“Good food is better than sex” is an old saying in Kansai. Maybe the wise old bard who penned this would have also said “Tebasaki – Shio aji de” is better than all sex”.
Down at our favourite Tokyo yakitori-ya, tebasaki is an ethereal experience. (Yakitori is grilled chicken and ya is basically shop). Two mid wing sections are splayed and skewered in a way to maximise the surface area of the skin. A liberal amount of sea salt is scattered over the wings and let sit for 5 minutes to soak in. The tebasaki is then grilled over hot binchotan until crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside – the perfect accompaniment to an ice cold Suntory Maltsu.
Yakitori-ya range from an impromptu street stall to quite upmarket affairs with fine wooden joinery, but our favourite must be the down to earth style with cramped seating (adds to the atmosphere) and clouds of smoke billowing out of the kitchen and down the street.
The best Yakitori-ya grill their chicken over white charcoal called binchotan. If you find a Yakitori-ya grilling over gas – keep walking.
Each yakitori-ya will have a house recipe for their “tare” which is a sweet/salty shoyu based sauce. When ordering you will generally be asked if you prefer shio (salt) or tare (sauce) for each dish.
The best places don’t have English menus so here’s a run down of what to expect. Generally the whole bird is used so you will find some interesting dishes – gizzards anyone?
Yakitori Menu Vocabulary
Nama biiru – this is an absolute essential…house draft beer. Most popular size is namachuu – a medium size mug of beer.
Negima – a skewer with alternating leek and chicken
Tebasaki – grilled chicken wings – see above for further enlightenment
Tsukune – chicken balls, I mean balls made from chicken
Kawa – chicken skin – yeah baby!
Sasami – skinless breast meat
Shoniku – random chicken meat with skin
Hatsu – chicken harts – just divine with the sweet tare
Sunagimo – innards – better than it sounds
Reba – chicken liver
Tan – usually beef and sometimes pork tongue
Ginnan – ginkgo nuts
Negi – pencil leeks or shallots
Uzura Tamago – quail eggs
Shiitake – mushrooms
Condiments for Yakitori
At the yakitori-ya you’ll have a selection of condiments on hand …
Shichimi – this is a seven flavour spice with the main spice being chilli
Ichimi – chilli pepper spice
Yuzu kosho – this is a delicious condiment made from the Japanese citrus – yuzu with chilli and salt
Ordering at a Yakitori-ya
Two skewers – “nihon”
Four skewers – “yon hon”
Six skewers – “roppon”
If you want your skewers with tare say, “tare aji de”
If you want your skewers with salt say, “shio aji de”
If you want two skewers of tebasaki with salt say, “Tebasaki nihon shio aji de onegaishimasu.”
Onegaishimasu is the polite version of please. In more casual establishments it’s okay to leave this word out.
The best thing about Yakitori is it’s so simple to cook at home. All you need is a konro barbeque – portable barbeque, some binchotan and a good yakitori tare recipe.
Try and use free range chicken. Apart from ethical reasons free range chicken also tends to have more meat and less fat. Also look for birds that are older because they will have more texture in the meat.