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Street food markets

Creative cuisine on wheels

Nagel-Group's trucks drive on Europe's roads daily. Foodstuffs in various temperature ranges are stored in multi-compartment vehicles. The end consumer rarely comes in contact with these "Foodtrucks". However, there are other types of trucks, namely colourful delivery vans, trailers or minibuses from which different, mouth-watering smells permeate into the street food markets; a trend in the food and catering industry, which has gained popularity over the past few years

Klaus Wünsch

Crispy wontons, spicy bunny chows, sweet baklava or a hearty pho bo, these Chinese, African, Turkish, and Vietnamese specialities are but a few dishes visitors can try out in street food markets. If you prefer familiar tastes, you can opt for juicy burgers with crispy sweet potato chips, sweet donuts, spicy curries, chilli con carne or paella dishes. There is never a dull moment for the taste buds in a street food market. The wealth of ideas and the cultural diversity in the food stalls is just astounding.

The hype surrounding the street food scene

The concept of street kitchens is firmly entrenched especially in Asia. Soups, meat and fish dishes, and deep-fried specialties are sold on almost every corner, and also generate strong sales. "They don't cook just for one person but for the whole family. The food is also sold to strangers as a means to earn a living," explains Klaus Wünsch. He founded the platform "Foodtrucks" in Germany in 2013. More than 550 food trucks have been registered on the platform to date. Meanwhile, food trucks from many European countries are now using the platform to communicate where and when they can be found. A whole new type of event has emerged in Europe with street food markets or even street food festivals.

"Smaka på Stockholm", for instance, is one of the biggest events in Sweden and attracts over 350,000 visitors every year. Restaurants in Stockholm serve traditional Swedish dishes and exotic combinations over several days. This event was held for the 26th time this year. Similar events are being organised in many cities all over Europe. For the past nine years, the Amstelpark in Amsterdam is transformed into culinary mile during the "Taste of Amsterdam" street food festival, which is part of a series of international events.

From Bratwurst to street food

Food trucks experienced a kind of renaissance in the USA in 2009 during which the quality of the food improved and the scene grew as a whole. "People no longer had money to go for a 20 dollar lunch after the stock market crash. The restaurants opted for food trucks to prepare and sell their dishes at a lower price," says Wünsch. He adds, "Therefore, the first food truck movement was characterised by a lower quality of food."

In Germany, Bratwurst (a type of German sausage), Currywurst (German sausage served with curry ketchup), and chips have been regarded as popular snacks between meals or as food on the go for decades. However, street food markets have gained in significance since 2013. They have gone from niche to hype in the gastronomy scene. Their origin lies in "Street Food Thursday" in market hall number nine in Berlin, the first proper street food market in Germany. Elaborately designed food trucks, as these mobile stands are called, are not only found in Berlin and other major German cities, but they also tour the whole country. Meanwhile, more than 150 vendors are active in the food truck scene. 1,500 events with food trucks are held in Germany alone.

Peter Wolf

Pioneers in the German food truck scene

Food-truck aficionados refer to Nuremberg as Germany's food-truck capital, since this is the birthplace of the first German food truck: the RibWich Truck. It all started in 2010. The concept behind it: pulled pork and a decommissioned, self-remodelled US Army truck. "You could not buy pulled pork anywhere in Germany back then. With the first authentic food truck in Germany, we made it socially acceptable," says Peter Wolf, shareholder and managing director of RibWich. He has been working full-time in the food-truck scene since 2012. He now operates three trucks with his crew, mainly as day-to-day business or catering. The meat and the buns are sourced from the region and are then freshly prepared in the truck according to the customer's wishes.

However, what is it that sets the street food trend apart? Fast food chains have been around for decades. The answer lies in the differences between these two types of restaurant concepts. Although the American trend involving street food markets and trucks has caught on here, fast food chains and street food differ considerably from each other. While restaurant chains are characterised by standardised food preparation, menu options that do not change much, well-known ingredients, and various additives, modern street food is notable for its fresh, nutritious products, and varying menus.

Small snacks are prepared directly before the eyes of the customer in just a few minutes and served in a practical form - usually on or in a piece of paper or a plant leaf or on a wooden skewer. It is rare to use plates and cutlery when eating this kind of food.

Unique food trucks with exciting products

The modern street food vendor is characterised by their ability to vary their offer and adapt it to seasonal demands. "Also, food is sourced from the region. Our butcher is only 15 kms away and our baker is only 3 kms away," says Peter Wolf. The newcomers in the gastronomy business have mostly started as small enterprises, whose size may vary.

What do all these vendors have in common: the joy of being your own boss and giving their product and taste ideas a free rein. Klaus Wünsch knows that this has not always been the case. Owing to the high initial investment, you could only find burger and BBQ food trucks until last year. However, exotic food trucks are becoming more and more popular. As the popularity of these products grows, truckers are now able to cover the costs of these trucks due to higher sales. Thus, you have Kenyan, Mexican, Columbian, Vietnamese, and even vegan influences enriching the food on offer.

Fast-food staples like Currywurst or hamburgers can still be found in these markets, but in a luxurious version; for instance, Currywurst sprinkled with gold leaf or a burger made with bison meat. Food truck vendors love to experiment. Foreign-born vendors like to experiment with regional produce but use the basic recipe from their home country. "In the end, it is the customer who decides what they like and what is well received," says Wünsch.

The growing popularity has a downside

Some market organisers sense a great business opportunity, and as such the quality of the markets could suffer. Additionally, the events are increasingly overrun with the same type of vendors. "There will soon be a market shake-out," predicts Wolf. The combination of having the right concept and the right product enables the vendors to carve out their own niche. This is what sets street food apart. "Starting something from scratch and turning a vision into reality," is how Peter Wolf summarises it.

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