Arts & Entertainment

Street Food Culture

Julia from Me Meli Photo: Supplied

By Rita Bratovich.

There was a time when the only mobile food vehicle was a chubby pink and white van that played a music-box version of Greensleeves and dispensed soft serve cones – gourmet if you added chocolate and crushed nuts.

Today, the range and quality of food available from mobile trucks is equal to what you might find in any popular restaurant district – and it’s a growing industry according to City of Sydney. As part of their OPEN Sydney project to stimulate night time economy, The City permitted a selected number of food trucks to operate on their streets and property for a two year trial period.

“Since we initiated our trial in 2012, food trucks have taken Sydney by storm, changing the way we think about fast food and creating a new concept that has proven to be very popular across the entire Sydney Metropolitan area,” says a spokesperson.

The project included creation of the Sydney Food Trucks app which lists businesses approved to operate in the City of Sydney area. To be approved, businesses submit a business plan, provide industry background and must pass a taste-testing from a panel of food experts.

“We wanted high-quality food trucks, each serving up a unique and distinctive food offering from a visually stunning truck,” says the spokesperson.

Among those offerings are Maltese pastizzi (Bite Size Delights), traditional New York deli dishes (NYPD),  American and Asian fusion (Dirty Bird Food Truck), and  slow cooked meats on freshly baked baguettes with a unique home-made sauce (Monster Rolls).

When tight license restrictions were loosened recently, there was no perceptible drop in standard and according to The City spokesperson “the industry will now be self-regulated because public expectation has risen so sharply over the last five years.”

Jason and Silvanna Carver bought their first food trailer, Pizza’N’More, six years ago. Then six months ago they started their second, Grill Fellas. Asked why they own food trucks, Silvanna replies, “Because we thought it would be easier than a restaurant – but it’s not!”

The husband and wife team have owned and run restaurants for many years and are still running one along with their two trucks. Jason is a respected, award-winning chef with 25 years experience in catering and fine dining. But according to Silvanna,

“A lot of big chefs are getting out of the restaurant industry and just doing the truck industry because restaurants are just too hard now. [They] are getting very competitive… and the hours! The good thing about this is you can choose your own hours and the overheads aren’t as high as a restaurant…If you don’t want to work one weekend you don’t but if you’ve got a restaurant you’ve got no choice – those doors have to open!”

Of course, if you don’t work, you don’t earn money. Let there be no illusions, owning a food truck is very demanding and the initial costs can be similar to that of setting up a restaurant.

“It’s a little bit cheaper, but not a great deal. It’s still costly to start off with…you can be spending up to $120 or $150 thousand just on the trailer. [Then] you still need a kitchen, you need benches, you need a sink. So it’s like setting up a restaurant but just on wheels,” explains Silvanna.

Trucks can be purchased fully fitted out but many people prefer to customise. Once you factor in branding, additional staff, maintenance, permits and the usual business costs it can be a very scary outlay. Income is then contingent on things like weather, crowds, other vendors. Silvanna says that at a recent festival they’re pizza trailer was positioned near two other pizza vendors. Luckily, both the other two were woodfire which take longer to cook.

“We’ve got a conveyer belt on ours, so it is faster and people don’t want to wait so long.”

Silvanna says customers can get very impatient. “I’m just lucky I’ve got a husband who’s very, very fast!”

The Carvers have taken their trailers to night markets, festivals and events all around the greater Sydney region, as well as doing some big Sydney gigs. Last year they were on Woolloomooloo Wharf directly facing the Harbour Bridge, which of course was incredible, but insanely busy.

“We’ve done a lot of good events, I reckon one of the best nights was the Mardi Gras Launch,” Silvanna says. “That was awesome! We really enjoyed that. It was a good night for us, plus the entertainment, the people, it was just so different…personally I would say that would be one of my best events. My worst one?…I don’t know, I’ve been to too many to name one!”

It’s very hard work but it can be successful and rewarding, says Silvanna.

“It’s up to you how driven you are.”

On the event side of things, Sam Zagami of Street Food Circus sees food trucks as part of an evolving entertainment culture. Inspired by what he saw in the US, London and Berlin, Zagami conceptualised a temporary event space that integrates music, performance, food and drink.

“The idea was to bring it all together and create an intimate sort of local, social pop-up where it could be rotating and mobile and changing… and combine it with food.”

With a background in the music industry, venue management and consulting, Zagami mustered his contacts and resources to create Street Food Circus. Still in its early stages, Zagami is aiming to make it a yearly event and eventually be able to hold it four times a year in different venues.

This year’s event, Big Shindig will be at the Portuguese Community Club in Marrickville which has an outdoor area that can seat 200-300 people, a gazebo and “really beautiful beer garden”. An indoor area will be more upbeat with music and live performances.

Paramount to the event is good food.

Zagami confesses to being something of a foodie and regards the dining options as important as any other aspect of the event. For him, food trucks represent consummate quality and choice.

“The regulations behind these trucks is super. They’re very very clean, very very healthy. And that’s why I went for the trucks more so than the stalls,” says Zgami, describing the arrangement of outlets at his venues as “like a beautiful, mobile food court.”

He believes Sydney will follow the example of cities like Melbourne, Brisbane and Gold Coast where food trucks have been integral in creating a new style of night time entertainment.

The flexibility of changing and mixing food vendors and having so many unique cuisines and concepts is something that alter the look of events in Sydney and the overall lifestyle.

Zagami sees it as re-imagining the restaurant/music scene and making it “streetworthy.”

The Big Shindig, Nov 25, 2–11:30pm; Fraser Park, Marrickville,

This weekend’s event is more than simply phenomenal food. There will also be a great selection of music and live entertainment to check out.

Adding to the atmosphere while you dine alfresco, you can expect to be entertained with old skool vinyl grooves, roving performers, a light sculpture display and plenty of fun for the kids.

Some of the top acts worth taking time out of your day to see are Ross Ward, Deep Sea Astronauts and White Knuckle Fever.

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