Have you ever had yakiimo, (焼き芋) a Japanese roasted sweet potato, very famous in Japan? You might have seen trucks selling them on the street, or in cases in supermarkets. What do you think makes yakiimo unique and loved by many people?
Here is our guide on what they are, where to find them, and some unique recipes for enjoying them.
What Are Yakiimo?
Yakiimo, or roasted sweet potato by its English name, is a popular snack and a favorite ingredient for sweet dishes, especially in Japan.
In Japanese yakiimo (焼き芋) is a compound of “yaki”, which means roast, and “imo”, which means potato, in this case it almost always indicates a sweet potato variety.
Japanese sweet potatoes are a little different from their overseas counterparts as they have purple skin, and yellow flesh. They are a seasonal ingredient, even though you can find it anywhere at any time, and generally taste better during autumn and winter.
During these warm months you will often find “yakiimo”, a roasted sweet potato on sale in supermarkets or on the street. They are also delicious to make at home with an oven or a microwave (for a more baked sweet potato vibe).
For centuries yakiimo have been the highlight of the winter and autumn season for the Japanese, as seasonal foods are very popular! It can be said that there is nothing quite like biting into a creamy, hot sweet potato on a chilly autumn evening.
The yakiimo you find on the street are especially good! You may find traditional Japanese yakiimo during autumn and winter in your favorite street food alleys, or often set up on a busy street near train stations. You can find them fresh from the oven, sometimes with different toppings or flavors.
So what does it taste like? Yakiimo first hits you with a delicious creamy sweetness, followed by an earthy roasted aftertaste, the texture is thick and starchy but smooth.
You may like the taste of yakiimo if you are a fan of sweet potatoes, or if you have a certain sweet-tooth.
Where to Find Yakiimo?
The best and most delicious way to find yakiimo is to find a yakiimo cart selling them on the street. Now mostly developed from push carts to small catering vans, these are the authentic yakiimo of Japan. Their roasting has been made into a kind of art, passed down through families. Find them on busy roads near train stations, in the cooler months of the year. Sometimes they aren’t cheap though and you can ask for half, or for a smaller potato for a smaller price!
During autumn most supermarkets already have roasted sweet potatoes, ready to eat, often found near the cashier or entrance, to welcome you in with their sweet and earthy scent. You can find them usually at Donki too!
If you want to try making yakiimo yourself, you will be able to find sweet potatoes in any supermarket or vegetable shop. Their palpable purple color making them easy to spot.
If you live in the Tokyo area, Asakusa will be the best destination for you to get yakiimo. Specifically, in the street full of shops in front of Senso-Ji Temple, you will find yakiimo with a delicious look and top-quality flavors.
If you would prefer to buy raw sweet potatoes and cook them at home for your loved ones Guidable has some tips to make your yakiimo extra special.
Let’s Get Prepared
Traditionally, yakiimo are roasted in a giant drum made from iron to maximize heat and obtain the best texture. This is why you may find charcoal roasted yakiimo in stores or at stalls. But we can make yummy yakiimo at home too.
First, buy sweet potatoes from the supermarket and choose those with smooth skin. This will affect the texture when it’s cooked.
Some people believe the best sweet potatoes have been left for weeks, about 2-3 weeks before cooking. This will affect the quality and taste of the special yakiimo.
In terms of cooking the yakiimo, you have several options.
1. Oven Roasting
You can easily bake sweet potatoes in the oven to get a roasted flavour of yakiimo. You may need to cover it with aluminium foil for a faster way to cook it, or leave it as it is in the oven.
It may take around 70-90 minutes to obtain a perfect texture of yakiimo, a crucial point. Don’t forget to set the oven at a high temperature to make sure everything is cooked perfectly.
2. Pan-Fried Yakiimo
One of the easiest ways to cook yakiimo is using the regular stove and a pan. You can also fold it in aluminum foil or just leave it in its original form.
This way of cooking is a faster way than the previous suggestion, but you need to ensure you flip and rotate the potato often.
Overall, it takes around 1 hour to cook through a pan, and you need to turn them every 15 minutes in order to get a perfectly cooked sweet potatoes.
3. Steam As A Healthier Way of Cooking Yakiimo
Our last suggestion is maybe a little bit different from the previous two. In this way, you may find the final texture and taste different from the yakiimo that you may see from the authentic shops.
This is when you roast it by using the steam technique. The texture will be a little bit mushy and doesn’t give you a roasted flavor.
However, steaming is believed to be the healthiest way as you only need the heat from boiling water.
Further research may be needed to confirm whether this is true or not, but this is also the easiest way to serve yakiimo when you don’t have a typical iron drum for the traditional way of cooking yakiimo.
Are You Going to Try and Make Yakiimo?
After receiving some information about yakiimo and what makes them unique, do you want to make it at home?
Let us know your thoughts after making yakiimo at home.
We also have some exciting tips and tricks about other authentic Japanese dishes. Check it out on our home page, and click ‘Food and Drink’ under the option of “Things to Do” to have a different memorable experience!
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