Yakitori: A Primer

Yakitori being grilled up to perfection.

Yakitori being grilled up to perfection.

Yakitori is grilled, skewered chicken (in fact, “yakitori” literally means “grilled chicken” in Japanese), sometimes combined with pieces of Japanese long green onion, but usually just meat. Of course there is your standard chicken breast and thigh meat, but when eating yakitori, you shouldn’t be afraid of getting adventurous! Liver, heart, cartilage, skin, and just about every other part of the chicken is also available skewered up and grilled to perfection. Yakitori comes off the grill with either a light, soy-based sauce already applied, or simply seasoned with a salt-based blend.

The process behind yakitori is beguilingly simple. First, raw meat is expertly packed on to a thin bamboo skewer. Usually it is chicken, but sometimes pork or even beef makes an appearance at a yakitori restaurant.  Vegetables also make for a nice change — we’re not carnivorous, we’re omnivorous, right? — with favorites being shiitake mushrooms, small green peppers, and sometimes even surprises like tomatoes or zucchini. All these items are put over a grill, with the heat usually coming from charcoal. The grilling requires constant attention from the chef to make sure everything gets cooked evenly and just to the perfect point. Once cooked, the sticks are delivered to your table within seconds, preferably with the juices still sizzling. Pre-devour, if you are the type that likes to spice things up, you are invited to sprinkle on some “shichimi,” which is a 7 spice blend that’s heavy on the chili pepper. Under no circumstances should soy sauce ever be doused onto your yakitori.

What else do you eat at a yakitori restaurant? There’s bound to be side dishes like salads, or nankotsu (fried chicken cartilage), karaage (fried, boneless chicken), and some rice or potato dishes as well. As for beverages, every Japanese businessman will tell you that nothing goes better with yakitori than a cold mug of draught beer, but there’s a panoply of other beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, always just a shout away.

Looking to try yakitori in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.


Yakitori at restaurant Torinosuke Toritaro in Shinjuku


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