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Everyone loves Japanese Yakitori!

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

The variations of ingredients and flavors are endless! For those looking for a chance to learn about Japanese cuisine and culture in Japan, hello from Japan Culinary Institute (JCI), and welcome to the JCI blog! Have you ever had Japanese-style Yakitori? In recent years, the number of foreign fans of Yakitori has been increasing, and the number of Japanese-style Yakitori restaurants and Izakayas (Japanese style taverns) serving Yakitori has also been increasing outside of Japan. JCI's Yakitori Course, which is rare in Japan and includes an OTB (unpaid student internship) at a Yakitori restaurant, has attracted inquiries from all over the world. Japanese Yakitori is gaining more and more recognition, so let's review the basics together this time! Table of Contents 1. Basic Knowledge of Japanese Yakitori 2. Chicken parts for Yakitori 3. Variety and Seasoning of Yakitori 4. Summary

1. Basic Knowledge of Japanese Yakitori

↑ Yakitori restaurant with a big red lantern and red Noren(shop curtain) with the word "Yakitori" on it. "Yakitori" is a compound of the Japanese words "Yaki" (to grill) and "Tori" (bird). It is a simple dish, and you may have a dish like Yakitori in your country. The origin of Yakitori in Japan is said to be more than 1,300 years ago. However, due to Buddhist beliefs, livestock, including chickens, was prohibited in Japan. Only sparrows, which were harmful to rice cultivation, and wild birds such as quail and pheasants, which people hunted, could be eaten. According to literature, the "style of skewering birds (other than chickens)" appeared around 1700. Even though meat-eating became possible after the Meiji Restoration(1868), chicken meat was a luxury food in Japan, where domesticated livestock production was not flourishing, so Yakitori was far from a popular dish among ordinary people.

↑ Yakitori and Edamame are popular dishes served with beer at izakaya!

Yakitori became popular after the spread of poultry broilers around 1960 when the price of chicken became cheaper, and it became a familiar foodstuff. Numerous popular Yakitori restaurants emerged, and it became common for people to stop by on their way home from work and enjoy Yakitori with alcohol. It is also a popular menu item at food stalls at festivals and other events. Gradually, more and more restaurants began to compete not only in terms of low prices but also in terms of taste. To differentiate themselves from the competition, more and more restaurants began to use high-end local or brand-name chickens. In a broader sense, the name "Yakitori" means chicken meat and pork and beef meat and organs on skewers. Therefore, please remember that the main ingredient may not always be chicken, depending on the restaurant or region.

↑Yakitori is popular at festival stalls! The aroma of the savory sauce attracts customers.

2. Chicken parts for Yakitori

↑  Poultry parts and terms (Image courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan) Yakitori is a dish that is familiar to everyone in Japan. The simplicity of skewering chicken and grilling it over an open flame makes its individuality stand out, which is one of the charms of Yakitori. The Japanese people, who were not initially big meat-eaters, are known for their appreciation of high-end livestock products, so they try to eat as much as possible, including the skin, innards, organs, cartilage, and meat around the bones, as well as meat. Yakitori offers a variety of umami flavors depending on the breed of chicken, the part of the meat, and the way it is grilled and seasoned. Each meat part has a different taste, flavor, texture, and nutritional value. One of the main characteristics of Yakitori is that a whole chicken is used without wasting any of it. In addition to the chicken meat without excess fat and bones, the skin and entrails are consumed, including the trunk, wingtips, cartilage, and tail. The bones and other parts are used for soup and other dishes. No wonder Yakitori is so popular worldwide, as it uses all the essential ingredients, is rich in nutrients, and is so easy to eat!

↑ There are Yakitori restaurants that serve all sorts of other parts! (Image courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries)

3. Variety and Seasoning of Yakitori

↑ From left to right: "Negima", "Kawa", "Tsukune", "Reba", "Yagen (salted)", "Sunagimo" Speaking of Yakitori, it is now served on skewers. Originally, Yakitori was only skewered for cooking and was removed when eaten. When street stalls appeared in towns during the Edo (Samurai) period, they began to sell Yakitori on skewers because it was easier to eat while walking and not in pieces. You will get ten different answers if you ask ten yakitori chefs what their ideal yakitori is. Some prefer to grill over charcoal, while others do not use charcoal not to affect the original flavor of the chicken. Many restaurants are particular about the charcoal they use, and in authentic Yakitori restaurants, they often use expensive "Binchotan" charcoal. Many restaurants are also particular about the chicken meat they use, such as using brand-name local chickens or free-range chickens that are specialized for the area of production. The seasoning, such as Tare(seasoning sauce) and Shio(salt), is also a particular point of concern, and some restaurants feature rare parts of the chicken such as the "Tosaka (chicken crown)," "Saezuri (airway)," and "Tamahimo (egg tube)" as the highlights of their menus.

