Track the Trucks: Why you Should Not Dream of Opening a Food Truck in Chile…Yet.

“Let's open a food truck in Santiago!” Like many, you may dream of roaming the busy streets of the city at the wheel of a gourmet truck and teaching the “art of the food truck” to the unlucky Santiaguinos, sentenced to eat completos and frozen French Fries. Here is why you should put the parking brake on… for now.

 photo by The Rolling Kitchen
photo by The Rolling Kitchen

Food trucks are an attractive and tasty business, especially for the new food truck generation that usually works on a concept. Using healthy, organic or homemade products, they offer a gourmet alternative to the traditional street food. They have become authentic restaurants—mobile and trendy—preparing a limited number of creative and conscientious dishes. The dishes tend to be expensive, targeting city slickers, who tend to be connected, well-off, and short on time. Indeed, the new food trucks—popularized by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—not only roam the roads, but also the networks. The movie “Chef” (2014) sheds light on this new phenomenon: food trucks became buzzes, we don't randomly run into them, we “like” them and “follow” them.

Gringos are used to these gourmet trucks; they have been winning over Europeansi heart for a few years. So, rationally, you think you've got a concept to implant in Santiago. Don't be so sure others haven't thought about it before.

So why are the only food trucks in Santiago the kind that will leave you smelling like cooking oil the whole day if you're unlucky enough to cross one? Thank Decree 977 of the Reglemento Sanitaro de Alimentos, a text from 1996 that specifies the foodstuffs that can be sold on the street. It currently limits street food only to junk food. Since the concept of gourmet trucks didn't exist in the 90s, the products prepared nowadays aren't on the ancient list. The only items allowed are hot dogs (completos), as well as pre-packed food and drinks. Everything fried like empanadas, sopapillas or French fries are also permitted since the high oil temperature kills the eventual bacteria responsible for food poisoning. All those who have waited for hours in Chilean Customs for having cheese in their bag know well the (justifiable?) obsession of Chile with food contamination.

But this legislation doesn't consider the technological progress and the modern equipment in the new trucks pounding the pavement today. The kitchens are sometimes just as high-end as those of restaurants and the Ministry of Health should no longer allude to hygiene to keep the trucks off the road; especially since it is totally legal for gourmet trucks to settle in private spots like malls or to attend private events like festivals.

From August 21-23, gourmet trucks from the new generation invaded Parque Bustamente in the heart of Santiago for “El Festival Gastronomico de Providencia.” A giant crowd appeared to meet these mobile restaurants…in a perfect immobility. The success of these events just adds extra pressure for the evolution of the current legislation, enabling the trucks to quit clandestinely serving their customers.

These exceptions highlight that food contamination isn't the only issue in the current street food restriction. Behind the reticence of the government to change this ancient law, we can perceive as well the pressure of the traditional restaurants that look unfavourably on the trucks invasion. Indeed, trucks don't have to pay rent (even though the initial investment is a factor) and the pop-up effect is highly attractive for customers. Yet, it is inconclusive as to whether or not food trucks are a direct competition to restaurants. Some restaurateurs observe that trucks actually bring new clients that may not have come in the neighborhood if it wasn't for the truck. In addition, if food trucks prepare gourmet cuisine, the price will match quality, meaning they won´t compete with fast food offers. The competition isn't between traditional “slow food” restaurant or junk/cheap fast food: gourmet trucks flood into a really specific gastronomic scene. However, Chile isn't the only country with such a restrictive legislation since in South America, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia also block the road to this business.

 photo by Food Truck Chile
photo by Food Truck Chile

In Chile, people like Pedro Chavez from Food Trucks Chile, Jaime Chepillo from Food Tracker and many truck owners are now negotiating with Chilean health ministry to change the current law. The article 74c, hopefully to be added at the end of 2015, would give food trucks the green light in Santiago in 2016.

Waiting for these tasty days, you can keep up on Food Tracker that offers information on numerous trucks already on the scene. They are also working on an app that will work on spotting gourmet trucks in real time. For now, food trucks owners don’t fail to inform their Facebook followers about the next spot they can be found. A bonus: following their road map means getting info on several cool events happening in all of Chile.

Check out this non-exhaustive list of cool food trucks to track:

The giant aquatic monster emblazoned on the body of this truck gets you thinking that the Kraken offers the best products of the Chilean coasts. Its various dishes are well set and affordable.

La Cocina prepares only seasonal, natural and extra fresh products, usually bought straight from the producers. The truck offers various original sandwiches, soups and desserts for all kind of diets.

 photo by Combibar
photo by Combibar

Combibar: here is a truck that will have to wait a long time before roaming the streets! The “barcart” serves tasty cocktails, natural fruit juices and beer. Depending on the event, the dynamic staff can also offer snacks such as empanadas, tacos or burgers. But for sure we recommend waiting in the queue to enjoy the alcoholic beverages of this hippy truck. In moderation, obviously.

Big boba serves up a unique cold drink made from tea and tapioca pearls. Numerous combinations of flavors, with or without skim milk, are available on the truck (and on the shop in Manuel Montt). Something to try for sure, even if just to play with the giant bubbles in the cup and to staunch a thirst.

Unlike other trucks, Maska is well known: not only is it quite difficult to miss its bright colors, but the truck is invited for all kind of celebrations. The kitchen offers to “maskar” (here we don't eat, we “maskar”) various gourmet tapas inspired by Chilean gastronomic traditions. The star product is obviously the avocado.

The tiny truck of Soul kitchen offers a menu that changes every 3 months to guarantee the best recipes with seasonal products. The chef prepares original dishes inspired by worldwide mixes of flavors and the “in-truck” sommelier matches the food with a great selection of wines.

The Rolling kitchen offers all kind of gourmet sandwiches with fresh and first quality products. Vegetarians or meat (and fish!) lovers will easily find exactly the sandwich of their dreams.

Before firing up your food truck business in Santiago, please consider the gourmet trucks already on the road cooking up quality delicacies. Saying that, Santiaguinos seem ready to welcome new chefs behind the wheel; and the streets are big enough to host more dreamers.

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