food trucks

The pop-up letter shop

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This is the best idea I've heard of in a long time. In Seattle, USA, a woman named Rachel Weil has launched a snail-mail truck, known as The Letter Farmer. Like a food truck, you know, but serving up food for the soul (awwwww).

She has fitted out a beautiful, red truck with all kinds of carefully selected stationery supplies - pens, paper, cards, stamps, even sealing wax, and hits the road every day. Wherever she stops, she sets up some tables and chairs outside, provides free postcards (and postage!), and invites people to start writing. She keeps a stack of prompts - people to write to and things to write - for those who are stuck.

When they're done, folks can even pop their missives into the post box attached to her truck.

Rachel says, "Sharing the narrative of our life through pen and paper as they meet and the nuances of our handwriting, paper selection and an envelope is addressed, stamped and mailed is priceless and timeless. Letters can be reread over and over, giving us the opportunity to have voices of our past speak again. Holding and touching something that someone who is either no longer with us or geographically far away is a way that we can feel physical connection with that person."

Can you imagine how fantastic this would be in your city, turning up at parks and carnivals and open spaces? How perfectly would it fit in at a food-truck festival! The Letter Farmer would be my dream business, except that I never have managed to master the art of hook turns in Melbourne. Maybe Australia Post could launch a fleet of these mobile shops, and bring their business to the people...

Here's an article about The Letter Farmer in the Seattle Times

Image credit: all photographs are from The Letter Farmer website

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Back to food trucks

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Today I'm dipping back into an old, semi-regular kind of post I used to do: a celebration of food trucks. If you're interested, here are all the food trucks I visited back then.

For me it all started when we moved here from Interstate four years ago. It was late summer, I was about two-thirds through my first pregnancy, and it was the sixth interstate or international move we'd made in 18 months. When you move to a completely new city that many times, you get pretty good at learning how to turn "a place" into "a home." I'm not just talking about your house or apartment here, I'm talking about your neighbourhood. I have worked from home for the past 15 years, so I don't have the opportunity to make friends and learn about my city through co-workers. I've got to do the legwork myself and, since we only have one car and Mr B needs that for work, it is literally legwork.

A friend told us, "I've heard that if you walk all the way to the end of your street, there's a taco truck that parks up there at night." I became a little obsessed with this promise. I mean I like tacos (who doesn't?), but I fixated on the mysterious taco truck to a probably overly-excessive degree. To me it represented the first entry in my mental collection of "Stuff I Like About My Neighbourhood," which is a very important collection to start when you move somewhere new.

I think my daughter was about six weeks old when I finally caught up with the taco truck, although it wasn't at the end of our street (those darned things have wheels, and it's harder than you think to track them down in the right place at the right time). I had made a new friend and she and I pushed our prams (her son was about two) north along Lygon Street for several kilometres. The traffic was loud and there were all kinds of building works going on so we walked single file and couldn't chat. The truck location was a lot further than I'd anticipated. Scout started crying for a feed, my friend's son was wiggling and fidgeting and decidedly over being strapped into a pram, and still we were walking.

But when finally, finally we made it to the dingy little park outside of which the truck was parked, there were pockets of people milling around. Eating, chatting, lining up for more. Picnic rugs covering dubious patches of grass. Plastic wine glasses and soda bottles with striped straws. People in suits perched on a low wall, bending over their little cardboard plates so that taco juice wouldn't drip onto their nice clothes. Someone somewhere was playing a guitar. Oh and the tacos were really good (especially the fish ones).

It was the sense of "instant community" that got me hooked on food trucks that day, even more than the food itself. The fact that they can roll up there somewhere not particularly pretty, most often a car park or the side of a nondescript street, and can, by way of a colourful awning and a great-smelling kitchen-on-wheels, create community. And so it started for me.

