Operating out of everything from jazzed-up Jurgens caravans to flashy Ford RVs, food trucks are putting tread to tar in food capitals including New York, London and, most recently, Cape Town. Ilana Sharlin takes to the road

It all started with tacos.

It all started with tacos. Before the American gourmet food truck craze officially kicked off in LA, taco trucks were a regular sight around the city. Parked at construction sites, they provide cheap, convenient, mostly Mexican food to blue-collar workers. But in 2008, two enterprising Angelenos upped the concept with Kogi BBQ which served innovative Mexican-Korean fusion food from the hatch of a seriously styled truck that was fitted with a restaurant kitchen, and had a lively social media presence. Soon, Kogi and other trucks were on the roll with quality eats, stopping outside office buildings by day, and clubs by night.

Description: The Soft Machine sells innovatively flavored heritage-themed soft serve

The Soft Machine sells innovatively flavored heritage-themed soft serve

The concept quickly went viral, spreading to other cities such as San Francisco, Portland and New York. Americans couldn’t get enough of this fun, delicious and healthier alternative to fast food. Gourmet food trucks became the biggest food trend in years, giving rise to offshoots including food truck festivals, where trucks would feed crowds of foodies with everything from braised pork belly on steamed Chinese buns, to double-chocolate and sea salt ice cream sandwiches, and ultimately even a reality TV show called The Great Food Truck Race.

The mobile food trend has been driven by many elements. An ailing economy has made the restaurant industry an even tougher business for chefs to gain entry to, and innovative restaurant food is becoming much less reachable for cash-strapped foodies. Gourmet food trucks also allow chefs to reinvent old favorites in a fun, casual environment, with some even focusing exclusively on one item they are passionate about, such as bacon or cupcakes. As trucks rove city streets, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have fuelled loyal followings with up-to-the-minute tweets about truck locations and menu items.

Description: Tomato sauce and a cucumber and pickled onion relish

Tomato sauce and a cucumber and pickled onion relish

Now, the trend has reached Cape Town, and a convoy of caravans, trailers and trucks is forming. While some issues of operational and parking permits still need to be ironed out, the frontrunners of this movement are certain it will grip Cape Town, and ultimately other South African cities. They are loving the freedom of being creative on a smaller scale, as well as the interaction with customers – something that chefs tucked away in restaurant kitchens often miss out on. For now, they are more likely to be found at markets, festivals and private function, but keep your eye on the road… they’re just around the corner.

Detour espresso bar

The sea lured part-time barista and full-time surfer Marck Baxter back to Cape Town after 25 years in northern Canada. Now, he keeps things real and frothy from his compact trailer overlooking the breathtaking stretch of coastline between Oudekraal and Bakoven. Detour is a popular morning stop for daily commuters and java lovers, who can’t help but chat with this laidback Clifton-born dude while he expertly runs a Brazilian blend from Cattura through his San Marco machine. Baxter prefers nature and a friendly communal vibe to pretentious coffee culture, and wants “everyone to feel they’re worthy of a good cup of coffee.” Where else can you watch dolphins frolic while you sip a flat white?


Cinematographer Lee Doig, who worked on American TV series Survivor for 10 years, and business partner San Kelly knew that food on Cape Town’s movie sets could be much better. Together with Napoli-born chef Luca Castiglione of Limoncello restaurant, they’ve lauched the first in their fleet of trucks. “We want to grow the culture of food trucks; maybe even create a Food Truck Trail,” says Kelly, who adds that “people are breaking the rules about how food businesses are done”. Gone are the erstwhile chairs and double bed of Limoncello’s 1978 Ford RV, which now boasts a sleek galley kitchen with an oven for baking pastries and pizzas. Food is rustic Italian, with chocolate-chip pastry sticks, thin-crust breakfast pizzas topped with egg and ham or smoked salmon, calzones and pastas, such as penne with braised lamb.

