Chicago foodies have had a frustrating year trying to convince city government to ease regulations on food trucks. City ordinance restricts these mobile restaurants from doing any actual cooking aboard their vehicles; they can only serve food that is cooked and prepared elsewhere. Food truck owners describe this restriction as onerous, saying it stymies their ability to offer most kinds of foods or to fully exercise the creative potential of their cooking.
They do have an ally in the form of Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, who introduced legislation in April that would make it easier for them to cook in the trucks. However, the proposed law is getting push-back from some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners who feel threatened by competition from the new kids in town.
Amidst all this, there is at least one set of Chicago restaurateurs who are comfortable blurring the lines between street food and sit-down, for whom street food is second nature.
Mary Nguyen Aregoni and her sister, Theresa Nguyen, grew up in Laos and Thailand after their family fled communist Vietnam. They describe street food as an integral part of the culture and childhood. “Every morning we leave the house there’s street food all around us,” Nguyen says. “It’s just the way life is there.”
When they settled in Chicago and decided to open a restaurant, they knew they wanted to bring that sensibility to whatever they did. So they scored a spot in the French Market and started offering a simple menu of traditional bahn mi and pho served fast, street food style, under the name Saigon Sisters.
Now they have a second, sit-down location on West Lake Street that serves dinner, and say they hope to take their wares to the actual streets eventually. A food truck would be “a very good model for us,” Nguyen Aregoni says, “if [the law] ever passes.”
The sisters spoke recently to an audience assembled by the Culinary Historians of Chicago, and traced some interesting parallels between the fast pace of cities like Saigon and Chicago.
You can hear that, and more colorful details about South East Asia’s street food culture, in the audio excerpt posted above.
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen spoke at an event presented by Culinary Historians of Chicago in April. Click here to hear the event in its entirety, and click here to subscribe to the Dynamic Range podcast.