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Yakitori

焼き鳥 Yakitori

A dish for the general public that is indispensable to the Japanese izakaya culture.
To make yakitori, cut chicken meat into bite-sized portions, skewer the pieces with teriyaki sauce and grill. One can enjoy a vary of taste and texture with different chicken parts.



Keywords

  • ◆Stand
    Yakitori stands are a common sight in Japan.
  • ◆Drink while standing
    Drinking while standing at places that serve food on skewers so that chopsticks are not required.
  • ◆Charcoal fire
    A popular cooking method that infuses a smoky flavor.
  • GURUNAVI Japanese Restaurants in Shingapore
  • GURUNAVI Japanese Restaurants

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About
What is yakitori?
Yakitori is a simple dish for the general public.

Yakitori

Four to five pieces of chicken cut into bite-size pieces are grilled on a bamboo skewer that is about 15cm long, with either salt or tare (yakitori sauce). It is enjoyed as a snack while enjoying alcoholic drinks. You can enjoy yakitori in various places: in specialized restaurants, butcher shop fronts and stalls. In recent years, even convenience stores sell yakitori, since unit price is cheap. Types and tastes can be varied depending on the part of the chicken used. The most popular yakitori piece is called “negima”. There are some variations depending on the store, but negima is a piece in which leeks have been speared through relatively firm breast or leg. It is popular for its slightly charred leeks and juicy gravy, and is known as a yakitori staple. The piece that is most popular among women is sasami. It is a healthy chicken cut high in protein and low in calories. It has a light flavor, and at times is eaten with condiments such as wasabi and Japanese basil instead of sauce and salt. At “YAKITORI Moe”, located in Roppongi, Tokyo, yakitori is served with a piquant yuzu pepper, which has even attracted the attention of French chefs. Japanese yakitori is simple yet much thought has been put into it. Once you taste the Japanese yakitori, you will realize a new appeal of chicken that is different to western sautéed chicken.

History
Although it’s a simple dish, it has gone through complex changes before settling on its present state.

Yakitori

Since it’s a dish that involves cooking chicken, its roots can be traced back to before the Common Era. However, it is said that the style of cooking skewered chicken by cutting it into bite-size pieces like the current style was completed in the late 1600s. Yakitori pushcart stores made an appearance at around 1900. Since chicken was expensive at the time, small pieces of meat that were not used in restaurants were used and served. It is a dish that reflected the Mottainai spirit unique to Japanese that dislikes discarding things, which has been discussed in the West in recent years. In 1923, a major earthquake centered on Tokyo hit Japan, and chicken became even harder to source. As a result, chicken became an even more expensive item, and it was around this time that high-end specialty restaurants began to appear.

It was after World War II that yakitori came to be widely known as a food for the general public. As the chicken breeding method called broiler was introduced from the US in the 1960s, yakitori restaurants for the general public that also served as an izakaya rapidly spread. It became enjoyed nationwide as a representative dish of inexpensive and delicious food. However, in recent years, yakitori using high-quality chicken, called free-range chicken, which has been thoroughly managed, has become popular.

If you would like to taste authentic yakitori, Kyobashi Isehiro Honten in Kyobashi, Tokyo, for example, is worth a look. It is a long-established restaurant with over 80 years of tradition. The yakitori cooked by the experienced veteran chefs is popular also among overseas tourists.

Preparations
Skewering, wrapping and grilling methods. All of these require a high level of expertise.

Yakitori

A Japanese dish of yakitori isn’t made by simply cooking chicken. The easy process of putting the chicken onto a skewer and cooking it encompasses the careful attention of chefs. Putting chicken onto a skewer is called “kushi-uchi”. During this process, the skewer must be perpendicular against the fibers of the meat. The skewer needs to be moved up and down slightly when putting the skewer through, as if sewing. Furthermore, the meat needs to be evened out in a method specific to the store in order to make the thickness of the meat uniform. All these are preliminary preparations to cook delicious meat. Meticulous techniques are required to even just skewer the meat properly in order retain savoriness by having the chicken cooked evenly and stopping its meat from hardening.

Gas could be used as a heat source for cooking. However, charcoal grilling is believed to be the best for yakitori. That being said, charcoal is difficult to handle and it takes time and effort until there is sufficient heat. However, the radiation that the charcoal emits makes the surface of the meat crunchy while thoroughly cooking the inside yet still retaining the gravy.

As subtle airflow fluctuations change the temperature of the charcoal, yakitori chefs moderate the degree the chicken is cooked based on their accumulated experience. Yakitori is cooked to obtain an exquisite flavor by turning the skewer frequently. Furthermore, sauces used for yakitori are made by the chef’s unique method. There are even stores that use sauces that have been passed on for generations, which have been replenished as they usefor several decades. Although it’s a simple food that be cooked by anyone as long as there are meat and skewers, it also encompasses profound techniques due to its simplicity.

Regional differences
There is yakitori that is not cooked on a skewer.

Yakitori

Although there is no change to the basic process of cooking meat on the skewer, there are differences depending on the region, such as using specific parts or the eating methods. In Bibai in Hokkaido, the mainstream way of eating yakitori is to put onions, motsu (viscera), chicken skin, in addition to breast meat, on a single skewer, seasoned with salt and pepper. Motsu has a unique crunchy texture and is rarely cooked on a skewer in other district. Motsu came to be eaten in Bibai since there were many physical laborers who worked in the coalmines and favored motsu that can be easily used as energy.

Higashimatsuyama in Saitama uses a slightly different sauce. Although soy sauce-based sauces are the most commonly used, the sauce used in this district is a spicy miso sauce made by blending over 10 types of spices, such as garlic and red pepper. Furthermore, despite using the name yakitori, the meat that is mainly used here is pork. In Japan, people often refer to skewered meat as yakitori.

There is also yakitori not cooked on a skewer. Imabari in Ehime is known as a town with the most yakitori restaurants in Japan, and yakitori is mainly cooked on a teppan plate. With a spatula called a hera, meat is pressed against the teppan. The fat that dropped on teppan gives the meat a texture similar to being fried. This makes the meat delicious, and allows the chicken to be cooked quickly at the same time. That’s why this style of teriyaki has been popular in the local area for a long time.

Other examples of yakitori include using high-quality local chicken particular to a specific region. As such, there are many more varieties. Zenyaren Honten Tokyo in Otemachi, Tokyo is bustling with customers on a daily basis, since it lets you enjoy such unique yakitori in one setting.

Furthermore, there is yakitori that is not cooked on skewers in Imabari in Shikoku. The style well known in Imabari is to fry yakitori on a teppan without putting it on a skewer. It is said that this style was invented since Imabari has many merchants who generally want things done quickly, and thus this method was devised to serve them much quicker.

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