Neighbourgoods Market, Biscuit Mill, Woodstock. Open Saturdays. Caters festivals and private parties

Die Wors-Rol

This ain’t no Boerewors cart, nor does it serve first-date food! From a trailer dubbed Betsie, sourced from a second-hand lot in the Strand, chef Bertus Basson of Stellenbosch’s Overture Restaurant, along with assistant Willem Folscher, wow festival- and party- goers with one simple, straightforward item. Basson’s gourmet roll holds a gargantuan 22 cm, hand-made, 100 percent pork, additive-free Frankfurter with an addictive crunch from local Sweetwell Farm. It’s smothered with his mother’s signature “die wonder” mustard sauce – “the first thing she taught me to make” – as well as tomato sauce, and tangy cucumber relish, and comes with thrice-fried golden potato wedges reminiscent of great Roasties, all nestled in a funky, recyclable cardboard dish. “I always wanted to get involved with food on the move, and do something tongue-in-cheek and fun,” says Bertus.

Description: Die Wors-Rol’s mascot Betsie is emblazoned across the canary-yellow trailer

Die Wors-Rol’s mascot Betsie is emblazoned across the canary-yellow trailer

Lady Bonin’s tea parlour

Jessica Bonin has always been a tea drinker, but says that before her mobile tearoom, she only knew teabags. Her desire to create a tea haven led to a crash course in tea and a search for an affordable venue. She converted a 1975 Jurgens caravan she found in Krugersdorp into her Boho tea Parlor, and launched a mission “to get traditional tea-drinking to fit into a modern lifestyle.” While she gets the odd request for “ordinary tea,” she can charm even the most tealeaf-phobic with organic and Fairtrade teas directly sourced from farms, and brewed to order in a mug infuser. Her favorite is Pai MuTan, a smooth Chinese white tea that ‘taste like liquid silk,” but there are many other exotics, like Yerba Mate and Moroccan Mint. Just opened: her “stationary” tearoom in the Woodstock Industrial Centre

Neighbourgoods Market, Biscuit Mill, Woodstock. Open Saturdays. Caters to festivals and private parties

The soft machine

Creative marketing man Donald Swanepoel enlisted friend and innovative chef Kobus van der Merwe to come up with grow-up-tasting soft-serve ice cream free of the nasty additives of childhood favorites. It made sense to put their new venture on wheels, as “there’s a classic connection between soft-serve and being mobile,” says Swanepoel. Van der Merwe dove into the challenge of creating a thin custard base infused with natural flavors, smooth enough to go through a soft-serve machine. Each heritage-themed ice cream has a partner, such as moerkeffie with cinnamon spice snaps, sweet corn with tomato jam, and caramel with Mebos brittle, and flavors are delicate and true without being overly sweet. Swanepoel says they’re looking into more soft treats like sweet-and-savory candy floss and gourmet marshmallows.

Neighbourgoods Market, Biscuit Mill, Woodstock. Open Saturdays. Casters to private parties

Description: The Soft Machine is a collaboration between West Coast chef Kobus van der Merwe and marketing maestro Donald Swanepoel

The Soft Machine is a collaboration between West Coast chef Kobus van der Merwe and marketing maestro Donald Swanepoel

Northern Exposure

Meanwhile, up in Joburg, the mobile food movement, while still in its infancy, is slowly gaining traction.

Full of beans

Pioneered by Brazilian-born Marcio Mordoh and his wife Teresa, Full of Beans brings quality Cuppa Joes to Joburgers, courtesy of a retro-chic, three-wheeled Piaggio TriVespa scooter. The pint-sized trike purveys everything from skinny lattes to creamy cappuccinos made with coffee supplied by TriBeCa, as well as an array of cheerily decorated doughnuts and crumbly croissants.

Description: Full of Bean’s Marcio Mordoh

Full of Bean’s Marcio Mordoh

Long Tom

Inspired by New York’s ubiquitous hot-dog vendor stands, Glenn Scharrer set up his first mobile food stand in Sandton last year. The fir-engine red, two-wheeled trailer pleases punters with its assortment of American-style hotdogs, ruler-length boerie-rolls, steak rolls and “Cheezas”.

Corner 11th Street and Marie Road, Parkmore, Sandton; tel: (011) 706-7268. Casters to private parties, events and festivals

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