The Phenomenon of Food Trucks in NYC

This blog has been revolving an awful lot about food lately. To add to all of these culinary experiences, one vital piece of the NYC food culture cannot be missing: The phenomen of food trucks in New York!

Now I hadn’t really paid attention to them at first. After all, I had thought that these things might be similar to the concept of Imbisse we have in Deutschland. Except for that you can buy Mexican food and YoYo-yoghurt from them over here. I had also thought certain ice cream and yoghurt trucks to be way overpriced in the summer so I had never bothered to try them out. Then I read Katz post on the Kimchi Taco Truck and just knew I had to stop by it. She is a vegetarian, just like I am, and had tried some veggie and tofu creations with Mexican food prepared in a Kimchi way. So a few months went by until I started searching for it. Then last week I finally strolled down to the Flatiron District and checked it out.

When I got to 25th Street and Broadway, I was confused at first. A truck labeled “Calexico” stood on one side, a burger van was prepped on the other. But then, way in the back, at a different street corner, another crowd huddled around what I had been looking for: The Kimchi Taco Truck. I suppose this area right next to Madison Park is popular among the food truck industry. No kidding, there is tons going on over there, enough to keep a business afloat.

The Kimchi Taco Truck employs Asian-looking people who are supervised by the head of the crew: Philipp Lee.
I heard him bark some questions to a few customers ahead of me but he was polite to me when I asked him what Kimchi actually stands for. They use the variation of cabbage with this fermented Korean dish. I decided to go with the spicy rice cake and three tacos called Tofu Edamame Falafels.
My order took about five minutes, which is not that bad considering the crowd. Despite the Kimchi employees warning me not to shake its content and to “keep it flat” I must have shaken it when running across the street to avoid a red light. For as soon as I opened the Styrofoam box the tacos were pretty much spread across it. This is what I looked like:

Shattered Tofu Edamame Falafel

Not very appetizing, I know, so make sure you DON’T SHAKE IT when you order from them.

I managed to sort the contents out and put the tacos together again. But after biting into them and tasting their full aroma, I do have to admit that I was a teeny bit disappointed. They were moderately spiced for Asian standards. So far so good. The tofu was alright. The rest of the taco was prepared fine. But something was clearly missing. Some secret ingredient to change this simple street taco into a BRILLIANT creation. Not what I had expected it to be at all. So, in conclusion, I wasn’t too impressed by the Kimchi Taco Truck. It didn’t help that they screwed up my side order of rice cake and gave me something pasta-like instead. This tasted better than the tacos but unfortunately the dish was halfway cold already. Perhaps I have to go back some time during off-peak-hours to get the full experience of flavor from them. I’d rather try out other trucks, though, just to get a better understanding of the food truck culture.

Mysterious side order
Hella busy Kimchi Taco Truck

Next was Calexico. Yes, named Mexican stand above that is also found in the vicinity of Madison Park. If you haven’t gotten the vibe yet, I am a huge fan of Mexican food, mostly Californian Mexican food (which obviously you won’t ever find here on the East Coast). So my standards are quite high. (Be prepared that I am in the process of putting a Mexican food post together and check back in a few weeks!).

I saw the line to this truckie being very long during lunch hours, with the average wait being up to 20 minutes, believe it or not! And yes, people agree to wait this long, it is after all New York. But the day I ordered from the Calexico Cart, it was raining, so not much of a crowd was found in front. In a good way, I mean, as it only took 3 minutes to prepare my order. I opted for the vegetarian burrito and a side of chips’n’salsa. The side dish was huge – that’s a good thing. While the salsa was rather bland, the burrito tasted decent, better than I would have thought. More of the Tex-Mex-style. A big plus is their customer service, as the employees are all pretty young and polite. A combo you usually do not find in New York, so I doubt they were from here. If you’re in the area, stop at Calexico, the price is standard and the food okay.

Calexico Cart
Calexico burrito and chips with salsa

Once I tried out the Belgian waffle truck called Wafles $ Dinges on a night out in the East Village. Bad mistake that can be led back to homesickness and an effort made to quench it. I couldn’t understand how these people are able to sell their stuff as authentic Belgian dessert food. Simply awful for European standards! If you want good Belgian food, go to Pommes Frites in the East Village. Their French fries are indeed great, especially when combined with the special sauces.

Then you have the average Mediterranean food trucks and Halal stands. I believe friends who visited me a year ago were courageous enough to try out pita bread gyros in a touristy area. The very next day all of them were lying on the bathroom floor next to the toilet of their hostel! Food poisoning. This was in May, not really the season during which meat goes bad yet. So I am not sure I would recommend those. However, a former coworker always had her favorite gyros stand close to 37th St and 7th Avenue.

And here is a quite informative site called newyorkstreetfood.com that tells you about every food truck in town and where to find them at what time. These guys eat at food trucks almost every day it seems and provide pictures with their stories.

I am not sure if I am really in the mood of trying out other food trucks here if I don’t really have to. They are a great solution for just-grab-and-go-meals, but you can find decent sit-down-places in the West and East Village for the same purpose. And if the wait is as long as at the Kimchi Taco Truck and Calexico Mexican Food Truck, then maybe waiting to be seated in a restaurant could serve the same purpose.

But you shouldn’t hesitate to try it out! It does after all belong to the New York City experience.

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