What is yakitori?
The Japanese dish yakitori (pronounced ‘yak-KIE-tor-RIE’) consists of chicken skewers, made with juicy pieces of meat from different parts of the chicken, grilled over a charcoal fire. The skewer is seasoned with salt or tare, a glaze made of mirin (rice wine) and sweet soy sauce.
Yakitori is eaten in Japan as a street food or festival snack, but is also served in izakayas (informal eating and drinking places) and special yakitori restaurants, called yakitoriyas. Yakitoriyas are often visited by workers after their shift and are also popular late at night.
The simplicity of the dish is misleading: the meat should always be chicken and the preparation and seasoning are always the same. Yet in most yakitoriyas dozens of variations are offered. Popular varieties are:
- Momo: pieces of chicken thigh
- Negima: pieces of chicken thigh interspersed with negi or Japanese leek.
- Tsukune: chicken meatballs
- Torikawa: crispy chicken skin
- Tebasaki: chicken wings
- Nankotsu: cartilage from between the chicken fillets
Most yakitori restaurants also serve a number of yakitori dishes without chicken, for example with peppers or enoki mushrooms.
Did you know?
How to make yakitori?
The selected parts of the chicken are strung on bamboo or metal skewers. The meat should be placed close together, so that it does not dry out or lose too much moisture during slow cooking.
The special yakitori sauce (tare) made from sweet soy sauce and mirin (rice wine) is a fixed recipe. The skewers are covered with the tare and slowly baked on top of glowing charcoal. The chef continuously rotates the skewers. As soon as the chicken is cooked and evenly browned, the yakitori is coated with tare once more.
The tare is not always used – sometimes only salt is sprinkled on the skewers.
How to eat
Yakitori is best eaten directly from the grill, while the meat is still quite warm. You don’t have to wait for your tablemates, eat it at its most delicious! You can eat the meat directly from the skewer, or slide the meat off with your chopsticks and then eat it.
Any Japanese person will tell you that there should be at least one cold beer next to your portion of yakitori. If you want to make a complete meal of it, order several types of yakitori, including some vegetable skewers.