Food trucks – Adelaide’s newest endangered species

Over the last couple of years we have witnessed some back and forth in general media circles surrounding the existence and impact of food trucks in Adelaide. This centred around both the influence on the culture and vibrancy of the city, but also apparently the negative impact they were having on existing businesses. Indeed, we wrote a response to this very issue back in February 2014, but it got shelved and we moved on.
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With the recent story being put out about the potential moves by Adelaide City Council to expand the trade exclusion zone for mobile food vendors from 25m to 50m from fixed food venues, as well as possibly doubling their licensing fees, this issue is once more back on the table. We figured seeing as the ”food truck revolution” in Adelaide coincidentally timed more or less with our inception, it seems like a reasonable basis upon which we can weigh in on this debate. Burgers aside, we are food lovers in general and as such it is a subject somewhat close to our hearts (the stomach is, after all, a close neighbour).

Without going into the nitty gritty of dates times and places I remember distinctly my first food truck experience being with Burger Theory. This was back in early 2012. Despite the passage of time, the food truck concept was (and still is) a very cool idea. The thing that stood out to me the most was the diversity and incredible quality of the food on offer, especially from this most unlikely of sources.

Things have somewhat progressed since then and there are now specific events (Fork on the Road, Adelaide Twilight Markets) where all these new and old trucks and vans congregate to provide their offerings to the public. These gatherings have been supported and promoted by the Adelaide Counsel through their Splash Adelaide campaign, and has been aimed at bringing vibrancy and interest to the city with good success.

“We simply cannot understand, nor see on what reasonable grounds, bricks and mortar business have to complain about.”

However as is always the case, success for some brings complaints from others. These complaints, raised often by very wealthy (and dare I suggest therefore influential) people has brought it back before the council. At least for the moment they haven’t acted to the detriment of the city and its inhabitants, and rather than just put these measures into place have decided to put it to a public for ‘consultation’ and feedback. Should you wish to comment (and you should) then you can do so here.

While we accept we may be misguided and perhaps not fully appreciating the exact goings on, we simply cannot understand, nor see on what reasonable grounds, bricks and mortar business have to complain about.

The crux of the argument from disgruntled businesses is of course their alleged loss of income. However, when we stand in (say) Hindmarsh square on a sunny day, using a green spaces in the city paid for by public money rather than just walking past them, all we can think of is the salivwaiting (think about it….) we are experiencing while our order is being prepared by those cooking away in the van in front of us.

We have chosen to pick on Hindmarsh Square because it is one of the spaces that will be affected by the proposed changes. From our vantage point, you can only see an Italian café (amore), a bean bar, a funk coffee, the Mantra Hotel and the Griffins Head Hotel. There may be a couple of others around but this isn’t exactly the middle of Gouger Street. How a couple of food trucks, a couple of times a week, offering very different products and eating experiences to the fixed businesses is actually impacting on them is the obvious question.

Do they actually have any hard evidence to back these complaints up? Do they have any consistent records to show that on the days when the food trucks are there, that their business is decreased from similar days when they have not been there? How many other variables are there to consider? Has (say) Funk seen regulars of theirs walking past to go and grab something from the vans of doom? Or do they simply see a line of people queuing up for someone else and assume that these people would otherwise have walked through their doors? From a different angle, do the owners of these places only frequent the same eating outlets every time they go out? Surely they can’t possibly want some variety and options in their life, as this would be taking money from where they went last time.

Understandably, if we were the owner of a franchised coffee store, and a mobile coffee vendor rocked up out the front and stole all my our customers, we would probably complain too. But then, we consider ourselves to be thoughtful people, so we would also think – ok, what is this other person offering that is superior to my our product? Why are the customers over there instead of in here? And perhaps – now they are nearby – how can we get them to come and give us money instead of that guy?

But isn’t that just the nature of business and competition? There is also the positive aspect of this to consider. Food trucks are getting people out and about. It is potentially getting people, who may otherwise not be looking for paying for lunch, walking past your premises to get to the trucks. Perhaps they didn’t know you were there? Also, the nature of many fixed cafe places is they have loyalty/reward cards. Why not take some initiative and send someone out with some cards, with a few stamps on there, to get people to perhaps pop in some time? Then, once they have walked into your premises, you will sink or swim based on the quality of what you are offering them.

