The Original Food Truck: Los Angeles's Tamale Wagons

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Gustavo Arellano unearths a glorious piece of California history today in the Los Angeles Times. Pegging his story to the popularity of food trucks -- taco and otherwise -- he points out that horse-drawn wagon carts were serving up tamales beginning in the 1870s.

On the menu was everything from popcorn to pigs' feet, oyster cocktails to sandwiches, but the majority of them hawked tamales prepared elsewhere and kept warm in steam buckets. Competition spurred innovation -- wagons transformed into portable kitchens with functioning stoves (some illegally tapped into the city's gas mains and water pipes) and featured counters so that as many as eight people at a time could dine around the wagons. One enterprising tamalero even rolled around town in a two-story giant, the top level his sleeping quarters. By 1901, more than a hundred tamale wagons roamed Los Angeles, each paying a dollar a month for a city business license.

I bring this to your attention partially so you can daydream about how delicious those late 19th-century tamales must have been and so we can celebrate the continuities that make our ancestors' lives a little easier to understand. They, like us, loved a good mobile eatery.

Image: XLNT Foods.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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