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Daigaku imo: Sato's spin on the french fry

Here’s another reason besides ramen to stop by Sato (739 Elmwood Ave.), the creative Japanese restaurant that opened in January. It’s vegan, but anyone who likes french fries, sweet potato fries or caramel should dig it, too. That includes just about everybody.

Right now Satomi Smith has it on her specials menu, and it’s no place else in town. It’s called daigaku imo, “college potato,” because it started as a snack for college students.

“It’s more of a regular dinner food now,” said Smith. “You can get it anywhere or make it at home. It’s not just for college kids any more. It’s also sold at festivals and food carts.”

It’s a devilishly simple dish. Smith takes a Japanese sweet potato, which has a purple-ish skin and pale yellow flesh, and cuts it, unpeeled, into bite-sized pieces. Then it goes into the deep-frier until the insides are soft.

Then, like chicken wings get their baptism in hot sauce, potato chunks are tossed in soy caramel. That’s a glossy mixture of soy sauce, mirin (a sweet cooking wine) and sugar, which is cooked together until the sugar melts.

The peel gives the finished pieces a crackly skin, especially when the hot potato chunks have gotten the chance to cool slightly in their caramel coats. “It also gives the color and holds the potato together,” Smith said. The dish is finished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Close-up of daigaku imo, the caramel-sesame coated, fried sweet potatoes. (Sharon Cantillon / Buffalo News)

Close-up of daigaku imo, the caramel-sesame coated, fried sweet potatoes. (Sharon Cantillon / Buffalo News)

“It can be a snack, it can be dessert, or it can be regular dinner food,” she said. It’s on the Sato specials menu for $5.

Americans, who are not used to knocking back an unpeeled sweet potato for dessert, are slowly catching on.

“The first reaction was our staff members – they were surprised that it was so simple and so good, and they were eating it up,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can serve this to customers.’ ”

For information, call 931-9146 or visit For further reading on Sato, read the restaurant review and the "Can't Miss Dishes" post on the outstanding ramen.

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