The widespread phenomenon of street food, a common feature of many big cities worldwide, may be improperly regarded as a recent response to the eating needs of an increasingly fast-paced society. Truth be told, the century-old history of this particular culinary trend is rooted in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire: traces of a fast food business were found, for example, during excavations at the archaeological site in Pompeii.
In the U.S., allegedly the first food trucks hit the roads of major urban centers on the East Coast in the late 1600s, growing in popularity and thriving until the present day.
From ready-to-eat, simple but tasty meals that often represent the eating habits of a certain culture, such as NYC signature hot dogs or Middle Eastern falafel, the latest evolution of mobile food is made of gourmet recipes and high quality products, a combination that perfectly matches with the basics of internationally acclaimed Italian cuisine. In Italy, where most of the social life happens around a dining table, gourmet street food seems to be a good compromise between a busy routine, reasonable budget, and healthy ingredients. So a few young entrepreneurs, as well as celebrity chefs, have seized the moment by starting their own food truck business, turning traditional and regional dishes into grab-and-go delicacies. Roman-style roast pork, Neapolitan buffalo mozzarella, and Sicilian fried rice balls have now become available in the main streets or squares of Italy and even beyond its borders. In fact, the Italian entrepreneurial spirit and culinary reputation have driven some of our best food trucks to other countries, including the U.S. where, among others, vintage carts of artisanal gelato are having a big success.
Besides high quality food, these mobile restaurants of new generation also show great looks in terms of design, and both aspects will be celebrated on the occasion of the new Street Food Mania festival. Organized in partnership with the French counterpart, the colorful street fest will take place in the town of Assisi, Umbria region, on September 11-13, 2015 and host over 20 food trucks from all across Italy, competing for the “Assisi Food Truck Award.” A similar initiative is represented by the Streeat® Foodtruck Festival, a high-turnout tour that will travel throughout Italy this fall, presenting the typical flatbread from Emilia-Romagna, Tuscan tripe, stuffed olives from Marche, and other low-cost yet exquisite and genuine dishes.
Eventually the street food can even become a lifestyle, as Gabriele Rubini aka chef Rubio has proved in his hit TV show Unti e Bisunti (Greasy & Greasier), focusing on the respect for local cuisines and genuine ingredients.
Chef Rubio, how would you explain the success of street food in Italy, where taking the time to indulge in a nice meal together has always defined social relationships? Does the “gourmet” component make the difference?
Actually street food can be slow as well, if we take the time to indulge in a conversation with the chef. My idea of street food is old school, rather than the latest trend in food trucks. The whole experience depends not only on our relationship with food, but also on our desire to get to know the interlocutor. The success of street food in Italy is due to the economic crisis, which makes us want to save money without giving up quality, and also to the initiative of a few entrepreneurs, who have invested in this profitable business. Good for them!
But is it really possible to combine low-cost fast food with quality ingredients and gourmet recipes?
Street food can definitely be low cost. As for fast, it only regards assembling and delivering, while the preparation, the research for the right ingredients, and even the relationship between the vendor and the customer are very slow. Or at least this is how I see street food.
What is the main feature of Chef Rubio’s street food? And why did you choose this lifestyle, instead of opening your own restaurant?
When I’m invited to participate in street food events, I only replicate dishes that I’ve tasted during my travels, sometimes slightly modifying it with contaminations from world cuisine. I don’t think I’ve created anything; I’ve just witnessed thousands of intertwined traditions. I’m committed to cookery as a whole; only absent-minded people are concerned about the latest trend, instead of looking at the big picture. If I am to embrace world food and culinary habits, I can’t take care of a single restaurant.