I was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for a couple of weeks during the winter of 1987. Every morning I bought a delicious, fresh fruit cup from the street vendor outside my little hotel in the the centre of what was then a small fishing village. A trip to the local bakery up the road and I’d have a royal breakfast for a few pesos. While in India, I bought amazing, piping hot curries and dosas from street vendors. It is a safe and affordable way for locals and tourists alike to eat healthy food. Ironically, while North Americans are now trying to add bustling mobile vending to the public realm, some developing countries are beginning to outlaw the practice.
Portland is well known for its vibrant street food scene. I sampled some of the fare in the Mississippi district. There was a whole parking lot full of food carts. They had an interesting arrangement with the brew pub next door. You could buy from the food carts and then take a seat in their patio or indoors and order one of Portland’s famous brews to go with it. I had a Mexian sopapilla, also called cachanga, which is more or less deep fried bread with stuffings. It was mediocre at best, both on the taste and the health scale, cost around seven bucks. I sampled some of my friends’ choices and wouldn’t rate them much higher. I was also concerned about all the waste generated at the stands.
When I asked a cab driver if he ate at street vendors he said, no, because they took too long. He pre-orders his food by phone, then he can dash in, pick it up, and eat between rides. We waited about 20 minutes for our food, one friend waited closer to 30 for her sushi. Odd given that sushi requires no cooking.
The City of Vancouver is focusing on nutritious and culturally diverse options in their street food program, which was expanded from chestnuts and hotdogs in 2010. You can now nosh on Chinese dim sum, burritos, seafood, Korean dishes, Vietnamese subwiches, souvlaki and wash it all down with some Indian teas. I have yet to try the famed Japa Dog, seems every time I spot the cart I’m on a bus.
One of the goals of the Vancouver program is to increase access to “affordable, nutritious food in low-income communities.” I am hoping the next layer of food vendors added will help to address some of the affordability issues. New York City’s Green Cart program sites fresh produce vendors in food deserts, areas underserved by grocery stores or other fresh food markets. We could sure use one in the South Granville strip on the west side of Vancouver. There is a grocery store, and it offers 40 different kinds of olive oil, but low income seniors in the area can’t afford to shop there. Let’s make sure Vancouver’s street eats serve all, instead of being just another trendy gourmet food option for those who can afford it.