No doubt, you have heard of, and perhaps even enjoyed Chicken Yakitori, either in Japan or outside. Those grilled chicken meat cubes, skewered on bamboo sticks are best enjoyed with a cold glass of beer, at the end of a long week at work. Yakitori is usually made from bite sized pieces of meat made from all parts of the chicken – and sometimes other animals as well – including the breast, the thighs, the skin, the liver and other innards.
1.Know What To Order
Contrary to popular belief, yakitori is not one specific type of dish, but a generic name for a range of mainly chicken meat dishes, generally cooked over a charcoal fire or electric grill. In some ways, the word yakitori is like the word sandwich. When you order a “sandwich” at a restaurant, you need to tell the steward, exactly what kind of sandwich you want – ham on rye; or philly cheesesteak with cheese; or perhaps even a simple cucumber sandwich. Similarly, when you order a yakitori, you need to specify exactly what you want, or else the person taking your order won’t know exactly what you want.
So, here’s a quick and simple guide on ordering yakitori in any yakitori-ya or izakaya in Japan, so that you don’t look like a novice…
Negima is the most traditional style of yakitori, and is usually made with chicken thigh and green onions, skewered together and grilled. It is perhaps the most common type of yakitori that is available everywhere in Japan. Momo is another type of yakitori that is made up of chicken thighs.
This is the heart of the chicken, and due to the slightly chewy texture, chefs prefer to douse this in a lot of oil to tenderise it a great deal.
Tsukune are the flavourful little chicken meatballs made of minced chicken, eggs, vegetables and spices, that are then pressed around the skewer in a mid-sized cylindrical shape.
Tebasaki are chicken wings that have been grilled to a crispy delicious golden brown colour.
The really adventurous can try nankotsu, which refers to the keel bone between the chicken breasts, which has very little meat, but adds a crispy and crunchy texture to your meal. It is also perfect for those on a diet as it is the lowest calorie part of a chicken.
If you are not sure of what type of cut you want, or want to experiment, the best option is to order “Kushimori”, which gets you assortment of yakitori skewers, as per the choice of the chef. For many people who don’t want to eat too much of the same thing, Kushimori is the perfect choice.
Vegetarian options in yakitori are limited, but many places will offer you tomatoes, onions, beans and mushrooms and a few other veggies, skewered and grilled.
2.Salted or Saucy?
While taking the order, the chef will ask you if you want your yakitori salty (‘shio’) or saucy (‘tare’). You can choose either, depending on your personal preferences. Other seasonings include cayenne pepper, seven spices blend wasabi or even black pepper. According to me, ask the chef to select the best option, and try it that way the first time. It also shows the chef that you trust his judgement and that you respect his culinary skills. After you have tried it the chef’s way, you can add extra flavouring as per your preference.
3.How do I begin eating?
Ideally, you start to eat the least seasoned variety of yakitori first, and slowly make your way up to the more intense meats. It is also acceptable to eat the dishes in any way you prefer. Whatever the order of the dishes, enjoy the yakitori with your hands, when it’s still on the skewers. Throw away the used skewers in a used cup or container kept on the table for that specific purpose. In case you can’t find one, please ask the chef or the person taking your order to show you the right container.
4.Is eating Yakatori an expensive affair?
Well, the price of the yakatori varies from shop to shop. In most places, a single skewer of yakatori will vary from 120 to 150 yen. Some specialty yakatori places charge upto 300 or even 500 yen per skewer. Many restaurants that serve alcohol also serve multiple portions of different types of yakatori. The cost for such a meal could be around 3000 to 5000 yen per person. In any case, it’s best to check the menu for the prices before ordering to avoid issues later.
Yakitori is almost as iconic and authentically Japanese as sushi. Apart from being cheap and tasty, it actually gives you an opportunity to experience daily Japanese food culture. Most of all, remember to try out different combinations of cut and condiments, and determine your favourite type of yakitori.
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