Popular portable food creates a customer connection with authentic offerings.
Ready-to-eat food has been sold on streets since the Ancient Greeks and Romans roamed the cities. Whether the on-site prepared food is sold from pushcarts or more modern locations like a truck, kiosk or booth, portable foods spanning the centuries share similar characteristics: easily carried, delicious and cooked onsite.
There are 35,512 food truck businesses in the US as of 2022, an increase of 13.7 percent from 2021. With so many cooks rushing to open these convenient food operations, what do they have to do to become successful? The answer may sound familiar across many culinary segments: it comes down to offering authentic food that makes a connection with customers.
Chef Rashad Armstead of the Black Food Collaborative in Oakland, Calif., operates a shared-commissary kitchen incubator that helps small start-up businesses, like food trucks, food product makers, and caterers develop their concept.
He shared his expertise on what drives street food and ready-to-eat menu ideation tips.
Customer experience is the number one criterion
Chefs need to think about how the customer will experience the dish when crafting street food menu items. To create the best customer experience, he said cooks need to pay attention to the price point, look, and ingredients. “You never want to overcharge customers, but you also want to create a dish with quality ingredients. Some may think that street food is easy and cheap. It's deeper than that - most street food dishes are family recipes and for most chefs cooking street food, their goal is to elevate the recipe by infusing different ingredients.” These elevated dishes create a delicious and memorable buyer experience.
Never underestimate knowing your customer
Understanding the customers is the most crucial part of serving dishes. Chefs must make sure they tell their story and why they cook the food like they do. This gives the customer a deep connection and experience to the plate. Chef Armstead said, “When a chef is cooking street food, they must always stay true to themselves and keep the dish's integrity intact.”
Ingredients and flavors drive street food offerings
Street food can be elevated based on ingredients. Dishes popular right now are tacos; most street food chefs are preparing tacos because of their flexibility. Another is fried chicken; it has become somewhat of an obsession by chefs and customers. According to Chef Armstead, customers are now seeking the different styles and flavors of food.
For example, Chef Elijah Brown of @pimpinchkn, part of @blackfoodcollective, uses high-quality Real California butter, buttermilk, and sharp cheddar cheese in his creations. By adding quality products to his signature Pimpin Chkn Sandwich and Buttermilk Sharp Cheddar Cheese Biscuits, he creates a flavorful experience with every bite.
How are global flavors playing in street food?
Global flavors have always been popular with street food, but now it's becoming a standard expectation by customers. “Some of the cuisines I see becoming more popular are the Birria Tacos from Mexico, Koran-style fried chicken, and barbeque using different meats and spices,” Chef Armstead said.
He gave another example from @blackfoodcollective, Briya Be Cookin Chef and Founder Shabriya Hill. She uses Real California mozzarella, dry jack, heavy cream, butter, and cream cheese to create her delicious Alfredo Pasta with a Cajun Twist. A traditional global base with a local flavor twist.