worried about the regulations. In the US that has been the tricky side of the food truck business. It's the local brick and mortars getting angry that their customers are being taken away so they are finding anything to say it's against the law.

    I will end my comment here, I could go on for days, but I would love to discuss this more my email is Jwdoyle13@gmail.com (I am currently in the US)


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  17. Hi Eleonora, I was wondering if you got anywhere with this idea? I actually know two chefs who are getting the first food truck up and running in Sao Paulo, a city which doesn't historically have food trucks so if this is still an idea which you're exploring let me know, I could ask them for some tips!

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    1. I'm sad to report that food trucks in Rome will never see the light (barring a few, blessed renegades).
      The Rome food truck scene is complicated by the presence of monopoly of the kneecap breaking persuasion. Those hideous tan trucks covered in horrid food images, colosseum and glitter, which can be seen parked all over town selling garbage food, thrive due to their owners’ nefarious connections.
      My dream is therefore shattered...

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    2. Hello Eleonora,

      Thank you for all information. Im sorry to hear that, you think it's just because of Roma as capital or it's for all other cities in Italy ?

      Tonko

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