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Meals on wheels: What’s behind the Indian food truck boom?

4:15 pm on 12 April 2024

By Rizwan Mohammad*

Aloo Chana Chaat - street food in Kolkata, India


New Zealanders are witnessing a boom in Indian food trucks serving street delicacies uncommon to traditional Indian restaurants.

Already popular with Indian migrants, street food from the subcontinent is starting to appeal to other New Zealanders seeking to enjoy a mind-boggling array of flavours.

Indian fast food, previously limited to cultural festivals and special events via temporary food stalls, is now becoming mainstream with food trucks.

It is difficult to ascertain who to credit as the pioneer of the Indian food truck scene in New Zealand, but every aspiring entrepreneur in this space has a story to tell.

There are multiple reasons why Indian food trucks have grown in popularity in recent years, with operators of mobile services attracted by low start-up costs, minimal overheads and flexible work hours.

A chef makes dosa at a night market in Auckland. SINGLE USE ONLY

A chef makes dosa at a night market in Auckland. Photo: Supplied / Delicious Dosa

These 'on the wheel' outlets also offer new cuisines to explore at relatively lower costs for customers, gain popularity through word of mouth and, most importantly, nostalgia for enjoying street food in India.

Many started their mobile kitchens with a desire to make delectable Indian snacks, which they feel are often limited to costly Indian sweet shops.

Trucking Delicious Food Truck SINGLE USE ONLY

Trucking Delicious sells street-spiced snacks such as dabeli, panipuri and chaat. Photo: Supplied / Trucking Delicious

Some felt the authentic taste of Indian street food was slowly diminishing on restaurant menus, which left a void to fill.

A few made lip-smacking snacks as a hobby, selling their creations on food trucks as a second income option.

Akeel Ahmedabadwala, a chef by profession, wanted to bring the authentic taste of Mumbai's Chowpatty Beach to New Zealand.

Authenticity for Ahmedabadwala meant producing unaltered street-spiced snacks such as dabeli, panipuri and chaat - items he sells at Trucking Delicious on Auckland's North Shore.

Anant and Manisha Patel, owners of Apna Adda in Mt Roskill, recognised a need for late-night food spots for the growing Indian community in Auckland.

The husband-wife duo now serves Gujarati-fusion items such as Indian Maggi noodles, homemade sauce sandwiches and innovative beverages that keep them occupied till late on weekdays and weekends.

Anant and Manisha Patel at Apna Adda Food Truck in Mt Roskill Auckland SINGLE USE ONLY

Anant and Manisha Patel in the kitchen of Apna Adda in Mt Roskill, Auckland. Photo: Rizwan Mohammad

Mohammed Ismail Sarwar, a civil engineer by profession, felt Indian restaurants did not do enough justice to Indo-Chinese cuisine.

His response was MI Indo-Chi on Stoddard Rd in Mt Roskill, Auckland.

Driven by a passion for street food and a desire to break free from a corporate-style work life, Vaibhav and Varuni Joshi started small with their food stall at events.

But when an opportunity opened in Sandringham, they seized it without a second thought.

Vaibha and Varuni Joshi at their Mumbai Vada Pav food truck in Sandringham, Auckland. SINGLE USE ONLY

Vaibha and Varuni Joshi in the kitchen of Mumbai Vada Pav in Sandringham, Auckland. Photo: Rizwan Mohammad

"Getting a license for a food truck and complying with council regulations was challenging but a learning curve for us," says Vaibhav Joshi, owner of Mumbai Vada Pav. "We have to tick the boxes for each requirement and, if we were stuck, we Googled or asked the council to guide us and were eventually through."

One common attribute among most food truck operators was that they typically started out hosting food stalls at night markets, weekend markets, festivals and community events. The feedback from such places cemented their determination to open a mobile outlet.

Tauranga's Food Point Delicious Dosa gained immense popularity with its South Indian fusion cuisine customed to New Zealand taste.

