Yakitori: delicious Japanese finger food

The Japanese version of skewered meats (specifically chicken) is called yakitori. Among street food in Japan, yakitori is probably the best-known finger food, as it can be enjoyed off the stick and on the move!

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As they are designed for convenience and portability, yakitori are typically cooked using methods which are easy to transport or stow away. Traditionally, this was accomplished by using portable charcoal grills. This is the method most often employed by yatai (street food vendors). The meat is cut into small shapes then skewered, after which the yakitori are seasoned and cooked. Charcoal is the preferred method of cooking as it produces high heat and strong flames while giving off little to no water vapour. This allows for the ingredients to cook quickly while imparting a crunchy texture to the skin.

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“Yakitori-ya” are small shops specialising in these delightful skewered meats. They usually take the form of a compact shop offering take-out services only, but sit-down restaurants and restaurant chains are also popular. However, yakitori isn’t limited to speciality shops, however. It is readily found on the menus of izakaya all across Japan, and also sold pre-cooked as frozen vacuum packs. I have seen them on the Tokyo Metro and in Family Mart stores across the capital!

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Fresh Yakitori smells so good!

When thinking of this delicious grilled chicken from Japan, there are many different varieties you can have. Some of the more popular forms I have seen for sale are as follows:

momo (もも chicken thigh), negima (ねぎま chicken and spring onion), tsukune (つくね chicken meatballs), torikawa (とりかわ chicken skin grilled until crispy), tebasaki (手羽先 chicken wing), nankotsu (なんこつ chicken cartilage), sunagimo (砂肝 chicken gizzard), toriniku (鶏肉 all white meat on skewer), and yotsumi (四つ身 pieces of chicken breast).

I love the white meat, and of course the tsukune (chicken meatballs) are one of the most common Japanese snacks among tourists, so I really enjoyed eating those during my time in Tokyo, Nara, and Osaka.

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A selection of kushiyaki from Dotonbori district of Osaka

For me, Osaka was the home of yakitori and kushiyaki (and kushikatsu!). Kushiyaki is a similar concept to yakitori but more meats and vegetables can be skewered rather than just the chicken. So if you wanted some grilled shitake mushrooms then you would need to find some kushiyaki yatai. I find the Japanese day-to-day culture craves efficiency and speed more than most other things, and the variety of finger food available on the streets certainly allows people to eat while they move! Now that’s what I call fast food!

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