MEALS ON WHEELS

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Published on March 22, 2015 with No Comments

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The food truck trend hits Kuala Lumpur.

Words ANIS RAMLI

Kuala Lumpur’s famous traffic crawl, penchant for fast food and the trend of curbside eats have given rise to a new culture: Food trucks. Having evolved from the white and non-descript rojak/cendol and tau foo fa vans, the new mobile kitchens are often funky, offer culinary menus that can rival their brick-and-mortar cafe cousins, and served by passionate young foodpreneurs.

At a recent gathering of food trucks for an event in Petaling Jaya recently, fans can be seen equally busy checking out the food as well as taking selfies and wefies with the colourful trucks in the background. Says Adel Ibrahim of Little Fat Duck, “Yes, people are just as curious about our trucks as they are about our food. So my waiters sometime do double duty – they take orders but also do PR. It’s great for building rapport with our customers.”

Adel’s sleek black-and-white truck is a far cry from yesterday’s construction-site food wagons. His joins a new generation of food trucks that are sleek, snazzy and dressed up to the nines to attract customers. There’s the funky, hard-to-miss fuchsia truck of OMFJ (Oh My Fruit Juice) and the banana-bright Laughing Monkey van in a yellow that just makes you feel all happy inside.

Looks aside, what really drives the trend is the mobile menu. More takeaway than dine-in cafe, the public are embracing food trucks for its easy access – both physically and financially. Take Little Fat Duck’s menu, for example. Adel’s bestseller, the Chicken Confit, is priced at RM12 while most pasta dishes begin at RM5. Over at Big Hug, the gargantuan Big Hug Burger XXL – best shared for two, in our opinion, is a loaded mix of chicken thigh, cheddar cheese, veggies and their secret sauce. And it’s a mere RM15. OMFJ’s drinks, whose menu reflects a flair for upping the ante on Asian ingredients (watermelon and tomatoes, anyone?), begin at RM7.50. As co-founder Dec Low explains, “We want to make it easy for people to grab-and-go at lower costs.”

Still, affordability alone cannot explain why consumers are embracing the trucks. Hunting the food trucks is akin to an adult scavenger’s hunt. There’s certainly an element of fun to it. Many, if not all, rely on social media for fans to track their locations and the day’s specials. There’s a sense or urgency to make a run for them before the food runs out. Or before the authorities chase them away. Because for now unfortunately, Malaysia does not have a dedicated law to address these rolling eateries. Licenses are presently issued for stationary or roving traders. Food trucks are neither. So truckers are at the mercy of the authorities who simply see them as running, well … a non-descript and in-between business.

Another challenge of running the mobile business is the cramped kitchens. Yet, despite battling for cooking space, this has not deterred food truckers from whipping up culinary delights to please their followers. Flaming Wheels exemplifies how a small kitchen is no hurdle to producing great food. The truck is self-sufficient and can prepare up to 1,000 meals at one time with all the food freshly made on board. Considering itself a revolutionary street food vendor, Flaming Wheels has a menu that reflects popular bistro pickings such as BBQ Buffalo Wings, Guy’s Lamb Meatballs and homemade Grilled Chicken Mushroom Burger.

For owners, a truck can be up and running for RM150,000. After that, a truck’s success remains very much a combination of menu/location/service. Says Hanns Yong, the other half of OMFJ, “Keeping the menu fresh and listening to customers’ feedback certainly drives our business.” Between him and Dec, their experiments have resulted in the richly satisfying “Purple Tango” (dragonfruits/oranges/sour plums) while the formulaic mélange of pineapple, kyuri, mint leaves and honey is sinfully exotic.

When it comes to location, Calvin Yeo of Wheeloaf that offers panini sandwiches and pastries says, “The beauty of this mobile concept is that if one location fails, there’s always the flexibility of moving to another location.” But how owners engage with customers essentially builds fan base too, he continues, as food trucks go beyond the traditional business sense.

Much has been said about the impact of creating a micro-community from the birth of food trucks. Observing the owners at work, it was evident that customers love having conversations with them. It creates a great social scene where fans understand their passion, what inspires the menu, and interact with others queuing up for the same thing.

Likewise, the small community of food truckers have also banded together. There’s healthy competition all around with some sharing news of impending events and possible new locations to venture together.

It’s difficult to predict how far food trucks popularity will prevail. Calvin believes that it has yet to tap into its full market potential “especially with the diverse cuisine we have in this country.” What’s certain is that food-loving Malaysians are creating the demand for what foodpreneurs have to offer.

For now, as a consumer, it’s all about the thrill of the hunt – running after the mobile kitchens and hoping to spot them before they (temporarily) disappear.

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Kuala Lumpur double daily.

 

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