Yakitori (Roast meat on skewers)
Yakitori involves cutting various portions of chicken into bite-sized chunks, skewering and roasting them. Basted with a soy-sauce based mixture called tare, they are then salted to serve. They are easily eaten and consumed over drinks or as snacks. They are eaten at a variety of restaurants, called variously yakitoriya, tori-ryoriya and izakaya. Pork, beef, vegetables or any other food on skewers is also referred to as yakitori depending on the locality.
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Yakitori first appeared in the middle of the 17th century. Originally pheasant, quail and pidgeons were used instead of chickens. Due to Buddhism, the eating of chicken, beef and other meat was essentially prohibited in Japan. The gradual influence of overseas culture led to chicken being regularly eaten. Because chicken was a high-priced commodity, offal made up the majority of yakitori at that time. Beef and pork also came to be sold as yakitori at street stands. Until the end of WWII and a stable supply of chicken was established, yakitori remained a delicacy. The growing use of broilers led to cheaper supplies of chicken and made yakitori a commonly eaten food. Yakitoriyas became popular as places for company workers to stop in and enjoy yakitori over drinks after work. With the current abundance of foods available, specialized yakitoriya have appeared. Some yakitoriya use jidori meat from chickens native to Japan, while others sell yakitori cooked with a high-quality type of charcoal called binchotan (white charcoal).
Yakitoriya offer you the chance to savor the different flavors of each part of the chicken. Refer to the About Yakitori a picture to see what parts are used. Momo, mune, sasami and kawa (skin) are available at almost any yakitoriya. More unusual parts may or may not be available according to the particular shop.
Tare (Sauce) or Salt
When ordering yakitori you must specify whether you want tare or salt for the flavoring. Some restaurants will offer only their recommended choice for certain types of yakitori.
The tare is a sweet sauce based on soy sauce - if you know what teriyaki sauce tastes like, you can imagine what this sauce tastes like. Some shops that specialize in salt flavoring will have several varieties of salt available. When ordering specify "tare for the tsukune, salt for the kawa."
Yakitori other than Chicken
Other meats and vegetables cooked on skewers are also called yakitori. Refer to Other Meats / Vegetables to see what else is available in addition to chicken.
The term "yakitoriya" refers to both shops specializing in yakitori, and izakaya (bar-restaurants) that serve yakitori. Food other than yakitori is also available. Some localities will label all types of food using skewers as yakitori, and yakitoriya may serve pork, beef and vegetables roasted on skewers.
There are a variety of methods of preparing yakitori. Sumibiyaki (char-grilling) is a well-known method involving roasting the meat over heated charcoal. The far infrared rays allowing the tasty juices of the chicken to be retained for the maximum taste, also enhancing the smell. Various types of charcoal are used, with binchotan (white charcoal) being particularly well-reputed.
Yakitori can be ordered in plates containing enough for a specified number of people, or by individual skewers.
A plate for a single person will have three to six skewers. Ordering a "yakitori moriawase" will bring you various types of yakitori on one plate.
When ordering yakitori singly you should specify the number and flavoring: "Two momo with tare, one kawa with salt." Try tasting the same yakitori with salt or with tare to see the difference.
Here are some condiments and spices you can use on yakitori.
Shichimi Togarashi: A powdered mix of seven Japanese spices, including chili, mustard and sansho pepper.
Ichimi Togarashi: Ground chili used as a condiment.
Wasabi: Japanese horseradish grated to make this uniquely Japanese picante condiment.
Sansho pepper: Spice ground from the fruits of the powerful sansho peppers.
Yuzukosho: A paste made from salt, chili and a citrus fruit called yuzu.
Types of Yakitori
Momo (thigh): Juicy and flavorsome meat from the thigh.
Mune (breast): Meat from the breast with a straightforward taste.
Seseri: Meat from the neck. Springy and flavorsome from the constant movement of the neck. Also called "kirin" or even "nekku (neck)."
Sasami: Meat from the inner breast - low in fat and high in protein. Can be enjoyed on its own, but the plain taste lends itself well to cooking with shiso, umeboshi, miso or mentaiko (fish roe). Salt is the preferred flavoring.
Negima: Momo meat and negi (onions) placed in sequence on a skewer and roasted. Generally welsh onions are used, but onions are used in some areas.
Tsukune: Minced chicken meatballs roasted on a skewer. Each shop adds its own flavor to the minced chicken by adding finely chopped welsh onions, shiso and other vegetables or cartilage to give a firmer bite. Some shops shape it in blocks rather than balls. Sometimes eaten with quail egg yolk.
Tamahimo: Chicken eggs taken prior to entering the Fallopian tube. A rare item not often found in yakitoriya. Also called "kinkan."
Kimo: Chicken liver with its distinctive full flavor and softness that tastes better the fresher it is. Sometimes also called "leba."
Sunagimo: Chicken gizzards. Has a slightly grainy taste.
Bonjiri: Meat from the buttocks. Juicy meat with high fat and muscle content (due to often being used). Also referred to as "tee-ru (tail)."
Hiza no Nankotsu: Cartilage from the knees of the chicken. Has a crunchy taste.
Kawa (skin): Chicken skin - high in fat, it has a crispy texture allowing you to savor its soft springiness.
Tosaka: The comb of the chicken. A rare item not often found in yakitoriya. Also called "kanmuri (crown)."
Hatsu: Chicken hearts - a precious item, as only one can be taken from each chicken. Cut in half to be cooked, it has a unique springiness, and a taste straight from the heart (also called "kokoro").
Suzume (sparrow): Roasted sparrow on skewers.
Uzura no Tamago (quail eggs): Several quail eggs skewered and cooked.
Other Meats / Vegetables
Shishito (small green peppers)
Tomato Maki: Cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon or pork rib meat, skewered and roasted.
Butabara: Pork rib meat. Juicy with a high fat content.
Kashira: Meat from pig cheeks and temples; that from the cheeks has a softer texture.
Ushisagari: Meat from the midriff of cows with a soft and juicy taste. Also called "harami."
Gyutan: Ox tongues. A straightforward yet unique flavor.
Asupara Bacon: Asparagus wrapped in bacon, skewered and roasted.
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