The food lovers guide to Yakitori

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  • My favourite food dishes seem to change as regularly as my fashion, but there is always one which never goes out of season – yakitori. Maybe it’s the seemingly simpleness of the dish. Or perhaps it’s the casual and laid-back dining atmosphere in which they are usually served. Whatever it is, these delightful sticks of culinary joy have me well and truly hooked. Or should I say skewered?

    Yakitori Origin

    The literal translation of yakitori is grilled bird – yaki (grilled) and tori (bird) which according to the historical literature, has been around as far back as the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Although traditionally yakitori may have consisted only of chicken (actual birds probably fell out of flavour once chicken breeding was discovered), in modern times the word also covers vegetables, seafood, beef, pork and anything else that can be poked and put over a flame. Creative chefs, of course, have created their own renditions of the dish and cheese, for example, makes a regular appearance on menus nowadays. Still, chicken remains the feature ingredient which apart from the usual cuts, also includes the liver, skin, cartilage, and tail. Some restaurants will go even further, using body parts I need a dictionary to identify. Seasoning will be by 2 methods – a sweet sauce (tare) or salted (shio).

    Yakitori is a deceptively simple dish and, there is a variety of factors which govern the final taste. Seasoning is all too obvious but of even more importance is the heat over which it is grilled. Some use coal while others prefer the predictability of electric. Chefs will argue over the merits of each but I’ll have to leave that debate for another article.

    Yakitori varieties

    The below varieties are the ones you will find at almost every yakitori establishment. So now the next time you step into a yakitori-ya, keep these names in mind and go forth and devour!

    1. Tsukune

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    Grilled chicken meatballs usually served with tare and sometimes mixed with chopped cartilage for extra crunch.

    2. Sasami

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    Chicken tenderloin cut from just underneath the breast. Sometimes served rare and with a smear of wasabi – also called Sabi.

    3. Sunagimo

    Chicken gizzard – the organ used to grind up the food. It has a strong flavour and crunchy texture.

    4. Momo

    Chicken thigh.

    5. Reba

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    Chicken liver.

    6. Kawa

    tori kawa

    Just the chicken skin, usually stripped from the wing and grilled until golden.

    7. Tebasaki

    Chicken wings butterflied open and grilled.

    8. Nankotsu

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    Chicken cartilage usually taken from the breast bone but sometimes the knee. My favourite.