One night in 2012, an oblong red truck rolled into RCA. Few seemed to notice its approach. Cosmic Cafés hipster clientele was caught up in Sangsom and soda. The swell of clubbers inside Route 66 spilled out onto the wet asphalt a like tidal wave, golden light reflecting off the puddles. Even the worst of rainy season couldn’t shut down parties. It was, in a word, just another night in Bangkok.
Within the freewheeling milieu of city nightlife, the truck settled into a parking spot, its bed fitted with a white metal cap and doors decorated with the stencil of a boy’s smiling face dividing “Daniel” and “Thaiger.” Metal rolling shutters lifted, revealing a griddle, a pillar of patties, and a burly, bearded man working beside a petite woman with a ponytail: Mark and Honey Falcioni. The grill was hot, the rain had stopped, but would anybody come? The couple in the mobile kitchen wondered.
Daniel Thaiger was the first of its kind, a vanguard food truck in the capital of street eating. The Falcionis didn’t join the game — they set to work on their own, making up the rules on the fly, like basketball players on an empty court. It was a risky manoeuvre, and it didn’t catch on at first. “We were down to zero,” says Falcioni, a native of Los Angeles. “The day we started at RCA, we had run out of money. This isn’t an easy business, you know. It’s hot inside the truck, the hours are long, and you’re constantly prepping and transporting product. But we always knew we would succeed. We believed in our product. Feedback from customers in the beginning — ‘This is amazing, your burgers are awesome’ — and the first set of regulars we got: man, that was huge.”
Two years on, with Daniel Thaiger more or less a permanent fixture on Soi 38, the food truck scene finally burst and bloomed. New players emerged from Thong Lo to Town in Town, selling pasta, pizza, and fresh seafood out of repurposed vans and flatbeds. The movement became one of artistic voice, as truck founders began to express their personalities through piebald colours, layouts, and cooking styles. Some were bright, and others were basic, but all united under a common theme.
In the heat of the 2014 food truck boom, a chef from Brooklyn named Jeremy Leech relocated to Bangkok. He had moved on a whim, extending a month-long holiday indefinitely. He had no hard-set plans, but he did have a culinary pedigree. Before long, he found a business partner, and, by the middle of July, the canary yellow Full Moon truck was born. The menu stuck to his Americana roots — cheesesteak, macaroni and cheese, thick-cut fries — and praise for it piled as high as his hamburgers. That is, once the public embraced the substantial portions he was serving.
“At first, my food was a little heavy for people here,” says Leech, who, like Falcioni, has a robust beard, warm demeanour, and understated confidence. “After we started to give out samples, locals opened up to it. The tuk tuk’s helped, too. Customers recognize it,” he adds, making reference to the second incarnation of Full Moon: a beige three-wheeler that, until recast as the brand’s go-to vehicle for events, had remained a fixture in the On Nut night market.
By appealing to a younger local crowd and maintaining a large, though not entirely unexpected, expat following, Full Moon has singled itself out within a rapidly expanding field. Diversification. That’s the key — not just for Leech, but for every cook with four wheels and a sense of adventure. The most successful food trucks have taken up multi-pronged strategies in business. Some have opened brick-and-mortar restaurants. Others have gone from storefront to street.
Falcioni still runs his truck operation at night and during events, but he has also set up a stationary locale: Game Over, a lounge-style hangout for gamers that features Daniel Thaiger’s burgers and fries. When Peter Gale’s Woodstock Bar shut its doors in Thong Lo, he took his award-winning black bun burger to the streets. Now, he travels around town in the orange-clad Orn the Road food truck. Chef Luca Appino of the critically acclaimed La Bottega di Luca started his grandiose Pizza Massilia mobile venture because of an intrinsic urge to share gourmet food with the masses. He cooks up woodfired pizzas with toppings such as truffle mortadella and ratatouille, yet captures the energy of casual dining. Leech, on the other hand, has found success through events (Full Moon’s base in On Nut mostly functions as a means to build name recognition). The chef says with a laugh, “What set us off was Wonderfruit [in Pattaya]. I think I got six hours of sleep the entire weekend. Since then, we’ve gone to MAYA and Kolour in the Park, and we’re always doing condo openings and markets.”
This year, the movement has gained even greater momentum. Events at Siam, Sathorn Square, and Esplanade, among others, have provided a public forum and cause to champion. The vendors have bonded like never before — there’s even a LINE group chat for food truckers. Unlike the first faces on the scene, the ventures involved with this recent resurgence have had the luxury of steady ground on which to build. The concept has been proven, the community established. Although the physical demands remain gruelling and inclement weather thwarts even the best laid plans, the start-up process no longer has the urgency it once did. Event organizers might as well have the chefs on speed dial, and the mobile style has evolved within the dining zeitgeist of the Thai capital.
Nowhere is this animated shift more evident than at Pizza Massilia. When Appino talks about the ocean blue lorry parked behind MK Gold on Sala Daeng Road, his voice carries a tenor of enlightenment. He can recall a childhood spent eating on the local piazza with his family in Torino, the seminal moments that sparked his symbiotic affair with food.
“I can reach more people with this concept, show them that gourmet food isn’t [reserved] for just one class,” he says. “Our generation has lost touch with the taste. Decades from now, will we be able to tell the difference between an organic tomato and the canned stuff we buy in the supermarket?”
That philosophical question drives his wood-fired assembly. Pizzas reach the table hot and fresh on sturdy cardboard. Customers sit on red metal chairs set up at tables topped with blue-and-white chequered cloths. They eat in the shade of banyan trees. A balance is struck between past and present. The pizza’s roots are evident in simple presentation, but the drama of modern cuisine is at play in the production, with incandescent bulbs that shout “Pizza Massilia” illuminating the night sky, laminated placards detailing the history of ingredients, and actual silverware gracing each table.
More and more aspiring truck operators have found that the barrier to entry has lowered while the capacity for individual expression is high. In that regard, the field of few is at risk of getting watered down, with truckers diverting their attention from food and jumping in just for run. If collaboration gives way to competition, and Bangkok’s governance bites down on the nebulous zone in which the trucks operate, prices could soar, too. Falcioni seems bullish on the future in any case. “This is only a trend if you focus on the wrong things,” he says, offering what amounts to a verbal shrug. “I’m glad to see people pushing the envelope. It makes us work hard, really strive to innovate.”
Though he doesn’t say it, the best will rise — they always do, in spite of the city’s fluid regulations — and the rest will fade away. Food trucks don’t have to be mobile, dressed to the nines like a pinup, cramped, or frantic anymore. As Falcioni affirms, “Wherever there’s good food, people are going to come.” Diners don’t need silver spoons to eat well: just a free hand and some extra napkins.
Still hungry? Go online to discover more about Bangkok’s finest food trucks.
• Daniel Thaiger
• Full Moon
• Orn the Road
• Kofuku Japanese Sandwich
• Mother Trucker
• NakTom Toon
• Pizza Aroy
• Summer Street
By Craig Sauers