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New German food culture: Food Trucks


Fresh, cheap food that is bought and eaten on the street is an international phenomenon. Mobile food trucks are increasingly becoming part of this scene, too. They have been in Germany for quite some time. Sellers tour around in their converted vans offering their freshly prepared snacks somewhere else every day. The street food trend is especially popular with young people.


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Snacks and fast food from far-off countries taste just as good in Cologne, Munich, Hamburg and Berlin as they do in their original country. But the idea of developing snazzy trucks is not a new one. Many regions of the world have already seen mobile food trucks before.

In China, for example, food trucks offering a quick breakfast or a tasty sandwich at lunch have long been popular among working men and women. Other predecessors of the modern food trucks are mobile canteens and field kitchens. And there are still a few floating markets in Thailand. These sell fruit, vegetables and other food from boats. This is because the canals of the Chao Phraya River were previously used as transport routes and the goods were directly resold from the river. These “floating markets” are rare nowadays and more of a tourist attraction.
However, this trend for warm, hearty meals from a food truck came from the American “chuckwagons”. These are the horse-drawn wagons that accompanied cowboys and lumberjacks while they went about their hard work in the desert or in the forest.

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Food trucks nowadays are not just about providing a basic supply. More often than not, they are a high-quality alternative to restaurants, cafeterias and canteens.

In other countries, such as America, food trucks are already an integral part of the culinary scene. In Germany, ice cream and sausage sellers were the only ones selling their food from mobile stations. Meanwhile, the trend for exotic snacks and a good lunch is becoming more and more popular here and the range of food trucks is increasing.

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The food truck trend has been around in Germany since about 2008. Since then, it has been possible to quickly and easily attract large numbers of customers to the current location of the food truck via social media. Food trucks in Germany are sometimes parked in front of companies during the lunch hour or at busy spots in large German cities. And, of course, they can also be found at street food markets.

Entire food truck markets can mostly be found in the large university cities in Germany, for example, in Hamburg, Stuttgart and Cologne. But Lübeck, Nuremberg and Munich also have lots of modern food trucks. That is why more and more people now enjoy eating lunch at such a stand. But are the mobile kitchens also a good alternative to the cafeteria?

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The food from a food truck is usually slightly more expensive than food in the cafeteria but is mostly freshly prepared. Students can occasionally afford an exotic dish or special treat from a food truck. Every now and again, a few universities and colleges offer a “Food Truck Day”. Look on the university’s Facebook page, for example for up-to-the-minute information.
A hot tip: The trucks are often found on campus, in front of companies with large car parks or on small squares in the city centre at midday. Eating at a food truck is not cheap, unfortunately. Be prepared to pay around eight to nine euros for a burger from a food truck. However, the food is freshly prepared and nothing like the mass-produced offering in the cafeteria.

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The best way of trying this trend is at a Street Food Event. There are lots to choose from here. I got together with the Chinese exchange student Yuedi to test whether food trucks in Cologne deliver what they promise.

The Street Food Festival is the ideal place for this. For example, the food truck owners cook, roast and fry their specialities on the grounds of Helios 37 in Cologne-Ehrenfeld. The event represents authentic cuisine from around the world and moves to a different German city every weekend. And the best of it is: a lot of food trucks take part.

This is where I took a culinary journey with Yuedi from China. We noticed as soon as we set off that the event appeals to all our senses: We can see the smoke from a “smoker”– a grill – rising into the air. Colourful menus are displayed everywhere and we can smell the wide range of different spices. The display windows of the food trucks are filled with tasty sandwiches or freshly-made French crepes. Spoiled for choice, we then decided to try out the “fusion food” from the Philippines, a mixture of German and Filipino cuisine.
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Yuedi is 20 years old and comes from China. She already knew food trucks from her homeland and is especially pleased that this relaxed way of eating food on-the-go has also come to Germany. So, the street food market in the colourful and somewhat secluded rear courtyard of the “Helios 37” in Cologne-Ehrenfeld is perfect.

Hello Yuedi! First of all: How did you actually come to be in Germany?
My main subject at my home university is German language and literature. I have been learning German for two years in China. I am now an exchange student at the University of Cologne and am still learning German and studying German language and literature. So, I’m taking part in an exchange programme.

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Now about food: what is the biggest difference between German and Chinese food?
I think that the biggest difference is that Germany has a starter, a main course and a dessert. China doesn’t. Everything is put onto the table at the same time, whether it’s sweet or savoury. Another difference is the time. We eat our breakfast, lunch and even-ing meal at least one or two hours before the Germans. In the student residence where I am, some people don’t eat until nine or ten in the evening. It’s time for me to go to bed then. (laughs)

Do you have a favourite German dish?
Yes, there is a dish: curry sausage. I really like it. Actually, all the sausages I know are very tasty here. There aren’t that many different kinds of sausage in China and they don’t taste that good cooked.
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And where did you first try a curry sausage? At a food truck, perhaps?
Well, the first time was at the Christmas market at a sausage stand. I went there three or four times overall I’d say and tried a tasty sausage every time.

Are there particular parts of Cologne where you are particularly fond of eating?
I eat kebabs the most. This might not be proper German food but it’s a mixture of German and Turkish. But it’s really quick and it doesn’t take up too much of my lunch hour. And kebabs are a little bit like street food.
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Have you ever tried a food truck?
I’ve not tried a food truck in Germany yet but I have in China. We don’t call them food trucks specifically but there are a few of them on the streets. They have a kitchen at the back and a cash register at the front. And they all cook fast food. This kitchen is especially made for people who work as they don’t have time to go home and cook something to eat. So, being able to get something from these trucks is really handy. There are mainly burgers or sandwiches to eat or soy milk to drink and everything is offered as a takeaway, which is great. Our food trucks are very common and popular for breakfast as people have the least time in the morning.

Do you think that food trucks are an alternative to eating in the cafeteria or in a restaurant? Sometimes, the prices are not exactly cheap ...
I would say that food trucks aren’t a genuine alternative, they’re more of a compliment to the more old-fashioned food on offer. Especially if – as they say – you want to be sociable and have something quick to eat with friends. Otherwise, I would always prefer to go to the cafeteria and eat something there.
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And after talking to Yuedi, we then had a great time together at the street food festival. Not only was the location – the grounds of an old factory – really urban and nicely decorated but our sample meal was exotic and tasted good. Music was playing the whole time just like a real festival and there were huge crowds of people there, all laughing, talking and eating with gusto.

Fortified by our exotic meal, we were happy and full when we left the festival grounds and ready for a stroll through the historic centre of Cologne.

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