Tauranga’s Food Point Delicious Dosa has gained immense popularity with its South Indian fusion cuisine customed to New Zealand taste. SINGLE USE ONLY

Tauranga's Food Point Delicious Dosa serves South Indian fusion cuisine. Photo: Supplied / Food Point Delicious Dosa

Chef Lakshmi Chandrasekaran created a team of 12, divided them into different groups and sent them around the North Island to set up their food trucks. They operate weekly stalls in Mt Maunganui, Taupo, Rotorua, Hamilton and Auckland.

They operate simultaneously in multiple locations at peak times during summer in Bay of Plenty and Tauranga towns such as Edgecumbe, Papamoa, Whakatane, Te Puke, Mystery Creek in Waikato and Christchurch in the South Island, among other locations.

Umesh Lathia, owner of Indian Express Food Truck in Christchurch, says it is important to maintain hygiene when running a mobile operation.

"Rationing for prepared food items, spot cooking, spices, oil, storage, takeaway or serving plates, spoons, cleaning, recycling and rubbish - all elements are to be considered daily," Lathia says. "Failing to manage these eventually reflects poorly on the confined truck space and the food quality."

Raj Mhatre of All Around The World Food Truck in Hamilton SINGLE USE ONLY

Raj Mhatre of All Around The World in Hamilton. Photo: Supplied / All Around The World

Hamilton's Raj and Kayla Mhatre started All Around the World with an Indian palette of street food but soon encapsulated finger food and snacks from all over the globe, serving the tastes of different cultures in one spot.

"We started in 2015 with a small cart serving chai at local markets," says Rahul Minhas from Original Chaiwalla in Wellington. "We introduced different types of chai and our Delhi-style street food, complementing the beverage - that made us the talk of the town.

"We have served thousands of customers across music festivals and multicultural events in NZ and have seen a growing admiration for good Indian street food amongst New Zealanders over the years."

Rahul Minhas from Original Chaiwalla in Wellington SINGLE USE ONLY

Rahul Minhas in the kitchen of Original Chaiwalla in Wellington. Photo: Supplied / Original Chaiwalla

A different story lies behind the success of Sandringham's Chai Wala Bhai food truck.

Laid off before Covid, Christianson Welsly started a small Indian chai-coffee counter serving simple Indian snacks such as bread pakora, bhajiya and bread omelette on a property on Sandringham Rd, Auckland.

In a matter of months, the space became a popular hotspot amongst youngsters, helping Welsly serve approximately 1000 cups of chai a week. Word of mouth drew greater footfall every week, with his customers visiting from other suburbs and some from as far away as Papakura in South Auckland.

Entrepreneur Suresh Mogili's tech shop was in gradual decline, and he had to consider other options to sustain his future.

Suresh Mogili in front of his Smashed Burgers food truck in Sandringham, Auckland. SINGLE USE ONLY

Suresh Mogili stands in front of Smashed Burgers in Sandringham, Auckland. Photo: Rizwan Mohammad

Inspired by an overseas pilot who started a burger joint after losing his job, Suresh learned and created his own menu, bringing an Indian touch to his Smashed Burgers [Eat Love Repeat] food truck in Sandringham, Auckland. His months of trial and error paid off, and he is set to open multiple mobile outlets in other suburbs, including Avondale, Papakura, Manukau and Auckland's CBD.

A consensus amongst all food truck operators is that low-cost maintenance and flexibility to operate are some of the key reasons for entering this business.

"With food trucks, you either rent a trailer or buy one and custom the interior per your needs," says Hitesh Patel from Kaki Ka Kitchen, a small food trailer serving authentic Gujarati snacks in Sandringham. "[There is] no staff cost, you pay a nominal rent for the space, are flexible in your operating times, have no major utility costs and you can move around to serve different locations."

*Rizwan Mohammad is a content marketing specialist and a freelance contributor focusing on the growing South Asian community in New Zealand.

Customers gather around food trucks at a night market in Auckland. SINGLE USE ONLY

Customers gather around food trucks at a night market in Auckland. Photo: Rizwan Mohammad

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