Just turn on the TV anywhere in Japan and you will notice a significant number of shows dedicated to food and eating. Japan is very passionate about food, and they should be. Japan, albeit a small country, grows some of the most delicious premium produce in the world. If you are making a list of things to do in Japan, eating the local produce should be at the top of the list right next to sightseeing.
On your list of ‘must eats’ add yakiimo (baked sweet potato). Marujun Yakiiimo in Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture, is open from 10am to 7pm Tuesday through Sunday. They have a variety of about 30 potatoes sourced from all over Japan. The variety changes seasonally and you can choose from an assortment of 5 or 6 that can be sampled daily. The potatoes are sold by weight starting at about 200Yen for 100g(.22lb). Marujun Yakiimo runs special promotions and coupons that will give you a discount if you are on a tight budget. There is indoor and outdoor seating, which makes it a comfortable enjoyable visit year round.
The husband and wife team opened their little shop shortly after retiring from the Toyota corporation in November of 2009. Since then, they have enjoyed a consistent flow of customers and have even been featured on Japanese TV. If you visit, you can recognize the owners easily. Their likeness are on either side of the promotional flyers; a nice free souvenir to take home. If you are interested in taking home a few yakiimo they offer a very nice gift box. The box is attractive and sturdy, something that will definitely keep during transit. If you would like to bring some home, I suggest making this your last stop so that they are freshest whenever you arrive home. I have no reservations that the potatoes will safely survive a 12 hour plus flight.
The potatoes are baked in a stone oven which give them a crispy break away skin. This method preserves the soft flesh inside and locks in the flavor. The natural flavor of the yakiimo is to be enjoyed and savored. However, if you are interested in some accompaniment, there is an assortment of toppings like vanilla ice cream. Ice cream is a favorite during the summer months and a time when you can enjoy the potatoes chilled as opposed to straight from the oven. The combination of textures alone makes the chilled potato topped with soft serve ice cream an enjoyable experience. Marujun Yakiimo is precisely that…...an experience. If you are lucky, you will get a chance to actually watch the couple’s TV appearance. The segment is shown on a large screen TV inside of the seating area whenever there is an audience.
Marujun Yakiimo in Hekinan is certainly a lovely departure from the crowds in the city and a delightful journey off of the beaten path. The small shop is minutes away from other local attractions, a hotel, as well as the town library.
Website (in Japanese) : www.yakiimo-marujun.com