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Yaki Imo: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes – Better than Roasted Chestnuts

Posted December 27, 2018 by Stephanie

There’s something ultra cozy about roasted things in the winter time. The combination of fire and heat and cold can’t be beat. It could be marshmallows, toasty roasted chestnuts, or my ultimate, Japanese sweet potatoes. Roasted Japanese sweet potatoes, or, yaki imo, as they’re known in Japan, are the ultimate winter street food. Much like the hot roasted chestnuts that are sold by vendors in the streets in Europe and America, you can find yaki imo hawkers selling wonderfully fluffy, hot, addictive sweet potatoes on the streets of Japan.

Yaki Imo: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes | www.iamafoodblog.com

The first time Mike and I went to Tokyo in the wintertime I didn’t know what was up with all the random sweet potato things that were around. I knew that Japanese people had a thing for seasonal sweet and snacks but it seemed like overkill. There were sweet potato chips, sweet potato pastries, sweet potato cakes, sweet potato candies, sweet potato breads, sweet potato caramel corn, sweet potato kitkat, heck, there was even sweet potato ice cream in the freezers at the 7-11!

I think I tried some sweet potato chips and that was about it. It wasn’t until later, after we flew back home, that I started wondering what the thing was with sweet potatoes in Japan. I did a little google dive and then lived in regret because Japanese sweet potatoes are a big deal. But they’re also kind of sort of not a big deal too because everyone in Japan has grown up eating them as treats in wintertime so they take them for granted. They’re a super nostalgic food, kind of like our equivalent of gingerbread, if gingerbread was a vegetable and it was sold on street corners.

Yaki imo are incredibly beloved. So beloved that they even sell a single use appliance dedicated to roasting sweet potatoes. It’s ridiculously cute and if it wasn’t so singular in it’s abilities, I would totally want one. Who am I kidding? I totally want one but won’t let myself go that far because it’s so expensive and an oven will do exactly the same thing.

Anyway, after my google search, I was sold. I knew that if I was ever back in Tokyo again in the fall or winter, I would eat yaki imo. And what’s more, I would buy it from a yaki imo truck. Old school yaki imo sellers have trucks with a red lantern and a stone oven. The potatoes are roasted and kept hot in the oven and the drivers drive around slowly while playing a song (kind of a creepy song, to be honest) that sings “yaki imo, yaki imo” over and over again. I was determined to find a truck. Of course, we didn’t find a truck that trip. You do see them on occasion here and there, but they’re more and more rare.

Yaki Imo: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes | www.iamafoodblog.com

Instead, we bought our yaki imo from a little shop with the cutest old lady that sold nothing but different varieties of roasted sweet potatoes. It was the tiniest storefront ever, tucked in between new buildings in a sort of business-y area in Tokyo. The imo were just hanging out in a glass heater, waiting for people to come along and buy them. I shyly asked for a small one and handed over some change but the sweet potato lady must’ve known it was my first time or something because she smiled at me and picked out the plumpest potato, popped it into a paper bag and told me to enjoy it.

Yaki Imo: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes | www.iamafoodblog.com

It was an incredibly cold day and the yaki imo was nice and toasty and even before eating it I felt so cozy. You know that feeling you get when you’re in a moment and you just know you’ll look back on it fondly? That was me: just me and Mike bundled up in our winter coats, a hot sweet potato in my hand, on the streets of Tokyo. It was what sweet potato dreams are made of. I peeled back the purplish-red skin of the potato and the golden yellow insides were steamy and smelled faintly of caramel. One bite and I was hooked. It was sweet and creamy and comforting. It was a sweet potato in it’s purest form, but made even better by slow roasting it to deliciousness.

Yaki Imo: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes | www.iamafoodblog.com

Even if you haven’t been to Japan, you don’t have to go on a wild goose chase to have yaki imo. You can make a pretty good approximation at home. Just look for Japanese sweet potatoes at the grocery store. Our local specialty store flew in a shipment straight from Japan and Mike kindly bought me a single potato (it was too expensive but cheaper than a flight to Tokyo he said) but they sell Japanese variety sweet potatoes at the store too. Oh, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo in the fall or winter, keep an eye out for the yaki-imo trucks, or pop on by to a grocery store or even a Donki – they sell yaki imo everywhere because they’re just that good.

Happy sweet potato-ing!
xoxo steph

PS – We watched Aggretsuko We Wish You a Metal Christmas on Christmas and it was too cute and funny. Just wanted to share :)

Yaki Imo: Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes | www.iamafoodblog.com

Yaki Imo at Home Recipe
makes as many as needed


  • sweet potatoes, Satsuma imo Japanese variety preferred

Heat the oven to 350°F. Scrub your sweet potatoes and dry well. Place the potatoes directly on the rack (put a tray or some foil underneath to catch any potential drips) and bake until very tender and cooked through, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Let cool slightly then peel away the skin and enjoy as is!

Notes: They sell satsuma imo at the grocery store, they have purplish-red skin and are white on the inside. After roasting the flesh turns a bright yellow.

4 Comments

  1. Jade says:

    This dish is SUCH a great comfort food in winter! BTW i love your food styling and photography! Love from India

    1. Stephanie says:

      you’re absolutely right, best winter comfort food :)

  2. Chia says:

    One of my favorite things! They sell them outside my local japanese grocery store.

  3. Naoki says:

    That’s my favorite food of all time! You can get “murasaki” sweet potatoes at trader joes for the actual Japanese sweet potato substitutes. They are cheaper and prerry good.
    Have you tried “daigaku-imo”? Thats anorher my fav sweet potato food. If you haven’t, you definitely should try.

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