by Julian Brunt, Mississippi Today

Food trucks have long been a craze in California. In fact, the first truck began its life in 1974 as an ice cream truck, but owner Raul Martinez decided to sell tacos instead of frozen treats, and the magic door opened to what has become a national culinary craze.

Just a few years ago, Oxford, Jackson, and Starkville were the incubators for this state’s food truck culture, but now trucks and trailers can be found from Tupelo to Biloxi, with the Gulf Coast being the fastest growing region.

Today everything from fried chicken to boudin balls, jalapeno poppers, tacos, burritos, and New York City style hot dogs can all be found on the streets of the Gulf Coast. But the menus are constantly changing, as innovative chefs try their newest ideas on the lines that always seem to form when a food truck appears on a street corner.

Some trucks and trailers have permanent locations, most attend festivals, but almost all post their daily location on Facebook or other social media.  Long Beach and Pass Christian all have active trucks and more can be expected.

Food trucks come in all shapes and sizes. An entry level truck starts at about $50,000, some trailers are a bit less, and carts, like the hot dog stands you see on some big city streets, are even more affordable. But the $50,000 truck is just the beginning, and custom-made trucks can cost as much as $200,000.

The truck itself isn’t cheap, but when you add in the professional grade fryers, stove tops, and all the bells and whistles of a professional kitchen, and a host of other things cities and health departments demand, you are talking some serious money.

Beach Dawgs, most often found at the corner of Highway 90 and Jeff Davis Avenue in Long Beach, sells all beef hot dogs from a New York City style cart. But it is a long way from the old push carts that used to be found in big cities. This one is shiny chrome, with gas burners to keep the water baths hot, water tanks, a bun steamer and it can be pulled behind the family car. The best-selling hot dog, the Onion Lovers, is made with pickled Vidalia onions and chopped sweet onions is well worth a try.

Mississippi has one of the most interesting food cultures in the country and has a rich heritage that is built on many cultures and ethnicities. People from around the world have been stirring Mississippi’s cook pots for generations, including Creole, Cajun, African, Native American, Vietnamese and Hispanic cooks, and all have added spices and technique that have contributed immensely to our food culture.

The food truck is a new part of that culture and diversity.