Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Food Trucks in Bangalore: In HBL's Blink

Food trucks that sell burgers and hotdogs and steaks are apparently all the rage in Bengaluru. A feature in The Hindu Businessline's BLink supplement this week. It was sweet of them to mention that I am the editor of The Forager. But, but, there is a horrible typo that they seem to just not change online. Grrr.

Read the story here. Or see below.


How does one keep up with food trends? If there is the mysterious floating foam of liquid nitrogen in molecular gastronomy one season, there is the back-to-basic flavours of greasy ‘dude food’ that trends for the next, each preceded by the now ubiquitous hashtag. Perhaps the latter is a nod to the ‘all-American man’ — slouched on a sofa with cold beer in hand and boxes of pizza or a burger in front — popularised by generic Hollywood offerings. Dude food — or burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches, nachos, BBQ-ed steaks and an in-house special or two — make up the standard menu on a food truck, where the fluff of restaurants is trimmed to highlight just the food.

Bengaluru has 18 registered already, out of which one is an ice-cream truck. Several have been started by former corporate employees, lured away from regular paycheques by a love for food and the promise of a receptive market. Some are trained chefs, others good home-cooks. Operating with minimum staff, they front the desk, so to speak, cooking up a storm around the city, at concert venues and even private parties.

The investment to fabricate a truck and turn it into a mobile canteen can vary widely. Siddhanth Sawkar, co-owner of The Spitfire BBQ truck, built the vehicle himself, at a cost of ₹11 lakh. “We have a fabrication unit, so this was a piece of cake,” he says. Shakti Subbarao’s Gypsy Kitchen, one of the other popular food trucks in town, is a year and a half old. He stations his truck — fabricated at a cost of ₹8.5 lakh — at HSR Layout in the south-east of the city. Fuel Up, co-owned by Deepthi Das and her husband Jaisimha, cost them ₹36 lakh, because “we got a brand new truck,” said Jaisimha. Several buy and modify second-hand trucks, he said, adding that there are rules against using second-hand trucks to sell food if they have been used to ferry passengers and/or goods. Without hefty rents and by mostly cooking the food themselves, revenues are in the range of ₹3-8 lakh per month, all three say.

Food trucks, however, remain in a grey area of the business because of the near-absence of laws regarding this new entrant to the food industry. Subbarao told me that apart from the standard food licence, there should be a permit from the city municipal corporation to park these trucks in different neighbourhoods and from the RTO for modifications made to the vehicles. But provisions for the latter two don’t exist “yet,” he said. It is an issue Das is trying to resolve, having started The Food Truck Association, a nationwide body that already has 80-plus members, mostly from the metros. The municipal corporation in Gurgaon is soon going to consider food trucks as commercial establishments, which will be a relief to owners who have to battle against frequent complaints from residents for ‘taking up too much parking space’ and occasional harassment from the authorities. Das said that Mumbai is also considering introducing guidelines and laws, and it should soon happen in Bengaluru as well.

In Bengaluru, these three food trucks — and others like De3, The SWAT Truck, Off Road Food Truck — are starting to build what might soon turn out to be a community of food truckers. Das said that he has seen a phenomenal increase in the number of food trucks opening for business in the last four months alone. “… I know of six more trucks that are being fabricated as we speak. We share staff, when there is a need,” he said.

As a community, they plan to rent out large grounds for events. Later this month, nine food trucks will gather at a common venue. An annual food carnival is also on the cards. Fuel Up also creates a personalised menu for private parties, though their regular haunts are tech parks, where they offer healthier options like salads and sandwiches. According to Das, their goal is to bring “gourmet food onto the streets.”

Experimenting with the sauces, adding new flavours to regular hotdogs — New York-style one day, Vietnamese the next — in-house specialities like pork ribs and fried Oreos are how USPs are created. The frequent changes in menu ensure that customers keep coming back. People from different age groups and earning brackets — several of whom turn into regulars — can easily afford to eat at the trucks.

Indian cities and street food have an intrinsic connection. But these trucks stand apart not only for their eye-catching get-up but also the food they offer. For the well-travelled city slicker, it is a slice of New York in namma Bengaluru.

Deepa Bhasthi is a writer and the editor of 'The Forager', an online quarterly journal on food politics

(This article was published on November 6, 2015)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liked this article on BL ink. But i want more qualitative information like this as i want to start my own food truck business. If you can help it out.