Cuisine is a big attraction for any visitor journeying to Japan. There isn’t much that I don’t eat but there aren’t many foods that I can eat all the time. The one exception is Yakitori. Various chicken cuts skewered on bamboo sticks that are grilled to perfection. Paired with a chilled “nama” (draft) beer and served in establishments where pretension is left at the door, a world where only yakitori existed wouldn’t be such a bad one!
Similar to barbequed food in the West, Yakitori chefs may choose coal to bring out the flavours of their food and this is certainly the traditional cooking method used since its inception. But from my recent culinary experiences searching for delectable Yakitori, electric grillers seem to account for the majority. No doubt more convenient and easier to control than coal, it’s understandable that electric has become more common.
So why would some chefs still use coal I hear you ask. They always have to replenish their stock, it’s messy to handle and unfortunately a quick flick of a switch won’t help to get it started ! Could it be nostalgia that keeps these chefs clinging onto an age old tradition ? Well Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Binchotan. Known also as white coal, Binchotan is a unique Japanese charcoal made from oak trees commonly found in Wakayama prefecture. Branches from the oak are burnt at extremely high temperatures over a period of days and then rapidly cooled to give it its unique properties. Binchotan burns at a consistently high temperature for longer periods of time than conventional coal. It also does not release unpleasant smoke or odours which may impart into the food that it is cooking. Its ability to quickly seal in the flavours of the meat without polluting it with impurities is why it is prized by some chefs who will cook with nothing else.
So take a moment as you savour your next delicious skewer of Yakitori, and observe how yours has just been prepared. If it’s by Binchotan, you really are in for a special treat !