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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Slimy yam may be a little slice of heaven, or not

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Yamaimo is slimy and can cause itching if not pre-soaked. But many love it.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Yamaimo (Japanese mountain yam) is beloved by many Japanese for its gelatinous texture and the shiny glaze it gives to foods — and loathed by many for the same reason. It is often compared to raw egg white in both texture and appearance.

The starchy, slimy, white-fleshed root is served grated with some forms of sushi, over hot rice or cold soba noodles and sometimes julienned in salads; it may also be fried. Tororo, often seen on sushi bar menus served over 'ahi sashimi, is a mixture of grated yamaimo with dashi (Japanese-style broth) and flavorings.

Yamaimo is sold whole or cut into large hunks in stores, such as the Marukai and Daiei, that specialize in Japanese produce.

To use yamaimo, soak in lightly vinegared water overnight so it won't make your hands and lips itch. Then peel and slice, grate or grind in a suribachi (Japanese mortar). Dried yamaimo is mixed with water to produce a starchy blend. In Japan, it's available grated and frozen.

Several terms are associated with yamaimo: nagaimo, which is a relative of yamaimo, originally from China; and tororo, short for tororo-imo or tororo-jiru, meaning yamaimo mixed with dashi, shoyu and mirin or sugar. Tororo-meshi is tororo blended with hot rice.

It's widely agreed that this is a vegetable you have to have grown up with to truly appreciate. Cruising the Asian food Web sites, you'll see comparisons of the stuff to various bodily emissions. But you'll also find homesick Japanese nationals touting the pleasures of noisily slurping tororo-meshi or cooling soba and yamaimo on a hot summer day.