↑"Binchotan" charcoal used in high-end restaurants Yakitori is a simple dish that you can prepare at home if you are not picky while having aspects of so-called traditional craftsmanship as the famous saying tells you like "three years to master skewering and a lifetime to master grilling." Some Yakitori chain restaurants focus on cost, while others take pride in their artisanal selection of ingredients. Compared to other Japanese cuisines, Yakitori can offer a wide variety as a dish. There are two main types of seasoning, "Tare(seasoning sauce)" and "Shio(salt)." Both Tare, and Shio, reflect the restaurant's uniqueness and its commitment to excellence. Tare is usually soy sauce-based, with authentic ingredients such as mirin(sweet cooking rice wine), apples, and garlic added to give it originality. Many restaurants have continued to add seasonings for years since their establishment without ceasing, giving the matured sauce a rich, deep flavor. For salt, many restaurants use rock salt, sea salt, and other types, places of origin, grain sizes, and their blends of several spices.

↑ The recipe for the soy sauce-based "sauce" differs at each restaurant. Each restaurant also selects its brand of salt! Here are some of the main Yakitori menus available at specialty restaurants. Did you know which skewer is from which part of the chicken? Negima: Thighs or thigh meat chunks alternately sandwiched with Negi(Japanese leeks). Tsukune: Chicken meatballs. The ingredients they add to tsukune can differentiate it from others, making it unique to the restaurant. It can be made in various shapes, such as small oval or ball-shaped. Sasami: Chicken tender, lightly flavored, some restaurants serve it with shiso leaves, spicy cod roe, pickled ume paste, wasabi, etc. They are mainly grilled with salt. Teba: The tips of the wings are often used. Kawa: Skin and grilled to remove the fat and give it a crunchy texture.

↑ The second from the right is the Sasami(tender). Finished with salt and served with wasabi. Seseri: Neck meat. It is the part that frequently moves, giving it a deep flavor. Hatsu: Hatsu deprived of "hearts" in English. It has a light and refreshing flavor. It can be served with either salt or sauce. Kimo (Reba): Liver, freshness is essential. It has a unique texture and flavor and is often served with sauce. Sunagimo: Gizzard. A little light, with a unique aroma and elastic texture, the sunagimo is one of the most popular chicken entrails and is often grilled with salt. Yagen: The cartilage located at the tip of the breast. It has a crispy texture and is usually seasoned with salt. Bonjiri: The meat around the tailbone, which is fatty and juicy with a rich flavor. Tamahimo: The oviduct and pre-ovulatory eggs of the chicken. They are also known as "chochin(lantern)." It is difficult to stock because it tends to lose its freshness, so only a few restaurants offer it on their menus. Tosaka (chicken crown): A rare part of the chicken, also known as Kan'muri(crown). Saezuri: Chicken’s airway and the Japanese name means “birds’ chirps.” It has a unique crunchy texture and is a rare part.

↑ Yellow ball-shaped things are the chicken's oviduct and the egg before ovulation, "Tamahimo," also called "Chochin(lantern)," are difficult to find.

↑The innermost one is "Shishito peppers". It is a staple vegetable for yakitori. Vegetables, etc.: Onions, Shishito peppers, ginkgo nuts, cherry tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, asparagus, and other seasonal items are used.

4. Summary

↑Yakitori, that goes well with Japanese sake. Sprinkle it with chili pepper to taste.

Japanese people love Yakitori! The fact that a whole chicken is utilized and skillfully savored is in line with the principles of the recent SDGs.

Was there a part you would like to try? The restaurant is particular about Tare and Shio. Which do you prefer?

The charm of Yakitori is that you can create countless varieties of Yakitori with various ingredients and flavors, not just chicken! You can also accommodate halal, vegan, vegetarian, and other needs. Let's go out for some Yakitori together!

If you want to master Yakitori, more info is here! Please also check out our class video↓

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