There is some sympathy to their view as given all the overheads associated with a ‘bricks and mortar’ business, it may seem unfair that a truck/van can (it would seem) simply drive up and start collecting money. The owners of the mobile businesses will say it’s not that simple, and they aren’t making much money out of this at all. Some are looking at working elsewhere to continue to fund their business because they simply love doing it. Also consider how the weather affects things – in the heat of summer or the middle of winter, then a ‘fixed’ business can have their own advantage of providing shelter from the elements. They also have much longer trading hours and are there every day of the week they choose to be open.

To get back to the most recent council proposals, the most mysterious aspect of this is simply the logic around the following collection of ideas. We will break it down to these elements and perceived intentions:
1. Increased exclusion zone from 25m to 50m (or even some would say 100m) = less areas to trade, and Vic Square already has a limit of 3 vendors at once. So this would mean a reduction in potential mobile traders, purely from a location point of view.
2. Double license fees for vendors = try and redress the perceived imbalance between mobile vendors and fixed businesses, but likely force many to stop trading or move out of the city. This would lead to, you guessed it, less mobile food vendors.
3. Offer subsidised fees for any fixed business wishing to move into mobile food trading.

Ummm….what? Increase the cost for those doing it already, reduce where they can trade, and then try and entice others to enter into it? How does that make any sense at all? If fixed businesses wanted to move to mobile vending, then surely they could do so now at the current rate and at least have somewhere to go. Except the cost of starting up a mobile business, (i.e. fitting out the van as well as the premises to actually prepare the food) before hand, is not cheap at all. At least the fixed businesses already have half of that covered, but it isn’t that simple. Also, if their product is overlooked already, then what difference will serving it out of a van make? Do they actually believe that is why people queue up week after week – just for the novelty factor?

“Don’t blame those making a better product for your own perceived misfortune.”

As a little background, we have now worked at the same job in Pirie streetStreet for over 8 years. We have chosen to eat at a vast number of food outlets around the city ranging from food trucks to cafes and to pubs as well as  pricey restaurants and fine dining. You know what is great about that? Choice. We can go out and get whatever we want, from wherever has it, or wherever we so choose to get it from. Just because we have walked straight past a bricks and mortar business with unripe tomatoes, boring ham and stale bread to get something from an oddly painted diesel truck, just means perhaps you are doing something fundamentally wrong. Don’t blame those making a better product for your own perceived misfortune.

This is not to say that all “immobile” businesses are afflicted with these issues. There are some fantastic new (and very well established) places around who offer interesting and varied things on their menu and shape them based on what is seasonal. They probably aren’t the ones currently complaining about the mobile vendors.

There are also certain people who think that buying food prepared in a truck would be the same as buying a drink from a guy in a port-a-loo. For these people the franchised world of café’s is there to serve. Surely then there is place for everyone to play happily together – and even for some businesses to accept that the primary reason they are losing money is that someone else is simply offering something they prefer.

From us here at Burger Me though, we can only hope that the usual thing doesn’t work out and that the voices of the few drown out the rumbling stomachs of the many. The city will be much the poorer for it.

David Changs Burger Manifesto – A Response

It was with a degree of casual bemusement that we saw the story breaking across Australian news sources. Essentially, an American chef whom the vast majority of the population has never heard of before – and therefore have no ability to judge if his opinion is something we should be taking seriously or not – had the barefaced audacity to suggest that, among other things, not only were Australians no good at making burgers, but that we were <expletive> them up more than the rest of the world.

Oh the horror! Sure, the writing wasn’t exactly Pulitzer prize contender material, but it was nothing if not attention grabbing. This does seem to be the American way after all.

So various news outlets, both digital and otherwise, set about spreading the word and seeking comments from all manner of sources including proprietors, the general public and even us. Yep, we had a radio interview request that unfortunately, due to a mix up in communication, failed to come to fruition.

This is a shame because we could have used this opportunity to set a couple of things straight.

