“Yakitori” is a dish made by a simple method, which sticks chicken meat into a spit and grill, so for that reason, it would be difficult and can’t cut the corner. It is said that each preparation has meaning, and the proficient skill is needed to grill them deliciously and beautifully. It is not an exaggeration to say that every single step affects the taste of the restaurant. Among yakitori chefs, there is an expression “need three years to skewer, a lifetime to grill.” In this expression, there is the meaning behind such as that daily training and steady efforts are required to become a full-fledged yakitori chef, and won’t be easy to get success in this field. Let's introduce such a deep yakitori world this time.
What is Yakitori?
The history of Yakitori
I It is thought that original yakitori that skewers chicken and eat had already existed during the Heian period(700's). At that time, there was no custom of eating meats of livestock, so people ate grilled pheasant meat caught by hunting. Various birds that were used for yakitori were introduced in a recipe book in Edo period. Sparrow, quail, Japanese skylark, thrush, pigeon were popular at that time. Especially, there were many yakitori restaurants serving sparrow on approaches of shrines, and gathered attention as street stalls, which even commons can enjoy.
Stalls of yakitori appeared in the middle of the 1800's, around the Meiji Restoration. Chicken meat started being eaten since then. The Meiji Restoration was the trigger of an influx of western culture, and the carnivorous culture gradually became established. Chicken meat was expensive at that time, so trimmings and internal organs of chicken that disused by some restaurants including Shamo (a gamecock) hot-pot restaurant were used as alternatives. Yakitori became a popular food after 1955. The style of yakitori, which is currently familiar has established with the advent of a broiler pan since the Meiji Era.
What kind of Yakitori are there?
The birds that had been eaten in Japan since the ancient time were mainly wild birds such as pheasant, quail, and duck. A first yakitori made in Japan was also made with pheasant. Yakitori as a cooking method was firstly introduced in the Edo period. Recipes of yakitori were introduced in a cooking book “Gorui Nichiyo Ryori-sho” of 1682. Speaking of yakitori, its abundant varieties are charm as well. Yakitori has many parts and types, so let me introduce about that first.
MOMO (Chicken thigh / leg)
The most common part is Chicken thigh. It is soft, juicy and a versatile part that can be used for any recipes such as yakitori, fried chicken, Mizutaki (hot pot), curry, and so on. Spitting thigh meat and green onion (leek) alternately and grilling is standard yakitori, “Negima,”
MUNE (Chicken breast)
It is the breast part as its name. Low-fat, low-calories, and rich in protein. Some people think that this part is dried out, but it can be made moist and juicy with an additional touch or a small technique. It is a versatile part.
TEBA (Chicken wing)
It is a wing part of chicken. Can be divided into three parts, Tebamoto (root), Tebanaka (middle) and Tebasaki (drumette). Known for high collagen content, thus attracting attention especially among women in recent years.
SASAMI (mini fillet)
It is fine meat on the chicken breast part. Soft, fatless, and rich in protein same as chicken breast. It is widely used for dietic therapy or those who are on diet because of its low-fat and high nutrition meat. As yakitori, exquisite collaboration with wasabi, grated radish and plum paste are popular as a way unique to Japan.
It is a grilled chicken mince which mixed breast and thigh. The shape is different depending on a shop. There are roughly 2 types of shape. One is balled shape, and the other one is putting on a thick skewer directly. Meat around the neck is mainly used, but sometimes gristle is added to the meat in order to make the texture crunchy. This might be easy to expose each shop's character.
* Some shops might use pork and beef instead of chicken, so please be noted if you have different dietary culture.
HARAMI (Outside skirt)
It is not chicken actually, but many yakitori shops offer this meat. It is a part of the back of the diaphragm of the cow, and its soft texture is the feature.
SORI (Chicken Oyster)
It is not a familiar part, also called Soriresu. The part of leg joint.
Skin of the neck is mainly used. It is a juicy and very high-calorie part but rich in collagen. So, it is one of the popular parts among women along with chicken wings.
SESERI (Chicken neck)
It is a neck meat. Some people don’t like its sinewy texture, it is more for the experienced. The more you chew, the better as tastes come out. It is a rare part, which only little is available from one chicken.
