Enjoy the seasonal flavour of a stone-roasted yakiimo from the comfort of your kitchen!

One of the best comfort foods you can enjoy in Japan during autumn and winter is a steaming hot, roasted sweet potato. Known as yakiimo, this tasty treat is so popular during the colder months that vendors drive around neighbourhoods in small trucks selling them with an echoing, melodic “Yaaaaa-kiiii-mo“, and there are even vending machines dedicated to them so people can purchase them at any time of the day or night.

▼ A yakiimo (やきいも) vendor

Often grilled over hot stones, nothing beats the smoky, sweet, richness of a good yakiimo, but the only problem is the stone-roasted flavour can be hard to replicate at home without professional equipment. So when our Japanese-language reporter Kamezawa Ikuna came across a yakiimo maker at an electronics store in Akihabara, she immediately picked it up and took it back to the office to try it out.

According to the instructions, the sweet potato should first be washed with water, wrapped in plastic wrap, and then heated in the microwave for one minute. The hardness of the potato doesn’t appear to change after only a minute in the microwave, but it does help to start the heating process inside the vegetable.

The potato can then be unwrapped and placed into the maker, which kind of makes it look like the vegetable is about to get a tan inside a tanning bed. Potatoes need to be no wider than 6.5 centimetres (2.5 inches) across and 21 centimetres long to fit into the machine.

The recommended cooking time is 30 minutes, so Ikuna covered the naked potato with the lid and set her alarm. After just a few minutes, the machine started emitting strange noises, but after a quick check, she realised these were the crackling sounds of the potato being roasted — the same sounds you’d hear from a professional yakiimo vendor’s roasting machine.

It didn’t take long before the tantalising smell of baked sweet potato began to fill the air, making everyone’s stomachs rumble in the office. At the 30-minute mark, Ikuna lifted the lid on her sweet potato and pressed a toothpick into its centre to check if it was cooked.

It was soft and ready to eat, but Ikuna wanted to get some dark, roasted patches on the skin, just like the ones you see on yakiimo sold at stores and neighbourhood trucks. So she left it in for a further 20 minutes, until it looked like this.

At this point, the juices from the sweet flesh had begun to seep out from the place where she’d pricked it with a toothpick, oozing out like honey as the sugars crystallised on the skin. In Ikuna’s opinion, this a sign of a perfectly cooked yakiimo, and when she pulled it apart, she was so surprised she let out a gasp. The texture, appearance and aroma was identical to a stone-grilled yakiimo! 

So how did it taste? Ikuna took a bite and her eyes opened wide as she tasted the hearty, warm, familiar flavours of an excellent stone-roasted yakiimo. It was absolutely delicious!

As someone who’s tried to bake a good yakiimo at home multiple times with no success, Ikuna couldn’t believe she’d finally made the perfect sweet potato, thanks to this little machine. She was so impressed she decided to share the other half of the potato with her colleague Takashi to get his opinion.

“Oh. My. God. This tastes as good as the roasted potatoes you get at a shop!!!”

Even Takashi was blown away by the taste of the sweet potato she’d made at her office desk, but Ikuna had another trick up her sleeve, because…this sweet potato maker can also roast corn!

Just prepare the corn in the same way as the potato — by wrapping it in clear wrap and microwaving it for one minute — and then pop it in the maker. Sprinkling it with a little soy sauce will add some delicious colour and flavour to the corn.

This was another winner, as the roasted flavour of the corn tasted infinitely better than ordinary boiled, steamed or microwaved ones.

The yakiimo maker cost just 1,500 yen, making it great value for money, considering electric roasters like this can retail upwards of 3,000 yen. This particular roaster isn’t that easy to find but it is available to purchase from Rakuten for 1,700 yen.

Ikuna highly recommends buying one if you can, as a roasted potato on a cold day really is one of Japan’s simple pleasures. And if you want to make a more sumptuous meal, there’s always this one-person rice cooker…which you can also use at your office desk to make all your colleagues green with envy.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]