Meals on wheels ... Los Angeles style
Meals on wheels ... Los Angeles style

Los Angeles is in the grip of one of the most democratic food movements on Earth: Food trucks.

These roaming gourmet vans with names like The Greasy Wiener, Lobstatruck, Smokin' Willies, Atomic Hog, Jogasaki Burrito and the famous (as in front page of the New York Times famous) Kogi BBQ have taken mobile food to new heights with daring fusion food - Tex-Mex Korean anyone? - made by great cooks at street prices.

Typically, they are at a different location every day, using Twitter and Facebook to alert fans and foodies to their whereabouts.

Although movie stars and cashed- up foodies are often seen eating at LA food trucks it is the working poor of the city who have given rise to the phenomenon.

The dire economic circumstances and record unemployment in the US have resulted in a rapid uptake of the food trucks' cheap, innovative, cooked-to-order food.

There are more than 200 of them in LA.

Tom Millar, a former Philadelphia real estate agent, made the pilgrimage to California and set up his Slammin' Sliders truck when the bottom fell out of the real estate market two years ago.

His colourful van has been selling chicken sliders with tomato, lettuce, guacamole and chipotle aioli since September.

"We're doin' all right," he said as customers started rolling up for lunch at his parking spot, a disused petrol station just off North La Brea Avenue in Hollywood.

"We buy only the best, we get our buns made specially, we cook properly," Mr Millar enthused.

Sliders, mini-hamburgers for the unvitiated, are the centrepiece of his menu. Pink pepper crusted lobster sliders with lemon chilli sauce, Hawaiian black salt roasted pulled pork sliders with onion crisps and west coast philly steak sandwiches "with all-American cheese" are some of the favourites Mr Millar's fans queue for.

"Man, I know how to cook a Philly cheese steak . . . I'm from Philadelphia," he guffaws.

"There's a lot of trucks making Philly cheese steaks . . . but they've got no idea."

With an exaggerated "Gud die, mate", Mr Millar climbs back into his van to help out his three cooks as they prepare for the rush.

The story of the evolution of the LA food truck is a classic necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention tale.

With the US recession came a slowdown in movie production and many of the craft services and catering trucks which serviced film sets were struggling.

Some turned to cooking on the streets as a way of paying the bills. But it wasn't until Kogi BBQ, the brainchild of a Filipino-American who married into a Korean family, hit its straps three years ago, that food trucks took off.

Kogi BBQ sells brilliant Korean-Tex-Mex fusion food like spicy pork tacos, kimchi quesadillas and short rib sliders.

Its chef Roy Choi was awarded Best New Chef 2010 by US Food & Wine magazine - the first for a food truck and an emphatic vote of confidence in food trucks as providers of real food, not just junk food or burgers.

And it's fusion which drives the cuisine of the Let's Roll It truck.

Father-and-son team Paul and Daniel Lee, both quietly spoken and passionate about their food, are seeking the American dream.

"One day I'd like to franchise Lets Roll It," son Daniel said. "Get a whole bunch of trucks and perhaps even a proper restaurant selling our food."

The Lees and Mr Millar agree that the extraordinary explosion in the number of food trucks in LA is because the food fills a need and a gap in the market. It's exactly the sort of street food that would work in Perth.

Whether it can translate to WA, where conservative local authorities tend to kill off anything new and innovative, is another story. There is another alternative.

"Sure, I could come and bring my sliders to Oz," Mr Millar said.

The West Australian

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