The vendor hands me a paper laden with warm, coal-steamed, sweet potatoes — diced and seasoned with the most delicious spices and a dash of lemon. I gobble them up, savouring each hot mouthful!

Come winter, you will see carts of sweet potato wrapped in jute cloth on roadsides, a tell-tale smoke rising from their midst. Memories of my childhood are dotted with weekends at my grandma’s home waiting for the shakarkandi wala to come into the streets every evening, hauling his wares.

Today, whenever the chill hits Karachi and shakarkandi vendors come out on every street, I can’t resist tasting this root plant. The rich, textured sweetness of the vegetable transports me back to those innocent, care-free days of yore.


Steamed, fried, baked or mashed, sweet potatoes are healthy, packed with nutrients and taste great


The great news is that not only are sweet potatoes readily available, inexpensive, and delicious but have been ranked number one in nutrition out of all vegetables by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Sweet potatoes are ‘hot’ foods, so having them in winter helps cure bronchitis. Even sucking on a piece of raw sweet potato will help drive away the annoying winter cough. Sweet potatoes can easily be incorporated in children’s diet as it is naturally pleasant to taste and soft; packed with Vitamin C which is known to ward off cold and flu viruses, it also plays a role in bone and tooth formation, digestion, and blood cell formation.

The orange colour of sweet potatoes indicates that they are high in carotenoids like beta carotene and other carotenoids, which changes to Vitamin A in your body. Carotenoids help strengthen our eyesight and boost our immunity to disease, along with being powerful antioxidants that help ward off cancer and protect against the effects of aging. More than 100 per cent of your daily need for vitamin A is packed in one medium sized sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes are also rich in Vitamin D which is a vitamin and hormone to keep up our energy levels, moods, and build healthy bones, heart, nerves, skin and teeth, and support the thyroid gland.

The iron content of sweet potatoes plays its part in red and white blood cell production, resistance to stress, proper immune functioning and the metabolising of protein. Its magnesium fires the body with fuel for healthy arteries, blood, bone, heart, muscle, and nerve function, while its potassium content relaxes muscle contractions, reducing swelling, and protecting and controlling the activity of the kidneys.

The sweet taste of sweet potatoes is due to its natural sugars which are slowly released into the bloodstream. This keeps the body activated with a balanced and regular source of energy, without the cons of blood sugar which create fatigue and weight gain.

The plant has been used medicinally in Japan for treating diabetes and other diseases, while American Indians used sweet potato to treat thirst and weight loss linked to diabetes.

So, finally a veggie with great taste, health and nutrition!

The beautiful thing about sweet potatoes is that there are so many ways to have them — roasted, puréed, steamed, baked, or grilled. Add them to soups, stews, salads or even puddings. You can get creative and make sweet potato French fries (either fry them or bake them after brushing with olive oil), or can even try deep frying slices of sweet potato in batter for a snack. Mashed sweet potatoes are a great way to get your kids to eat some healthy vegetables; mash with milk, butter and a pinch of salt and pepper and serve either at breakfast with egg or at lunch or dinner as a side dish.

Selling sweet potatoes in winter is not just something you might see on our streets but also in Egypt along the Nile as well as in China where the yellow variety are baked in a large iron drum and sold by vendors. In parts of India, apart from being used in pickles and as chips, fresh sweet potato is cut, dried and then ground into flour which is then mixed with wheat flour and used to make chapattis.

Some recipes using this starchy root plant in winter as a soup made by boiling sweet potato in water with rock sugar and ginger. The orange fleshed one as well as the white fleshed sweet potatoes can also be baked at home as a snack or dessert, drenched with honey. Candied sweet potatoes are a popular Thanksgiving dish in the West.

Yet, for me the aroma, texture and taste of roasted sweet potatoes on the Karachi roadsides sprinkled with spice is simply a mouthful of wintry heaven!

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 15th, 2015

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