BONJIRI (Chicken tail)
It is the meat around the coccyx, located at the base of the butt's feather. An ideal part for rich taste lovers.
Chicken liver. Fresh meat tastes better, and eating in rare is real gourmet. It is very nutritious part as containing a lot of iron and vitamin A, thus it has an effect on anemia prevention. This also gathers women's attention.
SHIROGIMO (White chicken liver)
It is grilled fat liver of chicken, which has smooth and thick texture. An extremely rare part of chicken.
HATSU (Chicken heart)
It is chicken heart. It contains a lot of vitamins and iron. Hatsu that the fat was removed should be grilled by utilizing its original elastic texture. This is how a skilled chef does.
The official name is Kin-i. It is two raised muscles outside of stomach wall among two stomachs of a chicken, called kin-i. It has light taste, no smell, and crunchy texture when you bite.
There are two kinds of Yagen-nankotsu (Kappa) at the tip of the sternum and Hiza-nankotsu (Genkotsu) between tibia and thighbone. It has a distinctive crunchiness.
Eggs in ovaries and fallopian tubes. It may be far from the image of yakitori. The origin of its name is that appearance is similar to kumquat. As it is not a complete egg, so there is no shell and only yolk.
Chickens' testicles. You can taste the contrast of outer roasting flavor and inner rich flavor like cream.
How to enjoy Yakitori, and how to eat?
Not only specialty restaurants, but also yakitori is served in most of izakaya (casual style bar/restaurant) in Japan. You can also enjoy buying takeaway yakitori, which is often sold at butcher shops, and enjoy eating them while walking.
First of all, let us introduce the basics of eating in a restaurant.
If you eat yakitori at a restaurant, it's better to eat from the lightest flavor. It begins with lighter taste then goes to stronger taste if you order a course menu. Moreover, it is said that eating from a skewer is the best way to enjoy yakitori. Chefs carefully put each piece of meat on the skewer, and take time for its preparation every day. To enjoy all these efforts, eating them from the skewer is the best way.
Try just yakitori itself without adding anything first. From the chefs, they may want you to try it just as it is. After enjoying the original taste of the ingredients, it is recommended to arrange the taste of your choice by putting seasonings such as shichimi powder or Japanese peppers.
Also, especially in the case of a large number of people, Japanese people tend to do it: remove yakitori sticking on the skewer from the skewers, and eat them with chopsticks. Yakitori is a food sticking in a skewer. After all it is the most delicious way to eat them from the skewer.
Enjoy eating Yakitori while walking is another fun. Please note that some shops recommend stopping near the store to eat depending on the location. The smell of char-grilled chicken is irresistibly attractive at event venues, butcher's shops, or delicatessens.
There are many well-established famous shops where you can enjoy sake and shochu with nicely grilled yakitori in Kichijoji, a town that is popular among especially young people. In addition to a yakitori restaurant that has a standing bar and a takeaway counter at the 1st floor, and sells yakitori at 80yen per piece, there is also a shop you possibly make a new friend when you share a table to eat, and it is constantly vibrant. Some restaurants have tatami floors besides table seats. It’ll be convenient if you are with a big party to have fun.
In downtown area of Tokyo, a famous barhopping heaven “Akabane Ichiban-gai shopping street” that is crowded from daytime regardless of weekdays and holidays is popular not only for Japanese but also for foreign people. On your right after exiting a ticket gate at JR Akabane Station, you can see the entrance of the street from the roundabout of the east gate.
A shopping street called “OK Yokocho” located next to Ichiban-gai street, and a narrow trail extending from OK Yokocho have even deeper atmosphere. Shops are crowded with each other in narrow spaces. It is getting more popular among foreign visitors these days.
Then, the below is Shinjuku's “Omoide Yokocho (Memories Alley).” It is a deep sightseeing spot in Shinjuku, which is crowded with many businessmen as well as foreign tourists. It is not only delicious and cheap, but also there are numerous restaurants including yakitori shops in the street where the atmosphere of Japan's Showa era strongly remains.
Finally, “Hoppy Street” in Asakusa, a must-go. It is the restaurant street, which is on the left side of Asakusa Senso-ji Temple. This street is also known as Nikomi-street. There are plenty of standing bars that offer fresh hoppy as well as delicious yakitori.
