Giving dining on the go a new makeover, food trucks in India are offering an exciting new experience, replete with innovative dishes, plating world cuisines, interesting fusion food and an escape from the ordinary.
You’ve spent hours staring at that television screen, salivating at the endless visuals of food being handed out from spruced up trucks abroad, watching home cooks and professional chefs dish out seriously delicious items like escargot puffs, pizzas cooked in wood fired ovens, hot dogs slathered in a variety of sauces, even bacon jam, deep fried marshmallows topped with whipped cream, tacos and fajitas… watching food trucks in action are not just addictive, they’ve given food porn a new definition.
And along with the rest of the world, India too is eagerly surrendering to the heightened food truck frenzy that has captured the attention and cravings of its residents. Metro cities like Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Ahmedabad among others are finding increasing numbers of food trucks plying its roads, especially the corporate hubs.
A New Experience
Brainchild of Jimson Johns and Leoma Dsouza, two young entrepreneurs & chefs who were looking at serving restaurant quality street food in a hygienic manner, started The S.W.A.T Food Truck in December 2015. An acronym for ‘Serving With A Twist’, the chefs have designed a menu that incorporates all the items they crave. “Bengaluru is enjoying the food truck culture as the response has been extremely positive,” say the chefs. “The people are open to trying new food concepts, and accordingly we change our menu, although, certain favourites stay on like the All American Meat Burger and Deep Fried Oreos.”
One of the key points for the success of a food truck is to be able to quickly cook or assemble the dish and serve customers with moderate, if not alarming speed. As crowds often swell, chefs must be able to keep their cool while expediting work at various stations. Due to paucity of space and infrastructure, chefs have a central brick and mortar kitchen where the basic prepping is done, making it easier to serve when on the road.
Even five-star hotels were unable to resist the allure and excitement brought on by the food truck sensation. The Lalit Food Truck Company (TLFTC), launched in 2014 by the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, currently has three trucks pan India serving Mexican cuisine and the fourth truck is an exclusive pizza truck. “Having established The Lalit brand pan India, we wanted to do something different and cater to a wider audience that is constantly on the go,” says Keshav Suri, Executive Director, Lalit Group of Hotels. “Hence, we thought of launching the Lalit Food Truck, bringing affordable luxury not only to our guests, but a larger audience.” Before launching TLFTC, a quick survey revealed the dearth of authentic Mexican food in India. Keeping in mind the similar levels of spice in Mexican and Indian cuisines, TLFTC serves chicken quesadilla with pico de gallo, spiced vegetable tacos, tortilla wraps and Cajun spiced fries. Churros are too on offer.
“The overwhelming response that we received soon after the launch, inspired us to expand it to other cities as well. Our target audience is any food lover on the move and youth across the NCR, who are experimental. We also kept the pricing very competitive, so that more and more people try out Mexican food and pizzas,” adds Suri.
Developing Loyal Customers
Adding another dimension to world cuisine on India’s streets is Le Casse-Croute, a French food truck in Bengaluru. Initiated by French entrepreneurs, the truck received phenomenal response since its launch in September last year. Says Nicolas, co-founder, “At our launch event, we had more than 300 people coming just for us, queuing for over an hour to taste our sandwiches (croque). Now, not every day is like this, but we have a base of loyal customers.” Everything they use is homemade and fresh, be it the bread, mustard, ketchup, aioli, mayonnaise or even pesto, following their philosophy – 100% homemade, 100% local, 100% tasty!
A food truck is more than a pushcart that sells snacks and affordable meals at roadside corners. Apart from becoming a nationwide sensation, this concept developed with the digital age, having been solidified with the popular Chef Roy Choi’s Kogi Truck that served gourmet Korean Tacos in Los Angeles, USA, sending out alerts in the Twitterverse. Food trucks are not always parked in the same spot, they move to different areas according to different time periods in the day or week. Offering street food prepared in a clean environment, customers keep a track of their favourite trucks with the help of the location markers featured on Facebook and/or Twitter profiles, while specialised apps have also been created that dispense information on the food trucks plying in the neighbourhood.
Is it just a fad?
Trends keep changing, and with the rising numbers of ‘foodies’, the food and beverage industry is constantly evolving to keep up with both international and domestic trends. Television shows like Eat St and Hollywood films such as Chef are not just an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs, but pushing diners to break the norm and experiment.
Nicolas opines, “I think the trend started a year and a half before with just a few food trucks. Today, there are more than 30, just in Bengaluru. I think food trucks provide an experience which is quite unique and positioned between the usual street-food and fancy restaurants.”
“People really love the concept,” say the chefs of S.W.A.T. food truck. Whether it is a fad or not, only time will tell. Also, with increasing spending power, food trucks are able to offer more variety and choice to the customer, explains Keshav Suri. “The future of food trucks in India is definitely bright. We have a versatile palate and the street food culture is already quite prevalent,” he further adds.
However, to ensure the food truck phenomenon is not just another blip in culinary history, certain challenges faced by the entrepreneurs must be addressed. Basically a cross between the real brick & mortar restaurants and roadside eateries, food trucks come with their own set of issues. Jimson and Leoma faced a lot of challenges while setting up their regular operations, not to mention the vast legal aspects that come with this endeavour. As permits to licenses being a grey area, it gets really difficult.
Le Casse-Croute too had its own challenges. Nicolas says, “Finding and keeping spots in the city is the main challenge. We face the police and residents have problems to parking issues. So we constantly have to update our locations. It’s difficult to find staff as they’re not very attracted by the food truck concept. Also, we don’t provide accommodation to our staff, which is a common practice in the hospitality business, but we’re trying to fix this issue now.”
What lies ahead?
Being a relatively new sensation, food trucks in India have already started branching out to other F&B verticals. In Metro cities, they are catering at private parties and corporate events, and at food festivals. Case in point, The Lalit Food Truck Company launched their fourth truck, their Pizza Truck, at the recent Grub Fest held in Delhi this March. On this note, Suri states, “These events bring foodies from diverse tastes together and act as a good launchpad venue. Since many participate in the Grub Fest, it is a competitive market and only the tastiest survive.”
Jimson and Leoma add, “We do a lot of private parties and corporate events for IT companies and the city’s elite. Festivals too are a good platform for people to try your food and get to know you as a brand.” Exclusive food truck festivals are even being organised, especially in Bengaluru. In March this year, Food Truck Fiesta 2016 was organised by the Bangalore Food Trucks Association. Offering a delicious and hygienic alternative to street food lovers, food truck festivals have even caught on in Mumbai. Offering a semblance of regularisation, support and on the road to become a bona fide industry of its own, food truck associations are being formed. And not just this, manufacturers are mushrooming across India that provide customised solutions.
Although a food truck entails cheaper costs as compared to a standalone restaurant, it also provides a perfect platform to establish one’s brand and try out innovative menus, before taking the big leap and investing in a brick and mortar establishment. Le Casse-Croute has expanded with a cafe in Bengaluru offering homemade French specialities.
All in all, food trucks not just offer more choice, higher quality street food with gourmet overtones, from sushi to iced popsicles, but bring the chefs closer to his customers, sharing the culinary experience.
Written by Ramya JS D’Rozario