My food truck hunt slowed down somewhat (alright it pretty much stopped) after I had Ralph. It gets a whole lot harder to schlep around town when you have not only a newborn, but also an 18-month-old who only recently started walking. Double prams are not the most mobile of beasts, and timing long outings around competing nap times and feed times and little legs wanting to run just got too hard. This also coincided with Yarra Council (the area where I live) making it increasingly difficult for food trucks to operate in our area, so I tended to have to travel further afield to find them. I visited a few food truck parks, and even the street food festival last year, and it's kind of great having all the trucks gathered together, but that's a) a different kind of community, and b) even I can only sample just so many types of foods in the one meal (especially if I have to individually line up for each one).

But then a few months ago we ducked into a shopping centre to visit the Apple store and, lo and behold, there was a veritable food truck bonanza parked out behind the supermarkets and greengrocers. I left my family waiting inside with the air conditioning (it was 39 degrees that day) and temporarily dipped back into Food Truck Land just for that one afternoon.

What we ate:

* From Wingster's Grilled Chicken: a burger with buttermilk chicken (because the wings weren't ready yet) and a spicy sauce I can't remember (but it was good), and fries * From the Real Burgers: a classic weiner (because I am a rebel and also it looked and tasted so good) and fries * From the Refresher Truck: a (virgin) piña colada, and a "green power"

Ah, I'd missed the smoky deliciousness in the air, and the comforting rumble of those generators.

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Home delivery coffee

coffee Dear entrepreneurs and cafe-owners of Melbourne, here is a business idea. Consider it a gift from me to you.

Home delivery coffee.

Allow me to put my case.

Imagine, if you will, the thousands upon thousands of parents, grandparents, friends and nannies in Melbourne right now who have spent all day chasing after babies and toddlers. Anyone who has done this knows how BEHOND EXHAUSTING it is to do. And now imagine this occurring on the back of a night of little or at best broken sleep. Make that THREE AND A HALF YEARS of little or at best broken sleep, night after night.

And now imagine that at around two o’clock in the afternoon, by some happy confluence of hard work, planning, and sheer dumb luck, those babies and toddlers actually fall asleep for a nap. In their own beds. At the same time.

And so all those thousands upon thousands of parents, grandparents, friends and nannies who have spent all day chasing after all those babies and toddlers FINALLY get a chance to sit down. They know they should be cleaning, or working, or folding washing, or calling their mothers. But they are just so mind-numbingly exhausted that all they can do is sit and stare at that stain on the lounge-room rug left over from the Great Banana Mush Incident of ’13.

Do you know what they would love right now? Coffee. They would really, really love a nap-time coffee. Some might even kill for it, and most would probably pay through the nose for it.

But - and here’s the kicker - even if they had the energy to walk, they couldn't leave the house to buy it. The babies and toddlers are asleep, remember?

Now if someone was to develop an app via which all those people could ORDER a coffee, and have a barista with a coffee cart rock up at their home a few minutes later... Well, that person may well be in line to make their first million.

Just a suggestion.

Image credit: Lesly Juarez, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

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Meals on Wheels - Sliders on Tyres

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According to my two-and-a-half year old daughter, everything tastes better when it is little. So when we were choosing a food truck at the International Street Food Festival* on the weekend, Sliders on Tyres seemed the obvious choice.

For $14, you get a tray of two sliders plus hand-cut chips. I chose the Fisherman (spiced calamari) and Classic Cheeseburger (pulled beef) and let's just say I didn't regret it (read: I inhaled both). The chips were good too, although I submit Evidence A above that I hadn't even finished taking the photographs before the thievery began. I hope they're still making The Boss (pork sausage) the next time I find this food truck, because that looked rather tasty too.

I'm no food writer so I'm not going to try to describe these burgers because I wouldn't do them justice but let's just say that BOTH were up there with the best I've tasted in a long, long time. Also, I present Exhibit B in evidence that the chips were, well, see for yourself!

