Growing up in Central New York, one of the joys of summer was hearing the jingling tune of the local ice cream truck steadily growing louder as it drove down the street towards my house. This is why I was shocked when I came to Japan to discover that ice cream trucks as I know them do not exist.
However, there are other kinds of mobile delicacies to be experienced in Japan.
In winter, a truck loaded with hot coals in the back winds slowly through rows of houses. A steam pipe perched on the top of the back spews not only smoke from the coals but the honey-sweet scent of cooking sweet potatoes. Depending on where you are in Japan, the iconic “yaki imo” tune might be playing through the speakers on the top of the cab or simply a dry-sounding horn. Both indicate piping-hot ‘taters are for sale. The “yaki imo” song is so iconic throughout Japan, fans on the web have recorded it, remixed it, and have even written accompaniments for it on the guitar and piano.
Even more unusual are the Japanese Donut trucks…
Recently, Japanese convenient stores have started selling in-store fried donuts, giving big donut store chains a run for their money. Still, there are places that donut trucks can go that Seven Eleven and Mr. Donut cannot. Also, donut trucks are often times run by individuals so the chances are you will be getting handmade donuts. This particular truck offers handmade okara donuts. Okara, which is made from soybeans, is thought to have multiple health benefits.
Perhaps unique to Japan is the Grilled Squid truck. Grilled squid is often sold in food stands at Japanese festivals across Japan and is a favorite at barbecues. Grilled squid is something that you can make at home, but is not commonly sold premade in supermarkets. Popular among students and salarymen alike as a snack to have with alcohol, squid is the perfect post-party delight.
I have yet to see a proper ice cream truck in Japan. Likewise, I have yet to see donut trucks or sweet potato trucks driving through my neighborhood in New York. Why not, though? This is a situation where a little cultural understanding on both sides could benefit everyone!