If you’re visiting Japan for the first time, your Japanese friends have probably recommended that you try yakitori. If you don’t have much experience with Japanese cuisine and you’d like to learn more about it before going out to dine, keep on reading and explore one of Japan’s most delicious foods.
Yakitori is one of the most famous street foods in Japan. You can find it in many Japanese restaurants and bars. Yakitori are skewers of small pieces of grilled meat. Almost every part of a chicken can become a different dish of yakitori.
In this article, I will tell you what yakitori is and how to eat it. You will also learn about the most popular forms of yakitori dishes. It will help you to decide what type of yakitori you will try for the first time as well!
What Is Yakitori?
Yakitori is a popular snack in Japan. “Yaki” means “grilled” and “tori” means “Bird”. So, yakitori is a grilled bird or grilled chicken.
It is normally served on wooden or bamboo skewers. Chicken parts like thigh, breast meat, gizzard, wings, liver, heart, and even small intestines are cooked as yakitori.
The chef skewers the chicken with Kushi (skewers) and grills it over flaming charcoal to ensure even cooking. The traditional Japanese charcoal is known as “binchotan”.
The meat is seasoned with salt or tare, depending on the preference of the consumer.
What Are The Most Popular Yakitori Examples?
The Japanese do not like wasting food. So, they make yakitori from almost every part of the chicken. Thus, the taste and texture of the dishes also vary.
Types of Yakitori
Momo: (もも) Momo means thigh meat. So, Momo yakitori is the grilled thigh meat of chickens. They are very succulent and delicious to eat.
Mune: It is made with Sasami (chicken breast), and it is a popular yakitori dish for being lean and tender. It is less juicy than Momo. Sabiyaki is another form of Mune which is served with wasabi.
Tsukune (つくね) Another form of soft-textured yakitori is Tsukune. Minced chicken and other ingredients are used to make the chicken meatballs. Then they are seasoned over charcoal on skewers. Sometimes they are made into a hot dog-like form.
Torikawa Or Kawa (とりかわ) These are cooked chicken skins. The chicken skin contains fat and collagen. The strips of chicken skin are grilled until they become crispy. People love to eat Kawa with beer.
Hasami: Locals and tourists like the crispy Hasami yakitori made with chicken gizzards. The taste may not be as rich as the other yakitori dishes, but it has a unique flavor that many people prefer.
Negima: Negima or Torinegi is another popular yakitori dish. Like Momo, it is also chicken thigh meat. However, you will also see Negi, pieces of special Japanese leek skewered in-between the pieces of grilled meat.
Rebā: Reba means liver. It is a yakitori dish of chicken liver. The livers are seasoned with salt, and then lightly grilled. It is better to keep it rare on the inside to have a tender texture and slightly juicy taste.
Tebasaki or Tebamoto: Love to eat chicken wings? Then you must try Tebasaki. This yakitori is a dish of chicken wings. The wings are seasoned with ‘tare’ and skewed on sticks.
Seseri: Seseri is a very special yakitori dish. The neck meat and muscles around the chicken make it very fibrous and tasty. This type of Yakitori is sometimes chewy but has lots of flavors, It also contains a lot of fat.
Nankotsu: There is chicken cartilage on the keel bones of chicken breasts. They are also full of collagen, which makes them quite nutritious. This cartilage is used to make the crispy Nankotsu.
Hāto / Hatsu Or Kokoro: Hatsu is quite popular for its chewy texture and favorable taste. The chicken heart is seasoned with various ingredients and grilled to make this yakitori dish.
How Is Yakitori Seasoned?
There are mainly two ways of seasoning yakitori: salty and salty-sweet. For the salty flavor, the main seasoning ingredient is just plain salt. But for salty-sweet flavor, the Japanese use ‘tare’ as the key ingredient. Tare is a special sauce that contains sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar.
While you eat yakitori, you may see some common condiments to increase the flavor. These condiments are:
- Shichimi togarashi (a powdered mix of Japanese spices)
- Sansho pepper
- Yuzu Kosho (paste or sauce made with citrus, chili, and salt)
- Umeboshi paste /Japanese plum paste.
How To Eat Yakitori?
Now that you have learned about the most popular yakitori styles, you should know how to eat them. Yes, there are the etiquette and manners of eating yakitori, but you do not have to panic because the manner is quite simple.
- The chef or cook will advise you to eat yakitori in order. If you are planning to order different yakitori dishes, then start with lightly seasoned yakitori, and gradually move to heavily seasoned ones. For example, order Momo first, then Kokoro, and finally, eat heavily seasoned Reba.
- You should eat yakitori directly off the skewers. The meat is nicely cut and grilled so that you can eat it with ease. However, if you do not want to eat with your hands, you can use chopsticks. But it may take time, and the yakitori may get cold.
- There are additional seasonings or condiments available to add flavors to your liking. However, to show respect to your chef, you should try yakitori first without any extra condiments. The chefs prepare the yakitori dishes with care. So, make sure to compliment them.
- After eating yakitori, you may wonder where you should leave the sticks. For that, the restaurants or food stalls will put a pot or cup. So, you must discard the skewers properly and never leave them on your plate or table.
- You can also drink wine or beer to wash it all down. Ask the chef for advice if you are not sure which drinks and dishes complement each other.
Where to Eat Yakitori?
Yakitori is popular all over Japan. Thus, it also has Yakitori-ya, or small shops selling yakitori on the streets and food stalls of Japan. Then there are izakaya, Japanese bars that also serve yakitori. The snack is also on the menus of popular restaurants and food chains in the country.
Here are the best places where you can eat Yakitori in Japan:
If you are near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, you must visit Omoide Yokocho, known as memory lane. There you will find small restaurants clustered together selling various Japanese street foods.
The delicious smell of yakitori will definitely lead you to one of the shops.
This is another spot in Tokyo where you can eat yakitori and beer to your heart’s content. These restaurants are located between Yurakucho and Shinsaibashi Station.
The place is always bustling with people of all kinds of professions. They come to eat snacks like yakitori and beer after work.
If you are in Nakasu, Fukuoka, visit the yakai shops in the district to check out their yakitori dishes. You will also find some shops near the riverside.
Most of the snack shops in Nakasu are open-air stands. So, you may have to eat in the open.
Famous Restaurants Chains For Yakitori
Apart from small shops and bars, yakitori is a very popular item on the menu of famous food chains. The best yakitori selling restaurant chains in Tokyo and other cities are:
You should have a good understanding of yakitori and their different forms. Once you try yakitori, you will surely want more of this deliciously seasoned snack in Japan.