Mexico’s annual Prickly Pear festival break for lunch. As they wait in line, attenders try to decide between a turkey sandwich with cactus fruit syrup, a salad layered with popped quinoa and amaranth grains and a host of other options. The food truck is Manko, and its chef, Ray Naranjo, is one of many Native American chefs redefining the food truck scene in the south-west.
While Native American-owned restaurants like Owamni and Wahpepah’s Kitchen have recently garnered national attention, Native-owned food trucks are forging their own path – traveling the dusty highways and backroads of New Mexico to bring Indigenous recipes to customers.
New Mexico has the third largest Native American population in the US. But few of the state’s restaurants are actually Native-owned. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the restaurant industry, Native chefs are increasingly turning to food trucks to launch their own businesses.
Many of these food trucks were created to provide “four-star dining experiences” for places that may not otherwise have access to them, says Dr Ariel D Smith, founder and host of The Food Truck Scholar podcast.
Smith says many people of color – who’ve been marginalized from wealth over generations – choose to open food trucks because they’re more affordable than a restaurant. Because of this, there is something uniquely powerful about watching a food truck’s journey, she adds. It gives customers “a feeling of investment and participation”.
Here are three food trucks – launched by chefs from the northern pueblos of New Mexico – that are crisscrossing the state, building a loyal customer base.