Teppanyaki: More Than a Shrimp Tail into the Hat

imasia_6554864_MThere is a global chain of teppanyaki restaurants where chefs flip shrimp tails into their hats, perform other tricks, and just generally put on a good show. This chain, which should be credited with the global popularity of the teppanyaki genre, pointedly has no branches in Japan, and for good reason: In Japan, the teppanyaki experience is different from what first timers to the real thing may expect. You should expect a little less showmanship, a bit more seriousness, and a whole lot of deliciousness.

There are unifying themes across teppanyaki restaurants far and wide, most easily discernible of which is the seating arrangement. Guests are seated in a horseshoe shape around three sides of a large, steel griddle (the “teppan”). The chef, who is positioned at the top of the ‘u’ shape, prepares the food in front of your very eyes, dishing it directly to your plate once done. In Japan, a teppanyaki dinner almost certainly means steak, but at restaurants on foreign shores, chicken, fish, lobster, you name it: If it can be grilled, it’s probably on a teppan somewhere in the world.

While teppanyaki restaurants outside of Japan are often very festive, with almost a party-like atmosphere erupting at some tables, in Japan the focus is on the food. The steak is generally of very high quality (wagyu, or Japanese beef, being a near certainly), with correspondingly elevated prices. Expect a Japanese teppanyaki dinner to be elegant, expertly executed, with demanding quality extending beyond beef to handpicked vegetables and other accoutrements.

A note on convention. Steak at a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant (arguably, at any restaurant for that matter) should be ordered medium rare, plus or minus a half step. An order for well done Japanese beef is bound to met with stern disdain, so if you are the well done type, you may wish to avoid eating steak in Japan.

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