Back in the day, markets like Foodland, Times and Safeway didn’t exit. Perhaps Piggly Wiggly was around, but not readily accessible for most communities.

Thus, neighborhoods relied on mini-markets-on-wheels. The yasai man (yasai is Japanese for vegetables) used to make the rounds, a predecessor of food trucks. The visits could have been once or twice a week, depending on the community and the vendor.

Unlike today’s food trucks, these vehicles were laden with staples and treats. Pre-cooked meals were not part of the offerings.

The yasai man: a market on wheels.

My mom, and occasionally, my grandma, would come out of the apartment when the truck rolled into the driveway, usually with a blasting-horn signal. We lived in Liliha, then in the Kapalama area, and these merchants on wheels visited both locales.

The guy announced his arrival with horn-honking. Many apartment doors would fling open, and yes, the store came to you, not the other way around.

The offerings were included fresh catch of the day, like fish; deli staples like bologna (remember bologna sandwiches) or farm-to-table greens like lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes or watercress.

The vendor usually was self-employed, and traveled via a truck with a pull-up side, rear,or if his was a big truck, both sides, so customers could see his wares. Steak or pork chops? Maybe char siu? Hmmm, dessert like slices of pies?  Lots to ogle and examine.

Normally, a hanging scale was part of the yasai man’s necessities, to weigh potatoes or

onions. Prices were hand-scribbled; the guy used those ol’ pink market-style paper to wrap some of the meat purchases.

If I remember, some families were able to arrange “credit,” with the vendor logging your tab in tablets, assuming you’d pay up at the next visit. Cash was the desired payment form; no checks, nor plastic.

Kids used to show u to ogle the candy treats. Milk Duds. Nestle’s snow-capped chocolates. Maybe packets of Juicy Fruit gum.

Don’t remember if the options included single-bottles of Coke or Pepsi but Orange Crush was available. (Aluminum cans were not yet born, so there weren’t bottle-recycling fees).

Ice cream was iffy; some vendors didn’t have a proper freezer installed in his van.

If a special occasion was coming up, mom could order a fresh chicken (head still on, legs dangling) or — a treat! – a couple of steaks for pan-frying or hibachi grill, for the vendor’s visit next week.

And so it was – a few precious moments when the store wheeled its way into your life.



  1. The Yasai Man never made it to Kapoho on the Big Island. Only you city folks had those fancy food. BUT, we had the Cloth Man. Every summer the Cloth Man came to Kapoho with bolts of materials in his truck and we all bought them for home-made dresses and shirts. My mother was the dressmaker for Kapoho so often, people brought the same materials for their clothes. It didn’t seem to bother us that we weren’t wearing one of a kind outfit. We all looked like those Care Package kids with our homemade clothes.

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