So, what are potatoes called in supermarkets? What varieties are popular here? And what are the differences between them? Read on to find out!
I imagine this situation to be akin to an ESL learner proudly knowing the word "apple" only to walk into a shop and find labels like "Granny Smith" and "Red Delicious." They both look like apples, but what's the difference between them?
Well, if you pick up something that looks like a potato, your curry dinner will probably turn out all right. But, the two most popular varieties of potatoes sold in Japan have different properties that suits each of them to different dishes. Those varieties are called だんしゃくいも (男爵芋, danshakuimo) and メークイン (meekuin). Abroad, they're known as "Irish Cobbler" and "May Queen," respectively.
By the way, another label you are very likely to encounter in the supermarket is ばれいしょ (bareisho), usually in hiragana, but it also has kanji: 馬鈴薯. This word is not a variety of potato: It's just another word for potato coming from the dialect of Hokkaido. It's kind of like saying "spud" in US English. Because だんしゃく are often the only variety of potato sold at a small shop (under a sign reading ばれいしょ), it's easy to mistake this word as a variety name for those little round guys.
Finally, although we've introduced the two most popular varieties of potatoes here, they aren't the only types sold in Japan. If you're interested in learning more, here's a list of other potato varieties in Japan. The site is in Japanese only, but its data is arranged in handy columns, including characteristics or cooking suggestions for each type on the right.