If you’ve ever asked a Japanese local about Saitama, they probably said that there’s nothing there. Saitama is the only prefecture in Japan not known for anything special—there’s even been a movie and comic made about it (e.g., Tondesaitama / Fly Me to Saitama)! Saitama is, unfortunately, the sleeper town of Tokyo. Many Japanese salary men and women live in Saitama and commute every day to their jobs in Tokyo. However, “nothing” is Saitama’s charm! From the rolling mountains of Chichibu to the traditional Edo streets of Kawagoe, if you look hard enough, Saitama can offer at least a little sparkle and wonder. When visiting Japan’s popular and fast-paced Tokyo, an hour train ride to Kawagoe, Saitama for some sweet potato heaven is a great day trip. Here is a Kawagoe Food Guide of the top five sweet potato snacks that you must try.
Top 5 Sweet Potato Snacks in Kawagoe
1. Imoai Manjū (妹子まんじゅう)
Manjū, which is red bean paste (あんこ, anko) wrapped in pounded rice flour or mochi (もち), is a great sweet—sometimes savory—treat offered all over Japan, but Kawagoe’s special manjū pairs sweet potato with red bean paste. The Imoai Manjū) (いも愛まんじゅう) is a steamed yeast bun filled with a generous dollop of red bean paste atop a hearty chunk of sweet potato, wrapped with a special mixture of mountain potato (山芋, yama-imo) and mochi.
The imo-ai manjū is a twist on a Japanese classic that is distinctively “Kawagoe.” You can find this manjū for under 300 yen by walking down Koedo Kawagoe Street and popping into the traditional sweets restaurant and shop, Kasho Umon Kashiya Ichibangaiten (菓匠右門 一番街店).
2. Sweet Potato Ice Cream (さつま芋アイス)
In Japan, you can find almost any flavor of ice cream. From squid ink-flavored to fish-flavored, Japan does ice cream the quirky way. If you’re not interested in testing your palate on cold, fishy milk (I’m not painting a good picture here, am I?), why not be kind to your taste buds and get a cutely swirled helping of sweet potato ice cream?
Saitama is the hottest prefecture in Japan, with Kumagaya in northern Saitama setting Japan’s heat index records every year. One of the best ways to cool down while doing some sightseeing is to stop and eat cold ice cream. The light purple sweet potato ice cream can be found near the Tori no Kane (鳥の鐘) bell tower on Koedo Kawagoe Street. The flavor is offered by itself or half-and-half with vanilla ice cream. Many visitors get the half-and-half swirl for Instagram aesthetics, but forgo the swirl if you want the full sweet potato experience.
The ice cream comes on a cone with a cute little heart on top for only 300 yen.
Sweet Potato and Apple Pie (アップルパイ)
Another top snack to try from the Kawagoe food guide during the blistering hot summer or balmy winter is to stand in line for sweet potato and apple pie. I know it sounds like a weird combination that maybe doesn’t go together too well, but the treat has gathered a following that leaves lines around the building and the pies sold out by the end of the day. For 380 yen, the flakey crust of these palm-sized pies wraps around equal parts sweet potato and apple slices. They are only found at Kamadashi Mitsuimo Hoku Hoku (窯出し蜜いも ほくほく), a cute little shop near Kashiya Yokocho Candy Alley (菓子屋横丁).
4. Sweet Potato Udon (さつま芋うどん)
Have you had enough of small snacks and are looking for something more filling? Why not try sweet potato noodles? Sweet potato udon noodles are offered at Okanoya (岡野屋), a small udon restaurant located on the backside of the traditional Edo area of Kawagoe, near Kashiya Yokocho Candy Alley (菓子屋横丁). The supple noodles are a deep shade of purple and are offered with most of the meal sets (teishoku, 定食) at the restaurant; however, to get the full experience, order the Imozaru Udon set (芋ざるうどん) for about 1200 yen. The udon is offered on a small bamboo platter with a bowl of thin broth (usually a mixture of soy sauce and other Japanese flavors such as ginger or wasabi).
Although the noodles are made from Japanese sweet potato, they do not have a strong sweet potato taste. Rather, they offer a great, chewy pairing with the thin broth and sweet potato tempura (天ぷら).
5. Coedo Sweet Potato Beer (さつまいもビール)
Even if you don’t consider yourself a beer-drinker, Kawagoe’s special sweet potato beer is a fizzy drink that is great to try at least once. This is why it goes fifth on the Kawagoe food guide. Although the taste of the Coedo brand beer doesn’t scream “sweet potato,” the light beer with hints of the beloved white potato is a great thirst-quencher on a hot day. As someone who is not a fan of beer, even I found myself reaching for a cold bottle of Coedo “Beniaka” sweet potato beer to sip on while sitting on my balcony during one of Saitama’s hottest summer days.
You can find a bottle of Coedo beer along Koedo Kawagoe Street near the famous bell tower for about 420 yen, or for even cheaper near Kashiya Yokocho Candy Alley (菓子屋横丁) for under 400 yen.
Other than the 5 top snacks listed above, there are many other great sweet potato food souvenir (お土産, omiyage) shops along the main street with snacks you can get for friends and family back home—or to eat all by yourself! My personal favorite is the sweet potato karinto (かりんとう). Karinto is best when fresh from the deep fryer because the warm filling of red bean paste or sweet potato is a delicious balance against the oily crust.
You can visit Kawagoe’s traditional Edo street, Koedo Kawagoe, and eat your way through by walking about twenty-five minutes from Kawagoe Station, or by taking a bus from Kawagoe Station. From Tokyo Station, it’s an hour train ride on the Marunouchi and Fukutoshin Lines by subway, or the Yamanote and Tobu-Tojo Lines on the local trains for under 1,000 yen.
Check out STAY JAPAN to book a stay in Japan and enjoy snacking on Autumn snacks from Natasha’s Kawagoe food guide.