A phenomenon that was borne out of chefs and cooks who were in need of jobs, the food truck business has really taken off over the last year or so in South Florida. Unlike a restaurant, not only is it impossible to make a reservation, but you will not necessarily find a food truck in the same location as it was the week, let alone the night, before.
After rain caused a cancellation of a big gathering the first Friday I was in Miami, and the next day, it began to dawn on me that part of the culture of this movement is the mystery of the location. It turns out that Twitter is the key to following a food truck. Once I realised that, I was good.
All week, between the shopping and the beach of course, I was on Twitter 'following' every Miami truck possible. However, problems struck as I noticed that everyone was going north to Fort Lauderdale and Jupiter.
Finally a tweet came in from @RinconDelCoqui. El Rincon Del Coqui, owned by Geovanie Cordero, was going to be in a specific location in West Kendall on the Wednesday from 7:00 pm-10:00 pm. All good once again!
Having started his food truck business about two-and-a-half years ago, after he and his Cuban wife Daisy "noticed that there was no other Puerto Rican truck around in the area at the time", Señor Cordero operates his business Wednesdays through Saturdays at varying times in the evenings. "I've been up cooking since eight o'clock this morning, preparing for tonight," he informed us, "so the days are long and hard. And over the next few days we'll be in Homestead and Miami Gardens." Cordero, who has had no formal culinary training, "learnt everything from grandma and great grandma". The Corderos live in the West Kendall area, so when el Señor talked about the food truck phenomenon "moving north to West Palm, and so on, but I have no idea why", there was a hint of frustration. The food truck life cannot be easy.
That being said, a few customers, 80 per cent of whom were Puerto Ricans we were told, seemed more than satisfied. They were seated around tables set up by the Corderos, happily chatting in Spanish and feasting on the fare. Zumba music was playing in the background, the sun was setting, and a cool evening breeze blew through the lot located just outside the tyre shop behind the truck.
On the menu was Arroz con Gandules (rice & beans, with a kick of cilantro), Tostones (pressed plantain) and Carne Frita (fried pork) for US$12; Alcapurrias de Masa 'Fried Pieces of Heaven' (green plantain dough filled with ground beef) and Alcapurrias de Yuca (cassava dough with ground beef) - each for US$6; Empanadas with Shrimp & Salsa Criolla; Churrasco Steak Sandwich (topped with lettuce, teeny potato sticks and their famous house sauce) for US$12; and a Best Sandwich Nomination 'As seen on Man vs Food Tripleta Sandwich (with the same topping as previous sandwich) for $10. These sandwiches were fabuloso! Perfectly seasoned moist meat, stuffed into a bigger but lighter version of a coco bread, one of these could well be shared by two.
My first food truck experience proved to be a success. I was hooked. "When's the next outing?" I asked my friend Natasha Assee and her son William, who live in Miami.
That was what led to the following Friday adventure, when my Jamerican friend Melissa Trench joined Natasha, William and me. She, too, had previously partied at the Hard Rock Cafe's 4th of July celebration, when "thirty or so trucks were parked back-to-back, serving food to thousands of customers who had come out to watch the fireworks." In fact, she was also the one who had been with me the previous weekend on the unsuccessful hunt for a food truck, so she was doubtful about whether we would actually come across one.
It's amazing what three determined ladies can do with their smartphones in a matter of minutes, and what a hungry eight-year-old boy can see while driving at 40 miles per hour at night! I had received a Tweet within minutes of a request, and we were heading over to one of the FIU campuses, when Melissa and William screamed in unison, "Food trucks!" There stood three food trucks. Success!
Deciding to eat from all of them — Don Mofongo, Kala's Fast Food, and Taipa Peruvian Fast Food — we split up to order.
By far the best bite of the night, and definitely the darnedest hot dog ever to grace my taste buds, was the Colombian Hot dog from Kala's Fast Food'. Linda and her husband Kala dished out a dog that was topped with soft potato shavings, tartar sauce, mustard, ketchup and a sweet pineapple relish that made us order three more! At US$4 each, it was US$16 well spent!
Taipa Peruvian Fast Food served us their highly recommended and delicious Lomo Saltado (stir-fry steak atop white rice, served with fries, cilantro, tomatoes and a fried egg); the tasty and tender Corazon de Res (beef heart kebab with potatoes and large corn kernels that tasted of aniseed), which was only on the Spanish menu (not the English one), and was demolished by eight-year-old William; and divine (if you have a sweet-tooth) Deep-fried Ring doughnuts (soaked in a cinnamon sugar syrup).
Owners Michelle Higueras and her husband Carlos Paredes, who is a trained chef, "have been in business for two years", she said. "My brother Jean Paul Jacobs over there," she pointed towards the stove, "works with us. And we are here, in this location six nights a week." (Unusual for the food trucks). Taking Tuesdays off to prepare for the rest of the week, the trio cater to between 40 and 60 people, 50 per cent of whom are Peruvian, every evening. Their choice to remain in one place is due to the steady flow of the 85 per cent repeat customers, which gives them a certain amount of stability.
Nelly and Enrique Doria, who moved to the USA from Peru some 11 years ago, live in the area and are part of that security. "Two months ago I was passing by and saw the Peru flag," Señor Doria related, "so I had to stop here." The couple informed us that "this food is traditional in our country, and we try and follow the same taste we get in Peru everywhere we go." Thrilled to have Taipa so close to their house, they make a big deal of telling everyone they know about this particular food truck, even though "over the last year there have been more and more trucks around".
Husband-and-wife team Wilson and Alicia Ramirez, who are Dominican and Puerto Rican respectively, have had their truck Don Mofongo for one year and three months. The bubbly and helpful lady, who used to be in the marketing business, likes "the social aspect of the truck". She recommended the Churrasco Steak Mofongo (crushed plantain with garlic), so we got that along with the very popular Mofongo that comes with fried pork and shrimps. At US$12 each, they were certainly filling enough for any man with a large appetite. Alicia also notified us about their catering food truck. Apparently that's another craze - hiring a food truck for a private party.
In fact, Melissa's BFF Paula Williams-Laird, did exactly that last year April for her pre-wedding dinner, "to welcome my out-of-town family and friends", she recounted. "I hired Ciao Food Truck, owned by Peter Mackison," she continued, "which specialises in a fusion of Italian and local flavours."
This stress-free way of planning a party "is also a great way to experiment with new and interesting foods", Williams-Laird, a lover of the food truck movement, insisted. Unfortunately, none of us was able to get in touch with Mr Mackison, and one wonders, despite the success he once enjoyed, if he still operates his food truck. Or perhaps he's taken his travelling restaurant elsewhere, satisfying other girls who may be looking for the perfect food truck!
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