Where Are the Food Trucks in Spain?

Is Spain Ready For These 4-Wheeled Delicious Mobiles?

Portable, creative, and delicious– this is what Americans have come to associate with food trucks. It’s obvious when walking around cities like Boston, Washington DC, or Portland that food trucks have taken the US by storm, providing a fast, fun, and reasonably priced alternative to other fast-casual restaurant choices.

Innovative chefs and restaurateurs have been quick to replace the stigma of cheap, unhealthy, fast food with some of the most creative and often healthy choices in town. Don’t get the wrong idea, some still serve juicy burgers and hotdogs– but they’ve come a long way with trucks such as Da Burger Boss out of Los Angeles serving gourmet burgers such as The Patrolman: Creamed Blue Cheese, Bacon, Allspice Cran-Apple Reduction, On A Grilled Donut. That’s a burger you don’t find anywhere else! Cities like Miami even host events like The Weekly Tuesday Miami Food Truck Event where over 30 trucks offer their treats to the public, each one more creatively named and mouth watering than the next.

A creative food truck in Miami

Source

In some cities people are actually getting tired of food trucks—some Portland, Oregon natives claim that their city has been overrun, and others point out the high rate of failure in many first year operations. Yet despite saturation in some cities, experts claim that food trucks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon– they’re listed as one of the top food trends for 2012. Where have I been throughout this amazingly delicious and exciting food phenomenon? In the land of the ham of course!

We all know how much I adore Spanish food, but watching an episode of The Great Food Truck Race had me wishing to be back in the US eating my way through the colorful trucks of my native land. You see, Spain hasn’t yet adopted the food truck trend. Some blame the existing tapas culture– if people are already paying very little for small plates and they get to enjoy them in a bar or restaurant, what’s the appeal of eating on the street? Others say its simply a matter of time, complicated by the bureaucracy involved in getting all of the licenses and permissions to own and operate a food truck.

And what about the rest of Europe? Are food trucks popular in other European countries?

Apparently, the UK has adopted the food truck trend rather quickly and trucks have popped up around big cities like London. Some food trucks have even been so successful that they’ve gone on to open brick and mortar restaurants. One difference, however, is that many aren’t nearly as mobile as American food trucks, often staying in a fixed location instead of driving around and stopping in different places.

Other European cities have also embraced the trend (and some would probably claim that food trucks have been a part of their food culture for years now). I still dream about the delicious french fries and gravy that I ate from a truck in Brussels and the hot spiced wine I tried in Prague.

Yummy french fries in Brussels

But Spain? Will a culture that already offers such creative and inexpensive tapas adapt this casual American fad? When I lived in Seville there were a few food trucks that mostly operated late at night and served cheap fast food like hamburgers and hotdogs. Today’s trendy food truck with its innovative options seemed a lifetime away from opening shop in Seville.

Are there any food trucks in Madrid?

Here in Madrid, despite not seeing any food trucks around, I decided to google away. Surely in this city of 3.3 million people someone had a food truck selling delicious goodies?

And it was true. Madrid does have a food truck or two if you know where to look (although you won’t see them driving around town anytime soon). Here’s what I’ve tried:

Sal&Chichen Takes on the German Sausage

This is Madrid’s supposed first and only food truck. Currently it’s parked right across from the Nuevos Ministerios metro stop and shopping mall. It doesn’t usually change locations except for special events, although the owner is hoping to open more locations in the coming year and even start franchising the brand. Sal&Chichen was founded by Verónica Morales Horster, a Spanish entrepreneur who left her job in television to reinvent herself in the hospitality industry. Morales, whose mother is German, spent time living in Mexico and Switzerland where she realized the appeal of food trucks and good quality street food.

Weighting her options for opening a German eatery here in Madrid, Morales bought a 1970’s Airstreamer from the US and hired three Michelin star German chefs to create a product for her. After 11 attempts, the chefs finally created the Sal&Chichen signature sausage and hamburger. Both are additive and conservative free—but they are prepared in Germany and shipped to Spain frozen.

So on a bright Saturday afternoon Ale and I decided to check them out.

I wanted to love them– really. But the food was mediocre, leaving an enormous gap in the market that hopefully others will rush to fill! The truck is very cute, retro style, and the location is great– conveniently located right outside of the mall and across from the Nuevos Ministerios metro. There are about 6 small tables and a bunch of benches too. The menu is small, which made me expect what was on it to be outstanding. We tried the ham hock sandwich and a sausage. The meat was all pre-cooked, so the grill cook just warmed it up and dressed the bun with tomato, lettuce, and some fried onions. The bread was ok, but both sandwiches were pretty dry without adding anything else. We both ended up smothering our choices in curry ketchup– yummy, but definitely more on the unhealthy fast food side of the food truck choices. Overall I’d give the food a 5.5/10, and at 6,00€ per meal (served with fries and a drink) I would have preferred a good kebab for the same price. Another downside is that Sal&Chichen is only open until 10:30 pm, which is actually still Spanish dinnertime and not even close to providing people with a nighttime snack. Seeing that Morales wants to start a franchise, I hope she focuses on perfecting the existing menu and perhaps expanding the choices (or at least the toppings selection).