Firstly, some idea on where we are coming from. No, we aren’t chefs. Sure, we cook a bit (and pretty well too) and some of this time behind the burners has included making burgers, however by-and-large our culinary adventures lie elsewhere. In terms of consumption though, at the time of writing, over the last 3 years or so we have reviewed in the vicinity of 150 different burgers at around 90 venues, and chomped our way through several more besides. We have inspected menus for many, many more than this as research and planning, so we are fairly well placed to be able to comment on how Australians are eating their burgers.

So lets start with this clear statement. David (that’s you Mr Chang) – Australians are not eating their burgers with beetroot on them. Ok, this isn’t an absolute, and I am sure there are many people who do enjoy a slice of pickled beetroot on their home-made burgers, as well as those from their local take away. However, go to a decent burger bar and try to get something with beetroot on it. Its going to be far, far harder than you would have the world believe. Ditto the fried egg.

We are not here to try and explain why this misnomer has come into being and seems to have been accepted world-wide as ‘fact’, but in the same manner that the Koala is not a bear, hearing this from someone next to you or reading it on the internet does not make it so. The truth is not decided by who can shout the loudest. It’s also not a popularity contest.

There is no doubt though, Google ‘Australian Burger’ and you are more than likely to come up with a burger ‘with the lot’, complete with the forbidden elements of egg, beetroot, tomato and lettuce, but also potentially pineapple, onion and something other than tomato sauce (that’s ketchup in case you weren’t sure). You should know better than to trust Google though, as doing a google image search of “Smart American” returned the following image as the 3rd most relevant response.

Its from the internet, so it must be true

It’s from the internet, so it must be true

Is this a correct and fair representation? Of course not. But it’s what the internet told me, so it must be true.

Before I go on further – lets just punch through a few more of your hard-hitting thoughts.

I do not like a burger with a bunch of sh*t on it” – you know what David, neither do we.

I am not a fan of salad on my hamburger” – this is apparently “the dumbest <expletive> thing I could ever think of”. Well, you must not have a very good imagination, or failing that, observational skills. I am not going to politicise this and bring in anything about the gun control debate, so I will instead just ask you this – have you seen the exhaust grill?  I guess the salad might just get in the way of adding more processed Swiss cheese (yes, it was invented in Switzerland, not America).

What an amazing idea...

What an amazing idea…a must for any prospective food truck

Another thing that’s a no-no on a hamburger is mustard” – this is on the basis that it is ‘too strong a condiment’. Really? You are happy with super sugary, salty, vinegary ketchup to partner your pickles, along with potentially beef and bacon, but mustard is too strong? What type of mustard do you mean exactly? There are literally dozens of different styles of mustards, and each with their own variation around that. If you also think that a mild commercial whole grain mustard is too hot, then you must live in mortal fear of a hot English version. We will agree that hot mustards are only going to detract from things, but there is definitely a place for a mild mustard used judiciously, should you so desire.

No pita bread or brioche as a bun” – Ummmmm…..sorry but perhaps we are losing something in translation here. Brioche style buns (for use in a burger arrangement) are pretty much the product of America, unless we are entirely mistaken. There are some exceptions, but a semi sweet, squishy brioche bun is the only way to go. Unless you don’t have one in which case use something else.

What mystifies us as more than anything (well, apart from the beetroot on all our burgers folly) is your almost absolute denigration of anything other than a very basic cheeseburger. What is wrong with this? Following this advice we would never get to experience a burger with crispy pork belly and apple slaw; chicken and pesto; beef with chimmichurri; goats cheese with corn and semi dried tomato; maple glazed turkey patty with pancetta; beef with blue cheese and caramelized onion and so on. There would be no place for kewpie, sriracha, salami chips, roasted capsicum, fried mushrooms with truffled honey (that would also strike out as containing truffle and being ‘fancy sh!t), any other type of cheese that’s is actually good cheese in its own right, anything that contains chilli or any meat other than beef. Obvious vege burgers would be completely out of the picture. And that is just scratching the surface.

