Street food has a bad reputation. What I mean by street food is vendors who use carts or trucks to sell food to customers. Typically you see this in big cities like Calgary and Vancouver, and most of the time it’s hot dogs being peddled to pedestrians.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve always loved street food, even what my friends in Vancouver and I called “street meat.” I have a weakness for hot sauce soaked shawarma, and seaweed topped Japa dogs. But I was exposed to a whole new world of street food when I crossed the border by train and made my way to Portland.
I’m sure people are now getting sick of hearing of all the great and wonderful things that are going on in Portland, but street food is something that city has embraced in a big way. There are trucks (similar to the truck that Bite uses) parked on street corners and parking lots throughout the city. But they aren’t just selling Oscar Meyer wieners, they are selling tacos, schnitzelwich (a breaded pork-cutlet with homemade horseradish and a paprika spread served on a soft roll), stuffed pita called Burek and good ol’ Texas barbecue.
As a foodie and a cook, there is something remarkable to me about creating a simple and delicious dish that can be eaten either with your hands or minimal cutlery. The reality TV show Top Chef often challenges its contestants to create street food, and many fail miserably because they can’t strip down their gourmet ways and simplify. Sometimes simpler food doesn’t necessarily mean easier food.
Street food isn’t really a new concept. Through out Southeast Asia and Mexico, street food is where people meet for lunch or grab a bite on the way home from a night out with friends.
When I was living in Victoria last year, food carts became a hot topic. Cities like Portland have created multiple page policies to help properly implement the use of food carts. The City of Victoria needed to become creative in addressing the late night issues that arise when hordes of people pour out of nightclubs and pubs at closing time. Street food became part of the solution.
What typically happens in Victoria is that after people leave the clubs they make their way to a 99 cent pizza joint, order a big pile of greasy pizza, and then loiter outside with their friends, and 50 to 60 other people until the police clear the crowd. There are often fights and things get pretty loud.
In the interest of dispersing the crowds, it was suggested that food carts be spread throughout the downtown core to move people always from the typical hotspots.
Victoria’s Red Fish, Blue Fish has even appeared on the Food Network’s Eat Street.
Now, imagine how thrilled I was when on the first day I pulled in to Nelson and I saw Bite, and then recently heard about Bean Here Now, which operates out of a trailer on Josephine. There are food carts right here in Nelson.
Food carts (and coffee carts) are about more than settling a growling tummy, it’s about community. Once you place your order, and you’re standing waiting with other hungry customers, there is an opportunity to start a conversation. Often, if you become a return customer, you’ll notice other return customers, and there will be a little lunch club starting.
Next time you’re out and about, in Nelson or even in Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary or beyond, and you smell the salty fragrance of hot dogs wafting down the road, don’t recoil in horror; give in and give street food, and maybe even street meat a chance.