Nicely situated in a big plaza

The truck's menu

A nicely browned sausage

The Ham Hock sandwich

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this place for someone in the area who would like a cheap eat outside in the fresh air, although I would remind you that for the same price there are various other fast-casual options available.

But is this sausage-mobile really the only food truck in Madrid? I’d have to say no. Considering it doesn’t usually move, I can’t really see any difference between Sal&Chichen and my neighborhood food truck that sells freshly fried churros and porras (jumbo sized churros). This churro truck, located in Plaza del Mariano de Cavia, is open every afternoon and is a popular spot for a snack.

I personally hope that food trucks do catch on here in Spain. I think that there is definitely a market for them– especially late at night when people are bar hopping and most food establishments are closing up. It would be so refreshing to see innovative fast food choices that aren’t necessarily unhealthy! They’d also be ideal in many of Madrid’s parks for an easy picnic in the sun. And it’s really not fair that famed Spanish chef José Andrés launched his Spanish themed food truck (Pepe) just yesterday in Washington, DC while we here can only drool about it from afar! Come on Chef Andrés, what about your fellow Spaniards (and their American friends)?!

Has anyone else out there tried Sal&Chichen? Do you know of any other food trucks in Madrid or in other Spanish cities? Do you think food trucks will ever catch on in Spain like in the US? Please discuss!

 

Comments

  1. Food trucks in the US can be really good, I agree. I love the idea of them (I even wrote about them in my blog: http://chicsouffle.blogspot.com/2011/02/food-trucks-usa.html), but I don’t think they can reach the same level of success (or get close to it) in Spain. First and foremost, Spaniards do not like eating on-the-go, and that’s the major reason for their success in the US; people eat a quick lunch wherever they can. In Spain people like sitting down and having a decent meal for lunch (which is usually a bigger meal than dinner, while the opposite is true in the US.)
    Food stands like the ones that sell churros/buñuelos are a different story. But they are not food trucks, they’re just big food stands, and very popular at fairs or around festivities. Valencia, for example, is now full of buñuelos/churros stands because of Fallas.
    I do miss good sandwiches, tacos, etc. from US food trucks, but don’t think the whole idea would be very popular here…

    • I just read your article– a great overview and I’ll certainly be recommending it to any Spaniards who want some info. on this yummy trend!I completely agree that they won’t ever reach the same level of success (and I’d also say innovation) here in Spain, but I do think there is room for a few pioneers, at least here in big cities. I’ve noticed that in Madrid more and more people are eating on the go and many want quick alternatives to a sit down lunch. I can also see trucks being popular to “merendar” or for late night food. I would have to disagree and say that some of the churro stands are in fact food trucks, based solely on the facts that they are mobile trucks and sell food! I remember being in Valencia around this time last year and being shocked at the number of churros trucks we saw. Too much temptation!

    • That’s a good point! I’ve never eaten from a food truck anywhere, so I can’t say whether I think they’re good or not. I can’t imagine my Spanish friends being too into them, unless they were in the US, where they’d be more likely to try new things.

  2. Nicole says:

    Great topic! I was just thinking about this the other day and wishing that I could partake in the food truck trend! But, as its just recently that you can find decent pizza by the slice in Madrid, I would say not to hold your breath for any more food trucks!

    By the time we catch up with trends here, the trend has normally passed on … just look at the mullet! :)

    • Haha, oh my, the mullet! I did read a Spanish article the other day that said “looking at trends in the US is like looking into a crystal ball” Fuerte, no? Where can you find good pizza by the slice in Madrid? I want names! I’ve been dying for good pizza lately!!!

  3. Mo says:

    Really great article Lauren. I´d never heard of these food trucks but they sound wonderful. In the Spanish context, I like how you show that there´s not much difference between Sal & Chichen and the usual porras fare. I think Chic Soufflé (vaya nombre) is right in saying Spaniards still like the idea of sitting down (like hidalgos) and being served. Yet the tapa culture is really a fast food option which might meld with this truck approach, particularly given the sunshine we usually enjoy here. And at the risk of sounding like a miserable old git, I´ll repeat that the worst and most damaging custom in Spain is the back-to-front, anti-fast food timetable. Why can´t they have a quick lunch like everybody else then go home and have slow food, elaborate food, fancy cuisine, etc etc? A home life??? I really believe that this is a fundamental factor in questions of productivity and profit.

