30 Days of Japanese Food: Yakitori
Day 17: Yakitori
If you know a little Japanese, you’ll probably know that yakitori literally means ‘grilled chicken’ or ‘grilled bird’. Certainly that’s one option you can get with yakitori – a skewer of grilled chicken meat. But the word is much broader than that and a meal of yakitori can have so many weird and wonderful things to choose from.
At its very basic, yakitori is food on a small wooden skewer that has been grilled. Traditionally that is chicken and bits of the chicken but it now includes things like beef tongue, mushrooms, peppers and pig organs. It’s best accompanied by beer and so it’s become a popular afterwork meal for the salarymen or young hipsters of Japan.
You can normally choose to have one of two flavours added – either salt or soy – which is put on the meat before it is grilled so the flavour gets infused.
I had my meal of yakitori at a small little bar and restaurant under the rail tracks in the Shimbashi area of Tokyo. It was a small and smoky place full of men in dark suits making more noise than I had heard anyone make in Japan. The place was packed – and in fact I tried a few other restaurants first before finding one that had any space for me.
The menu here had pig as its focus and I had a selection of pork intestine, pork heart, minced chicken balls (the shape, not the anatomy) and green peppers. Although eating the innards of a pig sounds a bit gross, it’s actually all quite tasty because it’s had the flavours I mentioned earlier put over the top. It could really have been anything, as far as I could tell.
The sticks were about 140 yen (US$1.45) each and I had eight of them for a decent feed but not a completely filling meal. I got the feeling most of the people here were more interested in the beer and the cigarettes than the yakitori!