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* Ok the International Street Food Festival. It was… ok, but WAY too expensive. We went along on a whim and, since we couldn't all fit in the car, I took Em and the kids and Mr B took a taxi. When we got there I realised I didn't have cash for parking, so we all got out of the car and loaded both children into the pram and tried to walk through the parking gate. Only to be told by the guys at the gate that we couldn't walk through and instead had to go around and that it was a three kilometre walk. Tried to call Mr B in his taxi but couldn't get through. Started to unpack food for kids to keep them happy during a 3k walk at their lunch time. Ralph started screaming. Guys at parking gate took pity on us and said ok, you can go through. (BLESS THEM!) Packed kids back into car, both protesting loudly. Found parking space, got kids back into pram (more protests). Got to gate, lined up for tickets, only to discover that they were $36 per adult. Doesn't that seem a bit rich to you? But by then I was damned if I was giving up and putting those children back into the car so I forked out and found a spot on the grass to feed my starving kids. The result is that we spent more than $100 for access to what essentially we can find for free at any given day at Edinburgh Gardens or Yarraville or the Batman Market, not to mention Trailer Park at Village Melbourne. Apparently there were some good bands playing, but by the time we'd gone through all of that and eaten our lunch it was time to get the children home for their naps, so I didn't get to hear them. If you'd like a better review of this event, Dee from Wild about Melbourne was there too. Wish I'd seen her!

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Meals on Wheels - Treat Yo Self

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A couple of weeks ago we headed over to the new Batman Market at Coburg and let me tell you one thing for free: it was street food heaven.

We were there quite early, at about 9.30am, but already a string of food trucks had formed a wonky kind of circle at one end of the market, and the air was filled with wood smoke and coal smoke and the scent of things cooking. Delicious things. Mr B inhaled as though he was just coming up from a long dive and said, "It smells like South America here." Which is one of his highest compliments.

We spent a bit of time exploring to try and build up an appetite, then gave it up for a lost cause and stopped for a ridiculously early lunch. I'm talking 11am or something. Maybe even earlier. But we have babies who need naps and I wasn't going to miss out on tasting at least one of those truck menus before we had to head for home.

So we chose the Treat Yo Self Quesadilla Cart, run by two super-friendly ladies who served their quesadillas in toasted tortillas from an adorable, tiny, old-school caravan with (joy of opera-singing choirs) a coffee machine.

I ordered a blueberry and custard dessert quesadilla for a certain hungry two-year-old, and a latte for me. She all but inhaled that quesadilla, so I went back to buy another filled with nutella and banana, at which point Mr B and I were all "what the hey, let's do this," so we bit the bullet and called it lunch.

My quesadilla was made with black beans, tomato, onion, cheese and green salsa and yes, it was every bit as good as it sounds.

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ps. More food trucks of Melbourne

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Meals on Wheels - Let's Do Yum Cha

yumcha2 yumcha3 yumcha1Sometimes ideas come at you and you can't think where they came from or why they decided to show up but, what the hey, you figure you might as well go with them anyway. That is the story of our night picnic. The Let's Do Yum Cha food truck parks outside our local park every Sunday. Last weekend Madeleine slept extra late during her afternoon nap, so we figured she could have a late night and we'd head on over for a picnic in the dark.

It didn't seem like that big a deal when I suggested it but, as our family was walking along the empty street by just the light of the street-lamps, bundled up to the nines against the icy autumn wind, with Madeleine exclaiming an astonished "Night! Night!" every few steps, the strangeness of the outing began to seep in.

Then as we turned into our friendly, much-used and oh-so-familiar park, it felt positively eerie. The park was not bathed in soft moonlight, nor lit by elegantly-placed garden lamps. It was a well of black and deeper black, the shifting leaves above alive with the wind and the squeak of fruit bats. A ring-tail possum ran ahead of us as we searched for a place in the grass to lay our rug. In the end, we chose a spot right next to the road, to take advantage of the nearby street light and avoid having to walk too far with our dumplings.

So, the Let's Do Yum Cha food truck: think steamed dumplings and dim sum, pork buns and spring rolls. We bought about six different styles, because none of us is good at editing when it comes to food choices! It was super fresh and super delicious and I will definitely be stopping by this truck again, but next time I'll do it in the day time… or take it back to my cosy and well-lit home.

