Eating “kushiage,” which is fried meat and vegetables on a stick, might seem like an imminently straightforward affair. Simply pick up a stick, eat what’s on it, and get rid of the stick, right? Alas there is a system with some rules attached, or at the very least, procedures to follow. It’s just the way of the world that sometimes deliciousness comes with strings attached.
By far the easiest way to get your kushiage on is to have it as part of a course, where it comes as an assortment. No special requests are allowed when ordering assortments (rule 1). If you order kushiage a la carte (either just like that, or as an add-on to a course), there is a good chance that you will have to order a minimum of two, and possibly even two of each type you order (rule 2). After eating each stick, there is a receptacle into which to put your used sticks. It looks like a desktop pencil holder (rule 3).
The above rules are things I write really in half jest. It’s no big tragedy if you don’t use the stick receptacle. However, there is one very, very, oh very very serious rule: No double dipping the sticks in the provided sauce. You see, kushiage tastes best when given a dip the slightly sweet and salty, thin sauce that you will find in a tabletop trough of sorts. Take your stick, dip it deep into the sauce, and (since the stick will be more horizontal than vertical) twirl to cover all fried surfaces. Do this very carefully, because there is no going back for seconds on the sauce (except if by which you mean beer, to which you are welcome to sauce it up as much as your wallet allows).
There are signs on tables, and verbal instructions given about no double dipping, but that will most likely all be in Japanese. So don’t be surprised if, on your first use of the dipping sauce, you look up to find many pairs of eyes supervising you. Just follow this one simple rule, and do it without exception: Only dip a kushiage stick into the sauce once.
One final note: In the Osaka/Kyoto region, kushiage is called kushikatsu. That part of Japan loves to be a little different. Now enjoy your meal.
Looking to try kushiage in Tokyo?
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