Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Yum, Sort Of

Tyler Cowen goes on and on about the virtues of strip-mall and food-cart food.  This has always struck me as delusive romanticism advise that needs to be handled with great circumspection.  In my youth they used to say "eat where the truck drivers eat," and if you followed that advice, you would wind up with the perfect-storm concatenation of salt, fat, Jack Daniels and Red Bull.  Fact is that lots of people survive on dreadful food (perhaps because they life has taught them humility?).  Moreover we know about the failure rate among restaurants (astronomic): everybody eats so everybody thinks they can cook so when nothing else is working take a flyer on food service: not a winning strategy, mostly.

Still, I will grant some basics: the overhead is low; some of the recipes are novel and diverting (at least at first).  But if you want to give Tyler's theory a try, here's an easy and accessible opportunity: Portland food carts.  Grant that Portland in general seems to have descended into an infinitely self-referential parodic echo-chamber, still the food cart is one avatar that seems to have retained its dignity and evaded the clutches of the hated corporate behemoths.  There's a conspicuous array of them at Alder and 10th Ave. (above), within easy reach of the tourist trade (except with no place nearby to sit, you suspect that most of this grub is being lugged back to the office buildings nearby).  And not just downtown:  the food carts website boasts a grand total of 475 which would seem to suggest they are more or less everywhere (the website has a Google map, and a Bing link).

One steady irony here: in the epicenter of our socialist future, it is a triumph of constrained capitalism.   Prices for lunch at the downtown pod begin at $5 (which we used to think of as money) because if you went to $5.01, you'd quickly run out of customers.    And this being Portland we observe at least one touch of exhibitionist self-deflation (at right).

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