This is obviously no good at all

This is obviously no good at all

Is this because you feel it was how it was meant to be? That this basic approach rings true to the origin of the burger (be that in Germany or America) and so is the burger in its purest form? On this basis, what do you think Antonio Meucci or Alexander Graham Bell would make of the modern smart phone? Clearly they would be aghast at the prospect, and insist that their original concept of just being able to conduct a talking telegram a much better idea. They would no doubt launch a social media campaign against it, tweeting about it and updating Facebook from their devices, and then become embroiled in the ensuing controversy. This would lead to them ending their days filling in back columns of dubious print publications, and making the occasional guest appearances on things such as Celebrity Big Brother or Who Wants to be a Millionaire. You know which lifeline they would use first don’t you… (sorry, I just couldn’t help that).

However, we aren’t at loggerheads about all things that you wrote. In no particular order, we can agree on the following:

  • Pita bread, or any form of bread substitute, just doesn’t cut it. I would rather use my hands to hold the ingredients than a completely sub-standard bun.
  • You cannot have beef patties made from lean beef.
  • Wagyu is such a stupidly, over used gimmick these days I wish it had never been picked up. If you can honestly, hand on heart, say that the big W makes a better patty than simple chuck steak then….I just don’t know what to say. Stop using this as an excuse to charge us more for it too.
  • A medium rare patty is the only way it should be cooked and served. Unless you have used dodgy, micro-ground-many-days-old-ground-beef, in which case just tell us and we can go somewhere else. It’s not raw. It’s not mooing. It’s not going to hurt you. It’s no different to having a medium-rare steak, so just let your taste buds tell you whats best rather than your clearly ill-informed eyes getting involved.

For completeness though, and to get back to the crux of why we got involved in the first place, lets return back to the egg and beetroot. Where do we stand on this (we can hear you thinking)? Firstly, an egg with a runny yolk is a truly wonderful thing. It forms a rich sauce that helps to bring all the flavours together, even mixing in with any other sauces present to make that element even better. Sure, it doesn’t belong on everything, but from time to time this is most welcome.

And how about that ‘Aussie slice of beetroot’? Well – let me put it this way. In the approximately 150 burgers we have reviewed, a rough total of those with beetroot might be 2. One of those is so recent we have yet to release the review. While we don’t exactly dislike it, we think this is probably about the correct ratio – unless someone is going to do their own pickling of the beetroot, in which case you will have our attention. Tinned beetroot is ok enough, but keep it for your summer salad sandwich (sorry any story scanners suffering a substantial lisp) rather than including that on your burger checklist.

How to wrap all this up? Well, we appreciate and share your passion. It’s great to see someone taking burgers somewhat seriously, even if they are, as you said, fundamentally something to not over think and just enjoy. They deserve more respect than the American giants of the fast food industry have systematically stripped from them.

Global warming isn’t happening, or if it is its got nothing to do with humans. Europe is a country. Vaccinations are killing or disabling children everywhere. The moon landing was staged. There are lizard people living under the White House. Australians are ruining burgers. None of these things are true, even with swearing as part of the argument. There are some amazing burgers being made all over the place, both on the innovative side of things (see our growing list for Adelaide), but also keeping true to the classics (yes, including very basic 5 ingredient cheeseburgers). If this hasn’t been your experience then this is a real shame indeed.

But if you want to catch up for a burger and a couple of beers next time you are in Adelaide, then we would be more than happy for you to shout us some lunch and we can discuss this all further. They can even be cheap beers if you so desire.

As a kind of footnote though, lets keep some things in perspective. David Chang is a multi Michellin Star winning chef and restaurateur. He is obviously hugely respected and influential, and just loves to tell us all in no uncertain terms what he personally believes to be true. That’s fine.

We, on the other hand, eat burgers, make a few, and write about them.

We could all have far more important things to be ‘arguing’ about, so let’s just keep that in mind.

The Taxpayer – Marc Anthony

Marc Anthony – Beef patty with twice cooked spiced bean mix, house pickled jalapenos, corn chips, guacamole, iceberg lettuce and spicy nacho cheese sauce. $16 (with chips and a pint $25.50)

The Taxpayer did something different for the month of July – they threw the virtual kitchen doors open, invited their Facebook fans in and enticed them to throw some ideas together.

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