My two years in Portland, Oregon, were street food heaven. Everything you’ve heard is true. There are tons of food carts and they are that good. I knew I would miss them when I moved to Minnesota.
The Twin Cities, however, are experiencing the beginnings of a street food revolution. What I like about street food is that it creates life along city streets; people make connections with the owners and chefs; the food tends to be cheap; there tends to be lots of variety; and the cost of entry for entrepreneurs is low, which can lead to new ideas and better food as everyone steps up their game.
I disagree with a few of the restrictions Minneapolis had put on the food trucks, such as staying 100 feet away of a restaurant with direct access to a sidewalk or having a commercial kitchen located in Minneapolis.
The distance requirement seems to be concerned more with stifling competition than benefiting consumers. The commercial kitchen requirement I assume is based on hygiene fears that are necessary for an industrial food chain, but wholly unnecessary on such a small scale. Clean and safe, yes. But if you start with local, small scale farmers who supply your food, you can throw out most of the regulations on the books (if you decide to live on food shipped around the world, you need to keep those regulations).
The pressure was on to pick the right food truck, this being my first taste of street food in the Twin Cities. Not that I would judge the entire region by one choice, but a good first impression goes a long way.
Perhaps I should have done some research for such an important decision, but I decided to trust my instincts. Walking down Marquette, I was drawn to Hola Arepa and their take on Venezuelan street food.
I ordered the slow-roasted pork arepa with black beans and cotija cheese. An arepa is a cornmeal bread fried on a griddle and then stuffed. Cotija cheese is a hard cow’s milk cheese named for a town in Mexico.
Excellent first impression!
The arepa is similar to the pupusa I had in Portland. Pupusas originate in El Salvador and use two flat cornmeal “cakes” to made a sandwich. In the case of the cart in Portland, the family had emigrated from El Salvador and a cart made it possible for them to run their own business – the classic American dream.
As I was enjoying my arepa, I heard a customer ask how much longer they were going to be out here. I thought they meant for the day, but then I heard the response, “Till the end of the month. Maybe into November if winter holds off.”
I grew up in Minnesota. I know what winters are, but I hadn’t thought about the trucks going into hibernation. I’ve mentioned my problem with panic eating before, but you have to admit I am justified this time – I have only a couple weeks to work my way through the food trucks of the Twin Cities or wait until spring. Spring! Do you know how far away spring is in Minnesota?
So to all the chains and other restaurants fearing the competition from the food trucks, I suggest you spend the winter working on your game. Make me a slow-roasted pork sandwich as good as the one from Hola Arepa and I might walk all 101 feet to your door.