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Yakitori chicken, perfect with Japanese sake. But was some of that yakitori also pork!?

2015.12.10

Writer name : Yoshiaki Hirota

Details the different types of yakitori chicken available from various izakaya and yakitori restaurants in Japan.

Pork can also be yakitori!?



There are many yakitori chicken restaurants among Japan’s entertainment districts. Even if signs advertising “yakitori” are not visible, most izakayas will include yakitori chicken on their menus.

That shows just how deeply Japanese view yakitori chicken as an excellent choice of food to go with drinks.

Japanese have enjoyed eating yakitori since long ago. There are apparently even instructions on “spearing chicken meat on skewers and sprinkling them lightly with salt” found in a book on cuisine dating back to 1689 (during the Edo period).

From that time on, it is said that yakitori was already being sold alongside the roads to shrines, but the “yakitori-ya” restaurant apparently came into being as something for the masses around the end of the Edo period and beginning of the Meiji era.

Yet interestingly enough, even though “yakitori (chicken)” is written on the menu, it may also include “yakiton (grilled skewers of pork or beef).”

Ever since “yakitori-ya” (yakitori restaurants) came into existence, chicken, beef, pork meat and entrails that are skewered and grilled have all been called “yakitori,” and that trend has continued to this day.

This hardly poses a problem to Japanese since both are delicious, but many non-Japanese visitors are unable to eat certain items for religious reasons.

We’ll share an easy way to tell the difference.

Is this chicken? Or pork? Just what kind of meat is it?

While there are some restaurants that are very good about clarifying what is “yakitori” and what is “yakiton” on their menu, there are also restaurants that simply label them altogether as “yakitori.”

So what should you do if you want to know what kind of meat is being served at these sorts of restaurants?

One method is to pay attention to the names of each menu item. Usually, yakitori menus will label the meat based on what part of the animal it is taken from.

For example:
momo (thigh) kawa (skin) tebasaki (chicken wings) hatsu (heart) sunagimo (gizzard) bonjiri (meat from around the coccyx of a chicken)

These names are all different types of chicken meat.



Momo (thigh (right))



Kawa (skin)



Tebasaki (chicken wings)



Hatsu (heart)



Sunagimo (gizzard)



Bonjiri (meat from around the coccyx of a chicken)

How about the following?
bara (ribs) hatsu (heart) reba (liver) gatsu (stomach) kobukuro (uterus) shiro (small intestine) tan (tongue)

They look similar, but these are names for different parts of pork meat.



Bara (ribs)



Hatsu (heart)



Reba (liver)



Gatsu (stomach), Kobukuro (uterus)



Shiro (small intestine)



Tan (tongue (bottom)

By remembering the names that indicate different parts of the meat, you’ll be able to have a general idea of what kind of meat it is. However, you do need to pay attention. As you have probably noticed from the photos, hatsu (the heart organ) can refer to meat from either chicken or pork. Also, some restaurants use exceptional names, and there can be situations where depending on the restaurant the actual product can differ slightly despite having the same name for the part of the meat.

So if there are items that you just cannot eat (or are prohibited from eating) for reasons such as religion or allergy, etc., it’s a good idea to confirm with the restaurant staff in advance.

How to enjoy yakitori

One aspect to enjoying yakitori is the “seasoning.” Generally there are two types of seasoning for yakitori – yakitori sauce or salt – and at most restaurants you can specify which kind you prefer when you order. But more than likely many foreigners wonder, just what is in that yakitori sauce? The yakitori sauce is said to be the lifeblood of the yakitori restaurant, and various stores have traditional recipes that have been passed down through generations.

However, to a certain extent the base ingredients for the seasoning are the same, and all restaurants use a combination of soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Of course the proportion of each of these ingredients differs by restaurant and by mixing in spices such as ginger and garlic, restaurants can produce their own original taste.

We encourage you to visit several different yakitori restaurants and compare the taste of their yakitori sauce. You’re bound to find one that you’ll like!

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