Europe’s largest food truck festival comes to Ireland

Food from from 14 countries served at event as Ireland embraces food truck culture

This summer’s food truck festival will serve everything from chocolate to lobster burgers, shark steaks, cuts of crocodile and one truck specialising in insect dishes

This summer’s food truck festival will serve everything from chocolate to lobster burgers, shark steaks, cuts of crocodile and one truck specialising in insect dishes

 

When will the humble chip van become the trendy food truck? They’ve been “the next big thing” on the Irish scene for what feels like a long time. But you’re more likely to encounter a food truck at a festival or a market than pulling up on a street corner to a queue of hungry people gathered in response to a Tweet.

Dubliner Alan Woods is hoping that a food truck festival in Limerick this summer will change all that. After 24 years living in France he returned to Limerick 18 months ago, and set up a food truck called Mexican Food Dudes. Then he persuaded Limerick City Council to set up Street Food Wednesdays on the Boardwalk between May and September. In the winter months they move into the Milk Market.

This June bank holiday weekend will see Limerick going large on food trucks when the European Food Truck Association will bring 60 food trucks from 14 countries to the city’s People’s Park. So what constitutes a food truck?

“It’s not fast food,” Woods explains. “It’s not the type of food you get coming out of a football match or when the pubs close and people pull money out of their pockets and say ‘give me food.’ ... It’s not about opening up a bag of frozen chips and putting them in a fryer.”

In the last five years in France he saw a resurgence of interest in good food served from trucks. This summer’s festival will host trucks serving everything from chocolate to lobster burgers, shark steaks, cuts of crocodile and one truck specialising in insect dishes.

Since the festival was announced this week Woods says he has had Irish food trucks “coming out of the woodwork” and contacting him. He has set up an Irish association to professionalise the business. He estimates there are more than fifty food trucks operating around Ireland today. And he argues that established restaurants shouldn’t feel threatened by the idea. “You only have to ask the restaurants around Mespil Road and Baggot St how busy they are during the Thursday market.” They’ll tell you it’s their busiest day, he says. The area attracts more people because of the choice.

Woods is in talks with Limerick City Council about setting up a permanent street food area in Limerick.

It’s an idea to which local authorities are becoming more open according to Trev O’Shea of Bodytonic, which runs the food truck centre Eatyard in Dublin’s South Richmond Street.

O’Shea’s interest in food trucks started with music festivals when they put up a food tent at Electric Picnic over a decade ago. They were “very fussy music people,” he says. “But we made a bollocks of it,” O’ Shea says. “The food was shit. Our ideas were shit.” But because they were near the entrance they made money from selling soft drinks into which festival goers decanted their smuggled booze.

“Food truck culture is really interesting. You learn an awful lot,” O’Shea says. “They’re not a new idea. They’ve been around since Lisdoonvarna. ” But the new angle is the kind of diversity and quality that gives food trucks a good name. He first encountered that seven years ago at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. “One of my favourite trucks was one called Conscious Cravings, a veggie and vegan truck.” It showed him, “you can do anything with a food truck.”

In November O’Shea opened Eatyard beside the George Bernard Shaw pub bringing established food trucks into a central location four days a week.

He has seen his customers come in all ages. He had email yesterday from someone who wanted to book a seat as she was bringing her Dad, who’s in his 70’s. “It’s the same as what I’ve found with The Big Grill,” Bodytonic’s annual barbecue festival. “Food is going to be huge,” has been his go-to joke for a while, “because obviously everyone eats.”

Eatyard took three years to get off the ground but O’Shea believes the red tape is not as much of an issue as it was. And the weather? “If the food’s good enough people will always come.”

Restaurateur John Farrell thinks it might be our streetscapes that keep food trucks corralled at food festivals and off-street locations. In the US the “whole culture is big wide streets where you can pull up.” His idea for a street food corner under the Why Go Bald sign on Georges St was turned down by An Bord Pleanála a few years ago and he has no plans for another street food venture. He thinks the food truck phenomenon will remain confined to festivals and markets, rather than independent food trucks tweeting a location and driving there to find a waiting crowd.

Chef Jess Murphy believes it will be another decade before we will have a truly diverse street food scene.

Irish food culture moves slowly. “Are we ready for communal tables yet?” she asks. Eight years ago when she opened her Galway restaurant Kai she wanted to make all the tables shared but everyone told her it wouldn’t work. In the end she settled for one eight-seater table, which has been accepted, but it took a while.

She loves food trucks, “but not the posh ones.” Why not? We have a glamourised and “totally white” notion of what a food truck is, she says. In Oakland in California last year she had tripe tacos. “I mean how could you do that here?” Working with asylum seekers living in direct provision centres has opened her eyes to entirely different food cultures. But she’s optimistic that the next generation, and the children of these immigrants, will change that. “Give us ten years and we will be one of the most diverse countries in the world to eat.”

The Limerick International Food Truck Festival in the People’s Park 1-5 June www.Limerick.ie/foodtruckfestival

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