By YVETTE TAN
Last week, I wrote about how I went on vacation to Taiwan fully intending to detach from work, but ended up appreciating their agriculture industry and mulling over ours anyway.
Now I’d like to focus on the star of my trip: the roasted sweetpotato sold in convenience stores across Taiwan. They’re easy to find: just duck into a convenience store and you’ll find them being kept steaming hot inside a small transparent heated cabinet. Tongs and a paper bag are supplied so that you can pick the sweetpotato of your choice and bring it to the counter.
Break one open and the eater is treated to an interior that is deep orange, extremely sweet and soft, with no trace of the fiber that sometimes mars the eating experience of lesser varieties. (Yvette Tan)
This isn’t your average sweetpotato. Roasted, it’s dark brown on the outside, sometimes with glossy black bits, as it it had been brushed with sugar. But nothing has been added; the sweetpotatoes are roasted as is. Break one open and the eater is treated to an interior that is deep orange, extremely sweet and soft, with no trace of the fiber that sometimes mars the eating experience of lesser varieties.
I think of myself as a kamote connoisseur of sorts—I truly, madly, deeply love sweetpotaoes in any form. To quote hobbit gardener turned adventurer Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings movie, who in this case was talking about regular potatoes, “Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew…” Not to mention steamed, roasted, in pies, as kamote cues, and so on. So trust me on this when I say that these are the best I’ve ever had. They’re so good I still dream about them, my heart aching at the thought of not being able to have them whenever I want.
Roasted potatoes and sweetpotatoes in a Taiwanese convenience store. (Yvette Tan)
I ended last week’s column wondering what variety it was and now I have the answer: nobody, save probably for a select few, knows. That’s because the variety is a closely guarded secret, and very few people are allowed to see it raw, much less as planting material.
Taiwan invests heavily in its agricultural R&D, and no crop is too small. I wasn’t able to get the statistics on this specific root crop, so I cannot tell you what their yield is, how many farmers grow it, or its division among its main consumers. All I know is that it’s available in almost every, if not all, convenience stores in Taiwan, always hot, and from my experience, half the time close to selling out. You don’t have to be a numbers whiz to know that that’s a lot of kamote, a crop that’s abundant and fairly easy to grow. If a country can devote that much engineering to a staple root crop, what more its other, more complicated plants? No wonder the country is well known for its produce, agritechnology, and agritourism.
This isn’t a sponsored article. I was there on a private trip as a private citizen. It’s just that the ingredients there were of such superior quality that I couldn’t help but trace it back to the country’s support for its agriculture workers in all aspects of the industry. Besides, my friends are sick of me talking about Taiwan’s convenience store sweetpotatoes, so now you, my readers, will have to hear about it.
All I’m saying is if ever you’re in Taiwan, try to find time in between restaurant and night market hopping to duck into a convenience store and try one of the roasted sweetpotatoes on display (I recommend picking a deeply-colored one over a lightly roasted one). If you like kaomote, I promise you won’t regret it.
Photos by Yvette Tan