Imoni is a hearty soup based on taro root, konnyaku, leeks, vegetables, and Yamagata beef. It is seasoned with soy sauce. Imo means potatoes, here it refers to sato imo — taro root. In the Shonai area pork and miso are the preferred seasonings. The recipes changes in different regions but the base is always taro root, konnyaku, and leeks.
Imoni kai is an outdoor gathering of people encircling a large pot of imoni. Kai means to meet. The imoni kai ritual is said to go back three hundred years. The origins of imoni kai are varied. One theory is the autumn Shinto farming ritual called imomeigetsu where taro root was offered to the gods. Another theory is that imoni kai originated in association with the boat culture that was essential for transporting rice on the Mogami River.
Each September Yamagata City holds Japan’s biggest imoni kai festival. A massive pot, six meters in diameter, serves 30,000 portions of imoni. This festive event marks the start of imoni kai events that will take place throughout Yamagata in autumn. For locals the gathering of people around a large pot outdoors in is a reminder of this traditional food ritual and part of the fall landscape.
For the Japanese hearing imoni conjures up images of a comforting soup with taro root, konnyaku, leeks, and beef or pork. On the first taste the mouth fills with umami that lingers on the palate.RECIPE_HEADEND