If you’re a regular listener of Evan Kleiman’s weekend program on KCRW, Good Food, then Sunday’s panel at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage should have included some familiar faces voices. Host Evan Kleiman, alongside special guests Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano and chef Jet Tila discussed the past, present and future of street food both in Los Angeles and around the globe. Guest food writers Lesley Tellez and Robyn Eckhardt were piped in via Skype, from Mexico and Malayasia respectively, to offer insights on each their countries cuisines.
Topics ran the gambit from the humble origins of Susan Feniger’s famed kaya toast to Kleiman’s recollections of the impeccable roast pigs found at Italian truck stops. Closer to home, Arellano and Gold debated the merits of the LA’s gourmet food trucks versus classic loncheras. Gold pointed out “Some of them are good, some are dreadful. I don’t think it’s accidental that most of the time when they have those competitions, the traditional loncheras win. Lux loncheras are catering to people who love the novelty.” Arellano, author of the upcoming book Tacos USA, told of the skepticism that met Los Angeles’ first taco truck, “King Taco started in the mid-70s as a lonchera, and all his friends said, ‘Eat tacos off a truck? No one’s going to do that.’ And now here we are.”
Despite having a rich and diverse street food scene in Los Angeles, the panel agreed that the often draconian L.A. zoning laws has marred many of the city’s vendors. “One city that’s doing it right”, noted Gold, “is Portland”, commenting on the city’s embrace of street food as a cultural windfall. The afternoon’s consensus seemed to be, that while Los Angeles’ street food (and that of the United State in general) represents an incredible array of flavors and cultures, it sadly pales in comparison to what the rest of the world is eating.
Of course, listening to vivid descriptions of food for an hour can generate some serious hunger pangs. With that in mind, KCRW turned the venue’s parking lot into a makeshift plaza with the invitation of six Los Angeles food trucks. The bill of fare include such hits as Marisco Jalisco’s tacos dorados de camarron, butter chicken from India Jones, desert crepes for Crepen’ Around, hots dogs from Let’s Be Frank, and pork banh mi from the Nom Nom Truck. Luckily, the lines that filled the parking lot moved quickly (a refreshing change from the heel-blistering madness we’ve come to expect at food truck festivals) ensuring that everyone ended their day with plenty of food for thought.
Photography by Salvador Farfan