Wagashi: Imo Mochi (Sweet Potato Mochi)

I was invited by a farmer friend in rural Kyoto to the Kyoto Prefecture Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Festival 2009 and got to see and taste a lot of foodie delights from all over Kyoto Prefecture. Kyoto prefecture isn’t just the ancient capital, it goes all the way across Honshu to the Sea of Japan. We have great fruit, vegetables and grains from the orchards and farms, wild boar, venison, wild mushrooms and chestnuts from the mountains, eel, sweetfish and trout from the rivers and lots of great seafood from the Sea of Japan. And of course there is the ancient capital, the emperors kitchen for centuries, where this is all transformed into some of the most sophisticated cuisine ever imagined and created.

Today I didn’t have my camera but I did bring home a find! Imo Mochi. Imo is the Japanese sweet potato. Imo mochi is something I had never seen before and I asked a few Japanese foodie friends and they had never heard of it either, but agreed that it sounded intriguing and tasty.

Imo Mochi (Sweet Potato Mochi) 京北 芋餅 芋あん

Imo Mochi Package

Tasty it was!
In this back corner of the exhibition hall, I found several little old ladies from the country selling just two kinds of imo wagashi confection. They were the stereotypical rural Japanese elderly person, hands that look like they have worked the land, not particularly polite, very friendly, sweet and a little bit shy. The idea that a foreigner could speak Japanese seems never to have occurred to them.

I made the mistake of only bought three pieces. After I got home and tasted it, I wished that I had bought the whole company! Imo mochi is a knockout!

Imo Mochi (Sweet Potato Mochi) 京北 芋餅 芋あん

Imo Mochi

The Anatomy of a Mochi Cake
Perhaps Japan’s most representative confection is a mochi cake of steamed and pounded sticky rice, sometimes flavored, sometimes not, and then stuffed with a sweet bean paste filling. The sweet been filling is called anko, or an. Typically ‘an’ is made with azuki beans.

Imo Mochi (Sweet Potato Mochi) 京北 芋餅 芋あん

Imo Mochi

How did Imo Mochi Taste?
This mochi is not very ‘Kyoto’. Kyoto is not particularly known for sweet potatoes but they are grown here. Sweet potato country is down south. The appearance and taste of this ‘mochi’ is decidedly country-style. While the taste is excellent, the roughly hewn look and feel is not really essential and could easily be improved.

The texture, taste and color particularly got me.

Fragrance: Imo is usually quite fragrant, even distilled as shochu! However, this had little fragrance.

Mochi: The mochi was not especially soft, pleasantly al dente. The consistency is not uniform, chunks of steamed sweet potato were mixed into the mochi as it was pounded. Bits of red potato skin are visible. The color of the mochi is slightly weird, slightly greenish. I really liked the color.

An Filling: The an filling uses no beans to make the sweet paste. It is a chunky paste of sweet potato, thick and gooey with just the right amount of sweetness.

Imo Mochi (Sweet Potato Mochi) 京北 芋餅 芋あん

Imo Mochi and Imo An Filling - detail

Unfortunately this delightful confection is probably currently not available in Kyoto city. Perhaps I should find a place in Nishiki Market that could sell these. I would like to be able to purchase them here in town. And, I am sure that visitors to Kyoto, not just foodies, would love to sink their teeth into imo mochi!

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11 Responses to “Wagashi: Imo Mochi (Sweet Potato Mochi)”

  1. jen says:

    two of my favorite things – mochi & sato imo!! this must be fantastic!! Do you know if this is only a winter mochi?

  2. Dennis says:

    I love how it looks like a small imo.. so cute!

  3. Mel says:

    I adore the texture of mochi. Nothing like it. This looks awesome 🙂 Love alternatives to red bean.

  4. Corie L Stern says:

    Wish I had one right now! Beautiful pictures! Thank you! Corie

  5. Meiya Wender says:

    I enjoyed your description of imo mochi and would like to try to make some myself. Are you sure that the outer mochi is made from pounded rice? Usually, mochi-type wagashi which are filled with an, have an outer layer made from mochi-ko (sweet rice flour) (and sugar). Pounded mochi tends to harden up quickly, and would have to be grilled, or cooked in some way to be soft and edible again, but perhaps the sweet potato in it changes the texture radically.

  6. Archer says:

    During one of our many kouyou (Autumn leaf viewing) walks we chanced upon some imo soft serve. It was delicious. I’d like to try it swirled with hojicha soft serve. Soft serve ice cream is a little too cold for this time of year but what an imo adventure!

    Peko! Please tell us if you find imo mochi in Kyoto.

  7. J2Kfm says:

    I like Japanese sweet potatoes. You know? Here in Malaysia, to sample some cuts of imo, served warm as desserts with Hokkaido style of soft serve milk ice-cream, it’s almost a luxury.

  8. Momo says:

    Absolutely adore Japanese sweet potato desserts/snacks!
    This is the first time I have seen the sweet potato incorporated with mochi which is ridiculous since I love both separately.. why not them together?! I have definitely been missing out!
    Great find!

  9. Love the design of this blog!

  10. Kevin says:

    I’ve heard of Imo and have always wanted to try it. Do you (anyone)know whether this can be ordered for delivery in the United States? Thanks.

  11. ben flores says:

    I’m interested in finding imo (sweet potato) mochi in los angeles. Can anyone tell me where i can get som eto by.
    thx in advance.

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