People see me as a foodie, but really I write about the American Dream. I started my blog, Trailer Food Diaries, after leaving the corporate lifestyle behind a few years ago. Thus began my own pursuit of happiness, which found its direction in a somewhat unlikely place: on a trailer food crawl with my girlfriends.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of “trailer food,” I’m referring to food trucks and—in a broader sense—to street food. Many cities, like my hometown of Austin or Portland, offer pods of three to eight food trailers with a variety of cuisines stationed in parking lots. The locations are often decorated with Christmas lights, and patrons dine at picnic tables. Other cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. offer a mobile variety of food trucks that use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to tell fans of their ever-changing locations.
On that first trailer food crawl, I recognized a niche market of entrepreneurs that had three key ingredients: they wanted to work for themselves, they had at least one good recipe, and they liked living in a community with like-minded people. Seeing this, I began to report about the pursuit of happiness within the food cart industry. I asked, what, for example, would make an attorney quit his litigation practice to move across the country and open a food truck? This is exactly what Eric Silverstein of the Peached Tortilla did. With roots in both Hong Kong and Atlanta, he developed a menu that tied Asian fusion with Southern Comfort and voila! His truck was voted the best food truck in Austin by restaurant blog Eater. About a year into it, he launched another successful food truck venture to add to his fleet: Yume Burger, featuring Japanese burgers.
I am also inspired by my great-grandfather, who started his pursuit of the American Dream a century ago as an immigrant from Russia selling bananas in a food cart in central Texas. Over time, he expanded his cart into five general stores. This story mirrors how Torchy’s Tacos in Austin started with one chef in a trailer seeking his own version of “the Dream” and expanded into what is now a taco empire with ten locations in three major Texas towns.
There are many immigrant stories in the food truck industry: Abdu Souktourri, who owns the Flying Carpet, came to Austin from Morocco against all odds—winning a lottery for citizenship to the U.S. Meanwhile, Iba of the food truck Cazamance began his journey in Senegal and grew his trailer concept into a brick and mortar location, also in Austin. And then there’s Gharid of ElMasry. He was the only one in his family to leave Egypt and is now making them proud with his food trailer in Portland. Nearly every country is represented with gourmet dishes in the street food movement.
I have also had the opportunity to dine with food truck entrepreneurs who have overcome much for a chance to succeed. Charlene of the Gaufre Gourmet survived horrific domestic violence and landed on her feet—in a food cart in Portland serving up one of the best waffles I’ve ever had. (It didn’t hurt that it had arugula, bacon and Camembert on top.)
There are also successful businessmen like Roy Spence, of GSD&M advertising agency who says he is “working his way down the corporate ladder” (much like me) in pursuit of a humble but never mild life. Roy’s trailer showcases his salsa, Royito’s, which was inspired by three lessons learned from his father: be kind to everyone, keep it simple, and don’t do mild. His salsa is all that, and a bag of chips.
Below is a recipe for bacon jam, from Eric Silverstein of the Peached Tortilla in Austin. The hearty spread is both sweet and savory. Try it on a breakfast croissant sandwich with eggs, over brie, or smeared on toast.
(Recipe Courtesy of the Peached Tortilla)
- 1 pound bacon
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 brown onion sliced
- 1/2 cup brewed dark roast coffee
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1. In a cast iron skillet or pan, lightly brown bacon until crispy.
2. Add garlic and onions and cook mixture until onions are opaque.
3. Add thyme, coffee, brown sugar and cider vinegar to mixture and simmer for two hours. If mixture becomes too dry or loses moisture, add water.
4. After mixture has simmered for at least two hours, remove thyme sprigs and let mixture cool. Pulse in food processor to desired texture.
5. Bacon jam should be spreadable but does not have the texture of “preserves” or traditional jams.
Tiffany Harelik travels across the nation seeking great street foods, personal stories, and inspiration from truly independent entrepreneurs of food trucks. Beginning in Austin, Texas in 2010, Tiffany has covered recipes and histories of food truck vendors in Portland, Chicago, Washington D.C., Latin American and beyond.