Daigaku Imo Are The Crispy, Candied Sweet Potatoes You Need To Know

When it comes to street food, Southeast Asia has long held the reputation of dishing out some of the best roadside meals in the world. However, Japan should not go overlooked when it comes to this category of cuisine. Osaka has long been considered the street food capital of Japan, and classic and beloved dishes like takoyaki and okonomiyaki are native to the Japanese city. However, another street food staple made from fried Japanese sweet potatoes, daigaku imo, has roots in the nation's biggest city: Tokyo.

Potatoes are the star of this sticky and sweet dish; they get coated in a soy sauce-infused caramel sauce and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. The hard candy coating makes this treat crunchy on the outside, while the cooked potatoes remain fluffy and creamy on the inside. You can try this dish at various street vendor locations across the country, but for the nation's children, this dish is a typical back-to-school snack.

History of daigaku imo

The name of this popular sweet potato dish, which translates to "university potato" in Japanese, is a direct nod to daigaku imo's origins. Today, younger school children often enjoy this treat at school events during autumn, but it first started popping up in the early 20th century around college campuses in Tokyo. Food stalls served this affordable snack to hungry students passing by, and the dish soon caught on. It's said that one candy shop in particular, located close to Tokyo University, is responsible for handing out the first variations of this dish.

However, there is evidence that daigaku imo was inspired by an even older Chinese food called ba si di gua. It's a similar dish that also features caramelized pieces of Japanese sweet potato. However, the Japanese version is almost always flavored with a mirin, soy sauce, and rice vinegar coating while the Chinese edition just adds sugar and salt for flavor.

Today, daigaku imo can be found across Japan as a street food, and it is still a common snack sold near schools. The ingredients in this dish are simple, yet will have you undoubtedly coming back for more.

Ingredients in daigaku imo

The sweet potatoes that get chopped up and caramelized in this recipe are not just any old type. They're Japanese sweet potatoes, also known as Murasaki. This variety is known for its reddish-purple skin and golden flesh, and also tastes much sweeter than other sweet potatoes you may be more familiar with. This flavor profile makes them ideal for turning into desserts.

Daigaku imo is a quick and easy treat to make at home whenever you're craving a taste of Japan. A short trip to the store will yield all the ingredients you'll need, and the dish can be made in under an hour. The first step is to wash your potatoes and slice them into small bite-sized wedges. Then, they should sit in a large bowl of salted water for 5-15 minutes. This helps remove the potato starch, which helps ensure a crispy result.

The sticky-sweet sauce the deep-fried potatoes get coated in is a finger-licking-worthy combination. Sugar gets boiled alongside water, soy sauce, mirin, and rice wine vinegar. Once this mixture is thick, it coats the crispy potatoes, and they can then be garnished and served.

Toasted black sesame seeds always comes sprinkled over daigaku imo, which adds a great hint of nuttiness. Daigaku imo is typically eaten alone in a cup or bowl with a small fork. However, a hot and bitter cup of green tea should nicely compliment your sweet fall delicacy.