Japanese Sweet Potato Heaven

Here in Ibaraki Prefecture people are crazy for sweet potatoes, especially in the town where I’m staying. Heck, their official mascots are a family of giant purple sweet potatoes. You can even see them all over the local buses!

My friend Yuko, who’s living in the neighboring prefecture of Saitama, came to me with the idea of writing a blog collaboration together. We decided that it would be fun to introduce you to our local cuisines. That’s when we realized that both of our areas share a strong passion for sweet potatoes and each have a whole culinary culture surrounding them. So, here’s our collaborative post on sweet potatoes in Ibaraki and Saitama!

Be sure to also check out Yuko’s side of the collab and all of her fun photos and poems over at Artisan Candyland!

I have to say that among all of the alluring sweet potato creations and delicacies that I’ve come across here, my favorite is still the good old roasted sweet potato. There are shops selling them on pretty much every block, and the sweet smoky smell wafts on for miles! These shops usually also have an array of other goodies including things like sweet potato chips and candied sweet potatoes.

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This brings me to the topic of dried sweet potatoes (hoshi imo) — the pride and joy of the town! Apparently, there’s something unique about the climate here that allows them to produce the highest quality dried sweet potatoes, making this region Japan’s largest supplier of these delicious snacks. You can eat them the way they are, but even better still is to grill them first and enjoy them while they’re hot, so that they’re crunchy outside and all gooey on the inside.

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We all know that baked sweet potatoes are amazing with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top, so naturally this next treat is foolproof. It’s a type of traditional Japanese sweet with a thin shell of cake on the outside and a fluffy sweet potato cream on the inside. The cake is coated in a fine layer of powdered cinnamon – just enough to enhance the delicate flavour of the sweet potato filling, but without overpowering it.

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Every autumn, the town hosts a sweet potato festival attended by thousands of people. The town mascot comes out to join in the fun and take photos with the kids. One of the highlights of the day is when the fresh, locally grown sweet potatoes are piled high on a blue tarp and everyone gets to fill up a bag to take home! All day long, everyone plays games and enjoys delicious treats from all the food stands, like these sweet potato dorayaki pictured below. Dorayaki are a type of special Japanese grilled pancake. Traditionally, sweet red bean paste is sandwiched between the two cakes, but on this festival day you can buy dorayaki filled with sweet potato cream!

Here are some other sweet potato confectioneries. The variety available is absolutely endless, but these are just a few that I have been lucky enough to sample so far, including an unbelievable sweet potato muffin!

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14 thoughts on “Japanese Sweet Potato Heaven

  1. Somehow I always avoided sweet potatoes when in Japan, because my experience with them in my home country wasn’t too good. However, maybe I made a mistake, because Japanese sweet potato probably tastes completely different to what we can get here. I mean, it’s like that with persimmons and other things, so perhaps next time I’ll give some such goodies a try. The pictures sure look good!

    1. You’re absolutely right! To be honest, I was never keen on sweet potatoes until I visited Japan last year. Here in Ibaraki prefecture, they have many different varieties that are so very different from the ones I find back in Canada. One of my favorite types is what they call “beni haruka” and it has a sweet, almost vanilla-like flavour! They have this special way of slow roasting sweet potatoes over these little black stones, so that the sweet potatoes become all soft and caramelized. It’s totally different! You’d love them!

    1. Right? Candied sweet potatoes are amazing! And tonight, I tried some glazed sweet potatoes. They are similar but a little less sweet and with a dry candy coating instead of the gooey syrupy texture of the ones I tried before. I love how creative they are here in Japan with sweet potatoes. So happy 😛

      1. hehehe yeah that’s one of the things I love about Japan — how insanely creative and artful they are with their cuisine!

    1. Haha I know what you mean! Me too. I guess it’s because the way we use sweet potatoes in the west is so different. It’s all about sweet potato and kale salads, or baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon and maple syrup, sweet potato black bean burgers, and that sort of thing. In Japan, they do sweet potato tempura, sweet potato hotpot…it’s all so different. But delicious!

  2. You are lucky that you were in Ibaraki. Where I am now, in London, I haven’t found perfect sweet potatoes for making sweets yet. We recently started getting some varieties that similar to Japanese ones but NO! They haven’t got the same texture nor sweetness. I really wish I find good sweet potatoes soon.

    1. I’m actually back in Ibaraki again now! But I totally know what you mean. In Canada I’d buy things labeled “Japanese sweet potato” or “Okinawan sweet potato”…but they’re completely different and grown in California haha.

      1. Oh, you’re in Japan!! If you can get “Japanese” sweet potatoes you are very lucky. Here in London closest texture I can get is Brazilian or Jamaican. There might be Japanese one in some Japanese food shop but I think that would be expensive. Anyway, enjoy your stay. 😀

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