by Tiffany Harelik
When you think of street food, sometimes a questioning eyebrow is raised. Is it clean? Safe? Healthy? Sushi?…. In a trailer? The answer here in Austin is: yes.
Since I started covering this topic over a year ago, the trailer food trend has continued to rise. Currently, our city has more than 2,000 vendors who have a permit with the ability to serve food out of mobile trucks and trailers. People love trailer food because it provides a sense of nostalgia along with really unique homemade grub. But despite the booming industry growth, some have lingering anxieties.
Concerned Austinites need not fear; trailer food eateries are not the “roach coaches” of days past. Today’s vendors are mainly people with a restaurant background who want the opportunity to be their own bosses. They have to follow industry standards similar to those for any brick-and-mortar restaurant. They follow strict codes to ensure public health safety standards are being met. Knock on wood, but stories of people getting sick from trailer food have not crossed my radar here in Austin.
To say it’s ‘easy’ to get set up and rolling in this industry would be stretching the truth; there are many hurdles to jump in order to obtain a permit. For example, trailer food vendors are accountable to both the health and fire department here in Austin. Vendors must provide their notarized commissary certificate (food prepared off-site must be done in a certified commercial kitchen), written permission to use restrooms at a nearby facility (for proper access to hand washing), proof of liability insurance, and sales tax permits, to name but a few of the regulations and ordinances requiring compliance. Vendors must also work out the details of removing daily gray water (from dish washing) and grease (from cooking) for their commissary sites.
The kinds of trailers I get the most questions about are the sushi trailers. When I interviewed the owners of Sushi-a-go-go, all my qualms were addressed. After a tour of their trailer, I’m convinced that sushi in a trailer may in fact be cleaner than that prepared in many restaurants. Why? Restaurants tend to have multiple people working multiple shifts on multiple surfaces, with different managers each shift. In a trailer, there is one chef, one knife, one surface. He knows when and what has been sanitized, when the fish arrived, and he is rolling sushi fresh to order. I’m not a sushi fan but, even in our three-digit heat, I can vouch for the cleanliness, tastiness, and safety of sushi from trailers in Austin.
Not only is trailer food safe to eat, there are even healthy options to be found. Check out Sun Farm Kitchens, mmmpanadas, Counter Culture, Blenders and Bowls, La Boite Café, Mambo Berry, Conscious Cravings, or Fresh Off the Truck for a few trailers who offer healthier fare. Even though we tend to think of street food as an unhealthy cheap treat, we have vegan, vegetarian, and low calorie trailers dispersed throughout the city.
As the list of eatery owners expands, the regulations to maintain public health and safety will continue to be important to city officials and leaders who implement the rules.
About the Author:
Tiffany Harelik is the author of the Trailer Food Diaries Cookbook Austin Edition. An Austin native, Tiffany grew up riding hunter/jumper as a child and graduating to three-day equestrian eventing in high school. She was a competitive water skier for The University of Texas at Austin as an undergraduate. After graduation, she competed with three-day equestrian Olympians up and down the East coast seeking a spot on the U.S. team. After graduate school, Tiffany reduced her three-day competition to just the dressage portion and began cross training with running and yoga. She participates in fun runs in Austin and destination locations. Her favorite annual runs are the Turkey Trot, and the Cap 10K. You can find her biking to Mount Bonnell, running on the hike and bike trail with her Labrador, swimming in Deep Eddy and hitting the yoga studio at Black Swan to stay healthy.
Harelik has an M.A. in health psychology and loves to read about nutrition.
For more information on trailer food, or to purchase “Trailer Food Diaries Cookbook Austin Edition,” stay tuned to her web site