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The Food Justice Truck

market-produce truck-asrc-justiceIt's no secret I'm a fan of a good food truck. I've been slowly eating my way through a good number of them, and you can share that journey with me if you want to, here. But this may well be the best food truck idea yet.

Called the Food Justice Truck, it is a social-enterprise initiative of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), and the goal is to make fresh, healthy food available to asylum-seeker communities who could otherwise simply not afford it.

Riddle me this. On average, it costs $130 a week for an Australian adult to eat well. Most asylum seekers have about $20 a week to spend on food. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that you have $110 worth of hunger and chronic malnutrition going on right there. In our back yard. On our watch.

The Food Justice Truck will buy locally-sourced, ethically and sustainably produced fruit and vegetables, then resell them in asylum-seeker communities at a 75 percent discount on the rates they'd pay in the shops. In effect, asylum seekers will be able to buy $80 worth of healthy food for themselves and their families, for $20.

By using the truck to get around to communities where the greatest numbers of asylum-seekers are congregated, they estimate they'll be able to help bring healthy food to 2000 asylum-seekers a month. This little video helps explain it all.

If you think this is a great idea, too, you can donate to help them buy a truck and get started via their crowd funding page. If you can't afford to donate but still want to help, how about spreading the word? Let's help get the Food Justice Truck on the road!

Image credits: food truck is a screen shot from the promo video above; market produce is by Natalie Maynor, licensed under Creative Commons

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Melbourne dispatch - Fat Tuesday

MardiGras5Happy Mardi Gras! It was Fat Tuesday yesterday, according to the good folks at Gumbo Kitchen, so they threw a shindig that involved bands and buskers and dancers and beads and picnics and sunshine and a second line marching band that led everybody, Pied Piper-style, down the tree-lined path beside the Melbourne Cemetery, and back again. MardiGras4 MardiGras10↑↑ We arrived just as the sun set and the band was warming up, so we were all over the marching and dancing right away. Madeleine busted her best "twirl" moves, which made forward motion somewhat challenging, so I had to keep picking her up and running through the grass to catch up with everyone else.

MardiGras6 MardiGras3 MardiGras2↑↑ Back at the cemetery gates, we settled in for a picnic while buskers entertained us from under a nearby tree and the sun set behind the little semi-circle of food trucks that kept everyone happy and well fed.

I'm recovering from a stomach bug so wasn't eating, but for everyone else, there was delicious fare from Gumbo Kitchen (of course), Beatbox Kitchen and the Brulee Cart for desert. Mr B opted instead for a piece of giant, doughnut-shaped cinnamon cake that was dressed in purple, green and gold icing. Is this a Mardi Gras thing? Does anyone know?

MardiGras9 MardiGras8MardiGras1↑↑ You've never seen a child happier with three strings of coloured beads than my little Madeleine, but she was generous enough to share them with her baby brother (despite his mild consternation and ultimately-futile protests).

MardiGras7↑↑ When Way Past Bedtime started to take its toll on both children, we bundled them into the pram. Jazz bands were preparing to take to the main stage, a few people were already up and dancing again in the grass. It looked like loads of fun.

That night, walking through Carlton North under old trees and past even older buildings, the ferocity all gone out of the sun and cats starting to roam the alleyways... walking with my family as Mr B hummed and Harry sucked his fingers and Madeleine waved her beads in the air... that was one of those sublime "grateful" moments that took me back here all over again. Perfect.

ps. About the photos... Apologies that the quality isn't great. My camera is in being repaired so I borrowed my father's old camera, BUT I managed to bring the good lens and forget to bring the actual camera, AND earlier the same day my iPhone died... so I was snapping away on Mr B's old phone.

ps2. Want to see us at Fat Tuesday, last year?

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Meals on Wheels - Round the Way Bagel Burgers

Bagels1You like bagels. You like burgers. Now imagine combining the two. Genius! That's what you'll find at the Round the Way food truck: toasted bagels with a range of delicious fillings. It's breakfast, it's lunch, it's any meal you darn well want. We cruised on over to Round the Way at the farmers' market on the banks of the beautiful Lake Wendouree on the weekend, on our way to visit Sovereign Hill. I was in a brunch mood and was dreaming about a classic toasted sesame-seed bagel with cream cheese (my go-to breakfast from the Thompson Cafe downstairs in my building when I lived in SoHo).

