Tasty grilled meats and veggies on a stick, Japanese-style
Seems every culture has its meat on a stick – from Thai moo ping to Turkish shish kabobs, these are always an international favourite. When we were living in Bangkok, it was ubiquitous…grilled chicken, fish balls, and the aforementioned moo ping, grilled pork. But the Japanese raise it to another level – as it seems they do with everything – in their version called Yakitori.
Yakitori, usually chicken and vegetables, is a popular snack or after work meal enjoyed by the Japanese. A very casual meal eaten on the fly, although still in the restaurant (you never see Japanese walking around with food and eating like one might in Thailand or even America). In these tiny places, most people choose to sit around the counter and watch their items be grilled to order over the charcoal fire, but there are also usually small rustic tables and stools upon which one can perch while munching.
The best way to start, if you have never eaten Yakitori, is to order single skewers of several items and then order seconds (or thirds) of those that you really enjoyed. Yakitori is best accompanied by a local beer but if you are not in the mood to drink, green tea will do nicely as well. Also an etiquette tip…it is polite to remove the items from the skewers with your chopsticks and put onto the plate, eating the bites from the plate with your chopsticks rather than putting the skewer to your mouth (this is quite rude). And further…look around the table, there is often an empty cup specially designated as a place to discard the empty skewer sticks.
While grilled chicken is the “normal” Yakitori order, there are many other items to try:
• hasima / negima – white meat chicken combined with leeks, the leeks are also yummy on their own…mild and delicate but adding that extra zing that makes it irresistible
• shiitake – Japanese mushrooms
• tsukune – ground chicken meat formed into a meatball with some seasoning
• reba – chicken livers
• piiman – these are small, bitter Japanese green peppers
• gyu niku – grilled beef
You may be asked if you want a salt or teriyaki marinade…we prefer the salt because it lets the flavour of the meat / vegetable shine through. Also, if served with lemon, it is not a decorative garnish – use it, and you will see how it enhances the grilled flavours.
While these are everywhere, when in Tokyo we like the ones in the Shibuya area. Near the famous intersection by the Mark City Mall there are 3 well-known, established Yakitori places in a row. Look for the Pachinko parlor as a landmark and just keep walking. Our favourite is Toritake, look for a has a cartoon icon of a chicken on its sign. But don’t worry if you have trouble to locate our recommended spot as our Japanese friend living in the area commented, “all the food in this area is good…so you really cannot go wrong, even if you just randomly pop in to a place.”
Shibuya, across from Mark City shopping mall
Telephone: +81 (0)3 3461 1627