DAIGAKU IMO: The Sweet Potato with a College Education

Food Uncategorized Elizabeth Andoh
大学芋 Daigaku Imo​

While growing up in New York, I took lessons at The Art Student’s League on Saturday mornings. After class I would meet my father for a late lunch. His office was a few doors down from the Plaza Hotel (where Eloise had taken up residence in 1955) in the building next to Prexy’s. The burger chain’s slogan was “the hamburger with a college education” and their logo featured a nerdy-looking burger wearing glasses and mortarboard graduation cap.

Fast forward to the 1960’s when shortly after arriving in Japan I discovered the sweet pleasures of daigaku imo. Curious about the origins of college-educated potatoes (daigaku = college or university and imo = potato), I was told it was the favorite snack of Japanese university students in the early part of the 20th century. Although a few sources suggested a connection to Waseda University, most credited Tokyo University (Todai) as the elite institution responsible for daigaku imo’s popularity. Mikawaya, a yaki imo (stone-roasted sweet potato) vendor in front of Todai’s red-gate entrance was probably the first to glaze fried sweet potatoes with sugar.

Interestingly in Osaka a similar sweet potato snack is called Chūka Poteito implying the true origin of the dish to be Chinese. Indeed there is a Japanese publication dated Meiji 45 (1912) called “Practical Chinese Cooking Techniques” that introduces a lard-fried, sugar syrup-stewed sweet potato snack, minus the black sesame seeds. This Chinese version is still served today in many restaurants in both Kobe’s and Yokohama’s Chinatown.

For instruction in preparing your own glazed, sesame-studded sweet potatoes, read my post at


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Elizabeth Andoh
A Taste of Culture
Culinary Arts Program
Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 158-0095, Japan


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