Eat tacos, reduce crime
Picture this. You’re out on the town and walking the streets, tired and hungry. Maybe also a little bit tipsy. But instead of hitting up the local McDonalds or greasy kebab store, you just get out your phone, head to Twitter or Facebook and get the location of your nearest food truck.
If that means nothing to you, then don’t worry, it soon will. Food trucks are basically mobile restaurants, full of versatile quality food, at cheap prices. They’ve achieved cult-like status in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where they’re praised as the best alternative to eating out, and one of the only businesses thriving in their post GFC climate. They’re also about to hit a city near you.
Starting here in Sydney, where City of Sydney Council will be rolling out ten trucks within metro areas from the first weekend of May. But if you love authentic South Mexican food, then look no further than Al Carbón (literal Mexican translation: “the coal”) and the masterful hand of Atilla Yilmaz, an ex-cop who says the food truck craze will also make Sydney a safer place to hang out at night.
But first, the menu.
Yilmaz loves Mexican food. Like, really loves it. His eyes light up when he talks about it and he’s got the rolled vowel sounds down pat. Not bad for a Turkish bloke. Earlier this year he spent a week of gastronomic bliss, travelling through the South Mexico and Los Angeles, with prominent American food blogger, Bill Esparza and photo journalist, Jason Thomas Fritz. The trio ate their way through the region, sipping on short glasses of Tequila (as is the local convention), chased down with a tangy Sangrita of tomato, coriander and cucumber.
Yilmaz says Mexico City especially blew him away. It was there he committed, on his return to Australia, to produce the most authentic taco menu possible. On this point Yilmaz is firm. And that means no gluten free, no vegetarian, no sour cream, yellow cheese or bottled sauces.
What Yilmazs’ Al Carbón does promise however, is an experience.
Here’s how it works. You start with your choice of locally-sourced meat. Beef, pork and even lamb that is cooked to perfection over his self-designed mobile, charcoal grill. Then comes a soft, hot tortilla made from fresh ingredients (also locally sourced) that falls in delicious drops from a mobile dough machine, before you’re whisked to the end of the counter for your choice of vegetables, Mexican cheese, called Queso Oaxaca and home-made salsa. Including Yilmaz’s own dry salsa, a combination of pepita, sesame, pumpkin seeds and dry chillies.
There’s also a genuine rospado machine. That’s Mexican for shaved ice. But don’t be thinking it’s anything like a snow cone. Oh no, that’s for amateurs. And midnight trips to the Seven Eleven. Al Carbón’s rospado is best compared to tiny, pure granules of ice drizzled with; “diablito”: a combination of mango, lime, salt, tamarind, chamoy, chili powder); “dulce de leche”: caramelised condensed milk. Or “pina con chile”; pineapple, lime, serrano and jalepeno chili, palm sugar, agave syrup salt and arbol chili powder. Yum.
Happily, the Food Truck experience is also very easy on your wallet, with Al Carbón’s main dishes going for between $10-12.50 per plate. Leaving more than a few coins to enjoy a couple of Coronas while you’re at it.
Just like the other ten Sydney Food Trucks, Yilmaz had to submit an application to tender before being approved to develop . But he says he’d dreamt up the concept almost three years before, while he was working as a policeman in Sydney’s Inner West.
“The amount of jobs we’d get called out to in the local parks was incredible. I started thinking that was a shame, because Sydney has lots of great outdoor spaces that the community is reluctant to use,” he told The Punch.
So while the food trucks will also pep up Sydney’s street food scene, they’ll also help to generate atmosphere and community in parks and city areas that are usually dark, un-inviting and more often than not, hot spots for crime. Police refer to it as the broken windows theory. The more a group of people take ownership of a space, the easier it becomes to displace and prevent crime.
“More people mean more witnesses. So you’re less likely to get a robbery or an assault because the person is more likely to be seen by the other people milling around,” says Yilmaz.
Location is a big part of the food truck experience. At the time of writing, each truck has been instructed to spend no longer than three hours in each location and hungry customers will find the truck’s current location by logging onto the Twitter of Facebook feed.
This idea might not suit everyone, so each truck will also post weekly location updates on their websites. But Yilmaz, who already has almost 700 followers “without having sold a single taco”, thinks the social media approach will be fantastic for a spontaneous night out.
“It will be like going to your favourite restaurant, in a different location every single week. Just jump online and come and find us wherever we are.”
Combine that with a buzzing outdoor space, authentic Mexican food, some music, friends and a guaranteed safe night out and the food truck experience already sounds too delicious to miss.
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