On par with the trend in the USA and Europe, South Africa has seen a proliferation of food trucks of late. Serving gourmet meals at lunchtime, snacks throughout the day, and those that cater for weddings and parties, a mobile food service makes sense. It is estimated that globally, 2.5 billion people eat street food every day. Bringing the concept to city centers, office-dense spaces and favored weekend hangouts, is a practical solution to meet the demand for good, fairly inexpensive food.
The food truck movement as we currently know it evolved from a direct response to the recession around 2007 in the US, where restaurants had to downscale operations and patrons had less cash to spend on lunch. Fully kitted, well-designed trucks contain small but operational kitchens, and food safety is strictly monitored by city health officials. The food truck movement may seem trendy and modern, but it has its roots in 1886 America. A rancher, Charles Goodnight fitted a surplus US Army wagon with kitchen amenities to create the first kitchen on wheels. Wagons like these were known as ‘chuck’ (or ‘chow’) wagons.
While growth in South Africa has been slow, as opposed to the mushroom-effect in the United States, there is a constant trickle of new trucks as the word spreads. Luca Castiglione runs the now famous Limoncello food truck in Cape Town and heads the informal Food Truck Association which serves as an agency for food trucks regionally. The association assists with all aspects of the business from design to marketing. A location for the trucks to park is a contentious issue, as there is no formal legislation that makes provision for them. The Cape Town Informal Trading by-law acknowledges the need to recognize and assist informal traders, mostly street vendors, but much is left to the private sector, says Paul Williamson, from the Cape Town city council.
Chef Bertus Basson of Overture, who owns Die Wors Rol truck, that caters gourmet hotdogs at events, feels that the South African public is ready for the concept, evident in the number of trucks popping up. Consequently, food trucks now face competition for space and market share, especially from restaurants that have recognized the opportunity and developed their own. Like it was for the wildly famous Korean Kogi truck in Los Angeles, social media has played a huge role in the popularity of the trucks and knowing where to find them. Castiglione does no advertising, apart from Twitter and Facebook posts. “Word of mouth on social media keeps bringing us new customers,” he says.
While curbside vendors in South Africa, selling made to order fried snacks like sheep liver and beef steaks grilled over the coals, are common, especially in the townships, we’re yet to see the true kasi (or township) cuisine hop onto the food truck bandwagon. Costs involved may make the venture prohibitive initially, but this could be a solution for providing local township foods in the heart of the metropolis, where city workers are craving a taste of home. Pretty soon, food trucks may be roving the streets of Cape Town and Johannesburg, selling the classics loved by South Africans. Biltong (a traditional dried, spiced meat), braaivleis (meat made on the barbeque), pap en wors (stiff white maize and thick grilled sausages), bunny chow (curry in a hollowed out white quarter loaf) and koeksisters (a plaited deep-fried crisp doughnut drenched in sugar syrup) – there certainly is a market for it.