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Friday, August 9, 2013

Vancouver Street Food - A Rant

It's been 3 years since Vancouver started allowing food carts on the streets of our city.  Admittedly I had hoped to enjoy more of them by now, but with the majority of them being downtown and my work not ... well it's not been easy.  And if I'm being honest, those few times I've managed to go have not been the stellar food-loving experiences I've hope for.

I have two simple rules when it comes to street food (yes, I am the almighty creator of the rules for street food ... now you know):

Rule #1:  You should be able to eat it with one hand.  Holding the item (wither wrapped or in a container) with one hand while eating it with the other (wither with the fingers or a utensil) is acceptable.
This seems like a pretty obvious one to me.  It's called "street food" meaning you should be able to eat it while you are standing on the street (or sidewalk as the case may be).  Things like sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, fish balls on a stick, etc. are perfect.  Boxes of noodles (e.g. mee goreng), fish and chips in a paper cone, also work.

However, a plate of food that requires you to find an outdoor table or sit on the sidewalk and use a knife and fork do not.   I've seen some carts try and circumvent this rule by building a small patio onto their cart complete with tables and chairs.  Nice try, but much like how your elementary school teacher treated chewing gum, unless there's enough for everyone you've got to get rid of it.

Rule #2:  You should be able to order, purchase and receive your food in as short a time as possible.

The majority of food carts in Vancouver are in the downtown core.  It stands to reason.  There are a lot of people looking for lunch in the downtown core, so putting your food cart there makes good sense.  So why do so many many cart owners fail to realize most people only have one hour for lunch?  3 years ago I experienced a 20 minute wait for a dessert cr√©pe.  Yesterday, I waited over 35 minutes for a sandwich.  It was a damn good sandwich, but I was with my wife who needed to get back to work.

Now before you food cart owners start flooding my inbox with hate emails, I understand you have limited space, and limited facilities.  I do not care.  I didn't decide to go into the food cart business; you did.  Besides, there are many other food cart owners who seem to have it figured out.  2 or 3 items on your menu are all you need.  Beverages?  Canned pop, bottled water, and one type of specialty drink (pre-made) will suffice.

My wife and I just spent the BC Day weekend in Portland and marvelled at the variety and quality of food carts in their downtown core.  We stopped at The People's Pig for a quick snack.  They offered 4 sandwiches, and we received our food five minutes after ordering it.  One guy was working the kitchen.  In fairness it was a Sunday so I expect mid week, lunch hour waits would be longer ... but nowhere near what I experienced at lunch yesterday.

What I fear is that Vancouver's food cart scene has become more about coming up with "creative" items than making sure the basics "rules" of food carts are being met.  It's important to remember that food carts are supposed to be filling a niche not filled by conventional restaurants.  If they're not, they're simply  a restaurant without walls, ceiling floor, tables, chairs, lighting, etc ... and for that, I can picnic.


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