Are 'yakiimo' poised to become the next trendy food?


The arrival of colder weather in Japan is typically accompanied by the froggy voice of yakiimo (roast yam or sweet potato) peddlers, hawking their wares on street corners from pushcarts and small trucks.

Connoisseurs of this tasty, inexpensive and healthy snack, prized for its warming and tummy-filling properties -- albeit somewhat less so for the flatulence it is reputed to invoke -- are aware of the various yam varieties, including the Anno-imo cultivated on Tanegashima island, as well as newer strains such as the Beni-haruka and Silk sweet that have been refined through hybridization.

Now, reports Yukan Fuji (Nov 18), the humble imo appears on the verge of a boom, with specialty shops even opening in Tokyo's swank Ginza district.

As a food item, of course, yams are nothing new, having been introduced to Okinawa in the early 17th century. They've long been known in food circles as one of the top three natural sweets favored by females, along with the kabocha (acorn squash) and kuri (Chinese chestnut).

The current boom can be attributed to expanded sales by businesses such as supermarkets and convenience stores, in part due to the decline in traditional distribution channels such as pushcarts and mini-trucks.

Yams, normally, are stored for two or three months after harvesting, and as they ripen their sugar content increases. Unlike apples, strawberries or mandarin oranges, for example, attractive appearance or size are not requirements for determining quality, so they can be moved by wholesalers in bulk.

From 2017, the Japanese discount retailer Don Quixote became home to a specialty outlet selling yakiimo in its Singapore branch, thereby attesting to the tuber's moves toward "internationalization" and positioning as "fast food."

The tabloid concludes that time will tell if these stirrings eventually result in the humble yam's developing into the latest trendy food item.

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I beg to differ with the translation of Kabocha as Acorn Squash. Not the same thing.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Trendy..... only if trendy means dry and unappetising.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I beg to differ with the translation of Kabocha as Acorn Squash. Not the same thing.

From Wiki:  Due to wide variation in how the terms squash, pumpkin, and gourd are used, even among academics, in this article, the term squash can refer to any member of the genus Cucurbita. Pumpkin and gourd are used to refer to species, varieties, and cultivars commonly referred to by those terms.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just get a “talent” or “comedian” to do some tv commercials, a few three hour variety show specials, and it’ll be the next trendy thing.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Start a 48 all girl lipsync group called Yakiimo, then watch it take off like a rocket.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I beg to differ with the translation of Kabocha as Acorn Squash. Not the same thing.

That's the problem with translations. They are often wrong. Kabocha is called kabocha every place I have been in the world. It's like some older Japanese still insist on calling tofu bean curd when they are talking to foreigners. Wagyu, tofu, kabocha, yuzu, etc, are all well-known in the west by anybody familiar with good food. Even the loneliest dive diner in Nowheresville, Oklahoma will have "wagyu burgers" on the menu, for example.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Yakiimo are horrible. Dry, starchy, and a nauseating smell.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Trendy..... only if trendy means dry and unappetising.

If your IMO is dry and unappetising, you’re probably not cooking it right.

Imo, kuri and kabocha, they’re all good.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I remember hearing the yakiimo truck frequenting the streets of Shinjuku when I was a kid in the 80s. Where did they go.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One of my favorite sounds when I lived in Ushihama back in the 1960s was the cry "o-imo" that came from the lips of the ojisan pushing his cart of goods as he neared my home. My wife or I would rush out clasping a few yen to trade for one of his delicious treats. All I can say to those above who don't seem to care for them is they must have bought from the wrong ojisan, the ones we bought were always creamy and delicious.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There are many varieties of imo, and indeed some of them are quite bland, but some of them are absolutely delicious. If you have a Maruetsu nearby, they have quite a good yakiimo. In winter, it is my favorite snack for beer, and the kids also love it (without the beer though)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I remember hearing the yakiimo truck frequenting the streets of Shinjuku when I was a kid in the 80s. Where did they go

We still get a couple of them around here, it's great to hear their slightly haunting calls on a cold night. Reminds me of the rag & bone men in England, sadly long since gone.

I often pop out and buy some as these old fellas need a bit of support or they will be replaced by Amazon drones. Yakiimo do need a good blob of butter & paprika on them though, they are a bit dry & bland.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's too bad the orange flesh sweet potatoes weren't the ones that were cooked in Japan. They are much sweeter and not dry at all. The yellow ones used to be referred to as chokers where I am from in the US and were the less desirable variety by far.

Acorn squash is called that for it's distinct acorn shape. Kabocha is roundish and only resembles Acorn Squash in that it is green. I agree that translations are often problematic. Japanese Plum is another example. It is clearly a variety of apricot (fuzzy skin). Plums are smooth which Ume is not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ahh, that sound cutting through the middle of the early cold dark winter evening "YA KII MOOO! YA KII MOO!!" Out the door with yen in hand and stomach on high..."Oi!..." Hmmm, hot and yummy... Is that still a thing in Tokyo?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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