KEXP : Where the Music Matters
JoeMc on 09/29/2010 at 01:00PM
Everyday at WFMU, usually around 1 p.m., a minor exodus takes place. This happens when the WFMU staff can no longer ignore the rumblings of their stomachs, and tearing themselves away from the divine work of serving the freeform gods, they tumble down the stairs, scattering to the four corners of Jersey City in search of nourishment.
Lunch is a freeform affair, unsurprisingly. Some seek Italian; some Indian; others dare to explore steam table fare from the local Korean deli. Where these freeform warriors most often end up, however, is at the neighborhood food trucks, those kitchens on wheels that serve everything from catfish to crepes, tikka to tacos.
Food trucks that knock out a small list of specialties day-in and day-out are one of the best dining options in Jersey City: cheap, easy meals dished out at a feverish clip. It's a culture adopted from Manhattan, where some food trucks have been at it for decades. Nothing new, but apparently, the lowly food truck is experiencing some sort of vogue right now, perhaps second only to the peculiar renaissance of the cupcake.
Why, just last week "The Great Food Truck Race," a series based on dropping popular food trucks in strange cities to see how they make out, wrapped up on the Food Network. A bit L.A.-centric, this series didn't really capture the New York/New Jersey food truck experience, even though the winners hawked their hamburgers to victory in Madhattan (I personally think Nom Nom Truck should've won). Still, it showed just how far food trucks have come in terms of respectability. Even New York Magazine did a feature on them this past summer.
Why the sudden interest? Like everything else, I would guess it's the Economy. It's easier for a couple of enterprising young cooks to rustle up the dough for an outfitted truck than it is to set up a fixed restaurant, especially in a city like New York with its astronomical rents and strict building codes. For a customer who might be strapped for cash and time (if you've got a job, odds are you're doing more of it), it's the perfect alternative to a sit-down lunch, fast and cheap. Most places don't even ask you to cough up a tip.
Not only that, but now that so many trucks are on a mission to cute-up, with brightly painted trucks and matching T-shirts for the staff, people who previously would never go near a food truck can feel more comfortable with the food truck experience. Folks like a clean-looking truck just like they like a clean-looking restaurant, and fear of ptomaine poisoning seems to be a thing of the past. Not that you still can't have an authentic sick-making experience, if you want one; there are still plenty of trucks around that seem to use the same oil to run the truck and cook the burgers. I, for one, hope they never disappear completely!
For your next trip to your local food truck, here's a tune to dial up on your iPod, phone, or whatever you listen to things on: "Street Food" by Satellite 4. They're a band of transplanted southerners and midwesterners who've made their home in Seattle, and they churn out a nice greasy sound that'll get you in the mood for some good street cookin'. They've got a new album coming out soon called Call Your Girl; in the meantime, enjoy this radio session.