You can feel the distinctive atmosphere and owner's unique commitment in any areas. Let's enjoy various style of world famous “YAKITORI” that you can enjoy a unique food culture as well as intercultural exchanges.
If you are in the mood for yakitori, here are restaurants JOURNEY of JAPAN strongly recommends
■Yakitori Toribian (Asakusa, Tokyo)
A vivid colored restaurant that the walls are painted in a vermillion color, has 18 counter seats and 4 table seats. The owner, who received training for 9 years at a famous yakitori shop “Birdland” in Ginza, purchases chicken meat sticking to the farm-fresh and no-additives. As well as freshness, he knows all about chicken and makes full use of the skill to maximize “umami.” An excellent dish is finished off with careful preparation and skillful grilling with superb heating adjustment.
●Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays 17:30-23:00 / Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays 17:30-22:00
●Closed on Thursdays
■Gin Shamo (Asakusa, Tokyo)
As the name suggests, this restaurant offers delicious shamo (Gamecock). The farm-fresh shamo is grilled carefully with Binchotan charcoal. Recommended menu is “Tasting of three flavors of shamo.” It is a signature menu served 3 skewers, and you can taste one skewer each of Kagoshima's “Satsuma Waka-Shamo momo Negima,” Ibaraki's “Yasato-Shamo momo Negima,” and Aomori's “Shamolock momo Negima.” It is crowded with locals, people who are on business trip and stay nearby as well as foreign tourists who just walk in. It is a popular restaurant with the comfortable atmosphere to pop in.
●Mondays - Fridays 17:00-24:00（L.O.23:00）
●Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays
■Spain-zaka Toriko (Roppongi, Tokyo)
A yakitori shop “Spain-zaka Toriko” where you can enjoy yakitori and a variety of wines. A chicken should have different breeding methods and feeds depending on the parts, so at this restaurant, the best quality ones of each part are carefully selected. “Yatsugatake Toriko chicken” that characterized by soft and tasteful meat is exquisite and is cultivated only for “Toriko,” which persistently sticks to the material. It is a chicken developed together with Nakamura Farm of Yatsugatake in Yamanashi prefecture and is used for “Kashiwa,” “Negima,” and “Soriress.” Wine and sake that are carefully selected by a Japanese sommelier Mr. Motohiro Okoshi are also stocked, and can be enjoyed with excellent dishes.
●Lunch 11:30-14:00(L.O.13:30) / Dinner 17:00-23:00(L.O.22:00, Drink L.O.22:30）
●Open 7 days a week
Summary of Yakitori
In recent years, yakitori has become very popular in both domestic and overseas, and lots of foreign tourists are coming to visit. Yakitori chefs are required to have very high-skill, and they have various obsessions. Especially the freshness of chicken is very important. Chicken are matured faster than pork and beef, and it reaches to the eating peak two days after being dressed. It seems like a simple method and recipe, which is just cutting and grilling meat on a skewer. But when you actually do it, the meat can easily get hard or being burned by a small mistake of adjusting fire frame, and it makes tastes bad. Especially, restaurants that are old-fashioned still use charcoal fire to cook, and the heat adjustment is very difficult, so the right skill is required to stand in front of the fire and carefully check the meat and serve in the best condition.
For example, in order to grill chicken wings crispy and juicy inside, it's necessary to grill it like frying with wing's fat, but it is very difficult to adjust the heat because it has bones. A special expression, “Judge the taste by chicken thigh, judge the taste of the shop with Tsukune, and judge the skill of the shop by chicken wings” shows how to enjoy yakitori. Yakitori made by a chef who got training for long time is the dish you can enjoy the unique color of the restaurant and chef's personality, which is different from other Japanese restaurants even though the way of cook seems easy (or is that why?).
Yakitori is a reasonable and delicious standard izakaya menu, but high-end restaurants stuck to the type of chicken and other things are also appearing recently. Of course, visiting popular restaurants among tourists is fun, but it may also be a good idea to look for a hidden restaurant or a shop where local people really gather with the comfortable atmosphere.
*The above information was last updated June 5, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
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