You know we are in the middle of autumn when you hear calls of ishi yaki-imo (sweet potatoes baked on hot stones) ringing through the streets. That’s the sound of vendors driving trucks through residential areas to sell baked sweet potatoes. Harvested in September, and then after a period of storage to reduce excess water, now is when they are the most delicious. Not all imo are the same! Some are bright purple, while others have white skin. The hot, fluffy sweet potatoes known as naruto and benisatsuma are especially delicious.
In contrast, the silky sweet beniharuka variety from Kumamoto has a softer quality. Each variety has its own characteristics, so try a variety, and soon you’ll become a connoisseur. Recently, honey potatoes made from the sticky annoimo variety have become particularly popular, with customers falling for their moist, sweet texture and sugary flavor. Here are three recommended shops. But if it’s 4 am and you’re feeling the need, keep in mind that all Don Quixote (open 24 hrs) sell piping hot yaki-imo too.
A yaki-imo specialty shop that uses carefully selected sweet potatoes. Their yaki-imo can be eaten cold too, and they also sell sweets made with yaki-imo.
A yaki-imo stand that sells syrupy sweet yaki-imo made with the beniharuka variety. They also sell mikan, apples, and seasonal fruits.
Yaki-imo no Hayashi
Located in a fruit and vegetable shop in Tojinmachi Shopping Street, their yaki-imo are stone-baked in front of the shop. Sold from Nov. to May only.
At a glance it might appear that all sweet potatoes are the same, but there are many varieties! Each kind has a unique taste and texture. Give them a try and find your favorite!
Hokuhoku (Soft and Fluffy)
Beniazuma: A sweet potato typically used for roasting. This variety has a low fiber content, which means that it becomes soft and fluffy once baked. (Others: naruto, benisatsuma)
Slightly sweet with a soft texture. This variety is known for its light, refreshing aftertaste. (Beniharuka, silk sweet, etc.)
Animo (orange fleshed yams): Sweeter and more moist than most sweet potatoes. They have an almost sticky texture and are perfect for preparing yaki-imo.
How to bake yaki-imo
Why not try baking them at home? It’s easy and fun to prepare!
1. Gently wash the sweet potatoes.
2. Put them in an oven toaster (200 degrees or 850W) for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn over once during the baking.
For faster results, use a microwave oven. They won’t be baked, but they still taste great!
1. Gently wash the sweet potatoes.
2. Wrap the sweet potatoes in a wet paper towel or newspaper.
3. Cook them in the microwave for approximately 10 minutes (on a low wattage)
• Bake them for a long time at a low temperature to increase the sweetness.
• Cut both ends of the sweet potato and check the color. White and yellow varieties exist. The yellow ones are more suitable for baking.
Yaki-imo in Reiwa
There’s so many ways to enjoy yaki-imo! The way that people eat and enjoy yaki-imo has changed over the years and the number of stores specializing in yaki-imo has significantly increased in recent times. These establishments often sell a range of sweet potato-flavored items, including ice cream, kakigori (shaved ice), custard pudding, and sweets. During the autumn months, supermarkets and convenience stores also get in on the act. Sweet potato desserts and snacks are usually stocked at this time of the year. Their packaging tends to be pretty unique, so they are easy to spot! Find your favorite sweet potato-flavored snack this autumn in Japan!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn251, Nov. 2019)