    • It’s interesting that you point out that tapas really are fast food. I mean, it depends on the place of course, but in Andalusia the majority of the neighborhood tapas bars were definitely fast food– everything was heated up in the microwave and served within 5 minutes. It’s also interesting that in Seville almost everyone I knew took a 1-2 hour lunch break and ate a big meal, and had a siesta if possible. Here I see many more people with only a 1 hour lunch break and bringing tupperwares to work or eating a quick sandwich. What I think is missing here in Madrid is healthy, delicious, and inexpensive fast food options.

  4. Cat says:

    Really great, Lauren!! My friend Jess from high school started a food truck in SFO, and knowing how much we love street food when we travel, this is the kind of niche I could see your resourcefulness getting into! Yuo possibilities could be endless with all of your talents!

  5. tita buds says:

    Churros, patatas bravas and uhm, maybe bocadillos de jamon from a food truck might catch on but mostly with tourists. I think such a business would have to go against the European culture that largely (and thankfully) still considers meal time to be a time for socialization that must not to rushed.

    I saw a food truck in a mercato in Florence but it sold mostly burgers and franks and promptly closed at 6pm. My friends and I chatted with the owners as they were closing up shop and they said they always close early because they had to go home to eat with family. :)

    • I think that food trucks here don’t necessarily have to replace meals like lunch or dinner, but rather would be accepted as more of snacks or late night food. I think if they were serving something different they’d catch on. You should have seen the line at the mediocre sausage place– if they’re getting business at 3,50 a sausage I think there’s potential!

  6. Lauren says:

    Great article. Lauren, maybe this is your opportunity to start another or 2nd food truck in MADRID? I was inspired after a visit to Portland but know they do take a lot of work and preparation (and depending on which city a lot of competition and regulation).

    • I’d love to help start a food truck here– but I lack the funds and patience to do it myself (remember Spanish any country’s red tape?!) I would, however, love to consult on such a project and think I could help an aspiring food truckie reach unprecedented levels of delicious success! Who is the brave one who wants to try? :)

  7. Kyle says:

    I see a business opportunity for you! Food truck in Madrid, compete with the Sal & Chicken one :P

    I’ve only ever eaten in a food truck in NYC. I need to get out more!

    • I’ve only eaten at one in NYC and Boston and it was last summer! I’ve been living abroad for much of their insane popularity (you have too I believe!) but after researching for this article I’m dying to go to Portland and eat my way into a coma!

  8. Giovanna says:

    Very nice review. I think the concept may work in the South or during the summer, because normally all terrazas are close during winter here in Madrid.
    I think is something worth thinking about ;)

  9. Lindsay says:

    mmmmm I LOVE food trucks and grabbing street food, but it doesn’t surprise me much that Spain hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. It doesn’t seem to follow along with Spain’s eating habits, as fast food and eating on the go aren’t as popular here. But I sure would love to pass by a food truck with pinchos :) ))

  10. Lauren H says:

    I agree, I feel we are neglecting ourselves here in Spain letting the food truck trend pass us. Not saying it couldn’t work, but it would have to be the right product (superior quality or taste to what you could get sitting down for the price), have an unusual characteristic (as you mentioned time-table, or maybe location), and marketing spread by word-of-mouth through locals. We live on tourism here, so for the truck to be successful it would have to pull them in, or convince the Spaniards of its value.

    The other draw of the food truck craze is the diversity of them – fusion, dessert only, even $14 lobster rolls! Big cities like NYC, Austin, Portland, DC, etc., are 1) accustomed to eating ethnic food 2) eating on a tight schedule, you’ve got to be back to work, to class or onto your next errand ASAP and 3) open to trying new things, even if it sets you back a few extra bucks. I generally see that Spaniards are comfortable with their food, their long lunches, and less willing to take risks. Maybe hitting up young trendy (foreign) university students, as opposed to office parks, would be the key to success here?

    Still dying to know the pizza by the slice place recommended by Nicole!!!!

  11. Michelle says:

    Mmmmmm, I LOVED buying my beer and waffles from the food trucks in Belgium. The waffles were especially delicious. Gosh, now I’m craving food truck food!

  12. Rob Innis says:

    I think the obstacles are the Spanish culture of eating (sit down, take time, enjoy) and also the laws against this type of operation mean that it is not very common and you only find them in markets. Someone called tapas fast food, not sure I agree, whilst they might be re heated in only a few minutes sometimes it has taken hours to prepare them.

  13. Somehow I can’t see many Spaniards falling for being fobbed off with paying 5 Euros plus for a fatty, rubbery burger and fries from a Van when they can pay a few Euros more for a decent home cooked ‘del dia’. If the Americanos are daft enough to fall for those shennanigans that’s their wasteline and their business.

