Brand: Family Mart
Cost: 100 yen
Found At: Family Mart, Osaka
Imagine you made caramel corn out of a potato – that is imo kempi. They are sticks of sweet potato, cut into the shape of french fries, that have been candied. In texture, they exist somewhere between a chip and a candy, with a crunchy exterior that crumbles into sweet morsels of sweet potato as soon as you take a bite. In flavor, they are definitely in the candy camp. I had expected something salty, like the sweet potato chips that I love, but instead these were extremely sweet and quite tasty. I can see how they would make a perfect wagashior tea sweet, because the sweetness would be the ideal offset for the bitterness of matchatea.
But, I have to admit that I was not overly taken with imo kempi. I wanted to like it, but it was just too sweet when what I really wanted salty and I couldn’t really enjoy it to its fullest. Knowing I would not finish more than a few kempi, I offered the rest of the bag to the Japanese woman working behind the counter of my hostel. I have never seen anyone so excited over a potato. Her face absolutely lit up. “Imo kempi!” she repeated, gleefully “are you sure?” It took more time for me to convince her that I did not want the rest of the bag than it took for her to consume the whole thing. She must have been 90lbs but she fell on that bag of sweet potato chips like a sumo wrestler, polishing it off in just a few minutes. Clearly, I have misjudged the kempi. I will have to try again another time.