Unfortunately the friendly Round the Way fellas were way too sophisticated for that so, instead, I 'settled' for a slightly sweet filling of orange and chia-seed cream cheese. Let the person who didn't get so stuck into her bagel that she forgot to photograph it until half way through the meal complain about that!

Other options on the menu for the day were mixed berry cream cheese; smoked salmon with capers, red onion, fresh dill, rocket and cream cheese; a good old BLAT; grilled sheep-cheese with rocket, tomato and beetroot pesto; and a grilled chicken bagel with spiced Cuban rum, lettuce, tomato and lime mayonnaise.

Oh and freshly squeezed orange juice, to perfect the breakfast experience. We took our juices and bagels down to a bridge by the lake so Madeleine could watch the swans, and I promise I didn't throw anything to the ducks. Not even a crumb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI'm eating my way through the wares of all the food trucks in Melbourne. Here's where I'm up to so far. The things I do for you guys.

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Meals on Wheels - Trailer Made

TrailerMade2Once upon a time a little family was driving along a drab and dreary section of Lygon Street on their way to buy groceries. Suddenly, amid the gloom of traffic and medium-rise building construction and set against the backdrop of a new and used tyre warehouse, they caught a glimpse of the shiny new Trailer Made food truck. So we parked the car and decamped for a mid-afternoon lunch.

TrailerMade3 TrailerMade4 TrailerMade5 TrailerMade1One of Melbourne's newest food trucks, Trailer Made doesn't stick to just one style of food or any particular region, instead serving up food inspired by the owners' travels throughout Europe, China and Korea, visiting street vendors and hawkers' markets.

Case in point: on the menu today were latkes (a kind of potato cake normally enjoyed during Hanukkah) served up with smoked salt and slaw; spiced chickpeas with Turkish yoghurt and cucumber salad; Israeli chicken skewers with corn sauce and cous cous; and a beef bun that had sold out by the time we got there.

We found a grubby little park not far away, complete with a teeny-tiny playground that made my little girl very happy indeed, and turned the afternoon into a last-minute picnic.

I invite you to admire Mr B's order of Israeli chicken, smothered in a homemade chilli sauce and definitely admired by Madeleine (who later helped herself to fistfuls of corn and giant couscous). The salad was amazing too.

My potato cakes were full of crispy goodness and I had to share more than I would have liked to with a hungry and adventurous little toddler. Thanks to Baby B2 growing happily in my belly I skipped the aioli, but I'm thinking the bed of slaw under the latkes may have been even better without it. Have you ever had salty slaw? Holy moly!

And also, this was THE BEST iced tea I've ever tasted. Even including all those iced teas I downed on my road-trip through the southern states of the USA. Rose water and pomegranate were in there, I don't know what else. I'm going to start experimenting at home because I can't wait for Trailer Made to roll back my way before I have more.

TrailerMade6 TrailerMade7 TrailerMade8 TrailerMade9Trailer Made is all about being responsible and inclusive. “Amy and I have put our heads together to come up with ideas for what we think is important for a business today," Chef Casey Norman says on the Trailer Made website.

"Biodegradable packaging, locally-sourced menu and catering for vegans, vegos, meat eaters, coeliacs and the diversity of food lovers.”

And the sprinkles on top of our impromptu foodie afternoon? My old friend the Brûlée Cart was parked right next to Trailer Made! Behold, once again, the perfect toffee-crack (and behold, one greedy baby trying to steal ALL THE BRÛLÉE from her father).

TrailerMade10 TrailerMade11I love living in the "food truck heartland" of the Inner North. Food trucks make me so happy. Here are some more I've been sampling, if you're interested.

ps. Sorry about the slightly dodgy iPhone photography. I hadn't thought to bring my camera with me on what was meant to be a quick shopping trip to Safeway.

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