    • The modern food truck scene in the States is actually a lot of home cooked, ethnic food and has a lot of emphasis on healthy too. There are, of course, burger and fries food trucks– but the trend is gourmet, local beef, etc. (definitely not rubbery)! I’d have to say, don’t knock it til you try it!

  14. Eduardo says:

    I am a venezuelan guy who lives in Madrid and I am an enterpreneur. I think the biggest problem here is burocracy. If you want to star your own food truck you will find a non ending list of requierments that will tear down the idea. I know is something difficult to americans to believe this but the public administration treat the enterprenuer as a problem, specially if your dealing with food. Plus, Spain is a country not very open minded to new food.
    But as I say before, the biggest problem, as usuall, is burocracy and not the market.

    • Hi Eduardo, thanks for commenting! I completely agree that the bureaucracy here makes things difficult, although I think that Madrid is currently a promising city for entrepreneurs!

  15. Javi says:

    Great topic! I live in Alicante, and here there is a good food truck, 4blooms (http://www.4blooms.es) . They offer healthy and tasty hamburgers.

  16. Leire Pérez says:

    Hi Lauren!
    I just wanted to congratulate you for such a great review. Both yourself and the others have touched very interesting points: Burocracy, culture, eating habits here in Spain, etc
    Despite of all challenges and inspired by the foodtruck boom in USA in 2009 and the foodtruck industry around the world I decided to launch my first foodtruck in Bilbao (Spain) this March 2012. I invite you all to visit the website and of course to try our food!!! Our idea is to grow as a franchise in Spain. We’re determined to make it work. We had a great summer and we’re really looking forward to see how the winter will go.
    BTW: We should meet up Lauren! I think there’s a lot to do and you can see I’m def IN!
    Thanks so much guys for all your comments regarding foodtrucks in Spain! I thought I was the only crazy one believing!

  17. guy says:

    hola lauren , yo soy un jefe de cocina belga con una una experiencia professional en 7 paises uno de ellos españa durante 16 años…he visto un programa en la tele francesa esta mañana sobre los food truck en paris ….ciudad de la gastronomia por ecxelencia …con frio , lluvia , …y demas competencia….quiero decir q ese negocio dando alta calidad a un precio moderado …tiene q funcionar en Madrid y Barcelona seguro…yo personalomente quiero ser uno de los premiros en abrir uno . en la actualidad estoy en sur africa y mi meta es volver a España abriendo un “food truck ” gastronomico ..y lo voy a conseguir…si me puedes ayudar por los temas de licencia…gracias a gente como tu uno se levanta una mañana …lleno de illucion

  18. Ahmad says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Any idea on how to find out about the food truck permits and vendor permits here in Spain? I’m currently a student researching about this food tuck project. Thank you.

    Best,

    Ahmad

    • Hi Ahmad,

      I’m afraid I don’t know anything about it! I’ve heard that in Madrid moving food trucks aren’t even legal. Not sure though. Below there is a comment from hambroneta.com they seem to have successfully started one in Bilbao! Good luck!

  19. Hello,
    It is funny that I just read your article now because I am actually trying developing the food truck concept in Spain.
    We are two : glenn and I( Pamela) he is a Chef and I just graduated from Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne.
    We loved food truck and we noticed that it was not yet popular in Spain.

    So we left Belgium 2 weeks ago. We are now in alicante. We already did one event with our food truck and people and Spanish people loves it!!!! They are waiting for good but affordable and quick food.
    But it is very difficult to have the authorization to sell on the street because in Spain it is forbidden.

    On September we hope to go Onassis and Barcelona where people are more open-minded.

    Visit us on Facebook. I hope that we can meet in September:)!!!!!

  20. Don says:

    It’s a pity that food trucks are not allowed in Spain. So much entrepreneurial energy lost to bureaucratic nonsense. And they wonder why there is a “crisis” here…

    • gloria says:

      Don, couldn t have expressed it better. I have been inquinring in cities around Madrid and there is no way. we have a devastating crisis and the few entrepreneur we do not have a chance to innovate and créate a new concept , only because of the bureaucracy. painfully lots of our Young people must go to other countries to try to find a wayl.

  21. Piero says:

    Hola, soy una persona emprendedora y estoy interesado en implementar este concepto desde hace tiempo aqui en Mallorca. Si alguien esta interesado en lo mismo escribeme a pierolagioia@gmail.com
    Hello, I’m an entrepenuer person and I’ve wanting to implement this concept here in Mallorca.
    If anyone interested plese contact me at pierolagioia@gmail.com
    Gracias

  22. The real deal street food is in Peru where vendors just set up a portable stove on the sidewalk and sell skewers of meat right. You don’t need a “truck” to have street food!

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