How Facebook Birthed Helsinki’s First Food Truck.
I was determined to find the Camionette, the only food truck in Helsinki. I diligently waited until I could get some free time from the pre-arranged itinerary of the press trip to go explore. Finally, at 4pm we had a few hours of free time and I decided to walk to the food truck. I checked the address I had written down on an envelope and looked forlornly up at Finnish and Swedish street signs. I even went into Stockmann’s and asked a few sales people (the Finns speak perfect English) if they knew of the food truck. Apparently no-one knew what I was talking about. Was I chasing an urban myth? Did this food truck really exist? I walked two blocks in each direction of the four corners on Stockmanns. I ran out of time and I didn’t find it. The weather was unseasonably warm for mid-September and I watched the sunset’s amber glow reflect from the Glo Hotel’s windows. I trudged back to my hotel room with my scarf in hand, my head hanging and mouth pouting. It was my last night in Helsinki. The next morning the press group would board a train for the Laplands, near the Artic Circle. I would then travel to Amsterdam solo, ahead of everyone else. I felt my weight sink into my bed.
Eight Eurail trains and two days later, we returned to the Helisinki train station and I had another opportunity to visit the Camionette. I had four hours before my flight to Amsterdam. I quickly rented a locker, threw my bags in, deposited the 4 Euros and ran to find the food truck again. I ignored the cold, steady drizzle. After thirty minutes of walking and asking more pedestrians questions, I ran into the young lady who told me about it. I smiled from ear to ear and waved. She covered her phone’s mouth piece and said lowly, “I’m sorry, it’s an important phone call.” Then smiled apologetically and continued walking. My excitement churned into sour disappointment in my stomach. The search had to continue. This was my absolute last chance. I stopped on the corner, and waited for the street train to pass. And then suddenly I saw the Caminotte in the distance. It was literally a block from the train station. All I had to do was turn left instead of right when I exited. I checked my watch. I had an hour left before I would have to leave for the airport.
The truck was a lot smaller than I’d imagined. It’s an all white1972 Citroen HY, a classic shape. These types of trucks were used for food delivery in Europe from the 1950’s-1980’s. Owner, Tio Tikka opened windows this spring. There is no other restaurant of its kind in Helsinki. As result, the truck has a permanent address on corner of Mannerheimintie and Simonkatu, near Stockmann’s, Finland’s largest department store. The Camionette is the Finnish restaurant social media leader with 11,000 fans on Facebook. After facing much opposition from city officials, who said Helsinki streets “didn’t have enough room” for a truck that size, Tikka says that it’s the sheer number of followers that helped him convince the city to accept his food truck application. People joined his Facebook group spontaneously and his cause went viral. Luckily this was an election year and politicians caved under the pressure from the masses.
On the menu are a variety of sweet and savory crepes like minced meat Bolognese, blue cheese and endives, strawberry jam and Nutella. There are also specialty coffees from Brazil and sodas from a small Finnish brewery. It seems like business has been good for Tikka and his team. He plans to expand his food truck business to other cities including Finland’s former capital, Turku.
During the endless days of the Finnish summer the truck is open 24/7 in the winter time 8am-10pm. That’s the thing about crepes, they can be eaten all times of the day.