Japan has a strong tradition of street vending. The famous Yakult brand of probiotic milk was first, and still is, peddled on the street by women pushing carts of it. Roast potato, or yaki-imo, sellers trundle around the streets of youth areas of cities in their tiny trucks, fired-up oven in the back. The vehicles of collectors of oversize garbage also crawl through neighborhoods offering to take away old fridges, sofas, washing machines and the like for a price.
However, the sight of a bread van in the Kojimachi district of Tokyo yesterday was, I think, a first for me in Japan.
The small truck, staffed by a young man, was stacked with shelves of different delicatessen items. I was curious-not to mention a little peckish at the sight of it-and sampled the wares: an apple tart.
The company, Essen, I discovered on the internet, was founded almost 20 years ago, is based in Tokyo's Katsushika ward, and employs about 60 people, about two-thirds of them part-timers.
The culinary verdict: back at the office, I took the 135 yen tart out of the white paper bag. It looked good: baked just right, with a light dusting of sugar powder. I took a bite.
Unlike the soggy, pasty blancmanges of "apple tarts" that you find for 150 yen in the convenience stores, this was, first of all, crisp, with a good, just-baked crackle to it as you bit.
The sprinkling of what looks like nuts on the top could well have contained walnuts, because there was a definite nutty flavor that complemented the savoriness of the apple filling, which, compared with its poor konbini cousins, was quite generous.
After three or four mouthfuls it was gone, but it left a good taste behind, and a scattering of well-done crumbs on my lap. Essen truck - I'll be back for more!
Inside Track Japan For Kindle