Food Vans

In Cantonese, we call people who sell food on the streets “food hawkers” or “walking-ghosts,” as their booths aren’t permanent and they have to flash in disappearance from cops like ghosts. Their unlicensed hawking is usually considered unhygienic. They cook on a shabby metal pushcart with cooking wares full of grease and grime. Gray smoke wafted through miles away. If you enjoy the food they are preparing–kabobs of all kinds of meat, stinky tofu, barbeque wings, meatballs, you name it–the odor will entice you right away. If not, you can’t wait to run away from the scene like a ghost, too.

Perhaps I’ve grown up with a negative impression about street food. Wherever I travel in China or across the globe, I walk past the street food vendors as soon as I can. Even vendors who sell fresh fruits and bottled water, I regard their wares somewhat contaminated. So you bet, the hollers and touting at a ballpark or on a sidewalk in America only drive me away.

There’s a culture here in the capital of United States that whenever the clock strikes 12 at noon, office workers and tourists will line up in front of various colorful vans that parked along the streets. These vans are painted or hung with signs in bright colors, selling food of different cultures, from Mexico to India and from Africa to Cajun. I notice the vans that advertise Tacos attract a longer queue of patrons.

Ah, these are the notorious DC food vans. It turns out American food hawkers are one step ahead–they sell food on an automobile, a true manifesto of the U.S. that this is a nation which lives on four wheels. Image, if a food hawker with violations has to dash away before the arrival of law enforcement officers, is driving a van quicker or pushing a shabby metal food cart quicker?

The answer is obvious. I believe the food vans on DC streets are strictly licensed, though. Without being exposed to the direct sun or possible air pollutants, the food sold by a food van seems to be safely processed. (God knows what’s behind and under the onboard stove.)  On average, you have to spend 7 dollars on an order. That’s not cheap by my standard. (That’s why I seldom go out for lunch during the workweek.)

I have no idea why Tacos are popular among office people, or perhaps the general public in America. But the funny thing is, on that rare day I went out for lunch, inside one of the vans that advertised Tacos stood an Asian female vendor. (She looked just like me. Can’t miss her ethnicity!) Is this cultural crossover? Asians sell Tacos, as do Italians run a Chinese-theme restaurant chain P.F. Chang?

America certainly has gone wild.


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