Grilled meat on a skewer, known a yakitori in Japan, hasn’t been around for as long as some people might assume. Even though it’s now a beloved food in several countries across the world, the Japanese couldn’t eat meat at all during the Edo Period that lasted from 1603 to 1868. This meat ban existed mostly due to the prevalent Buddhist beliefs at the time that prohibited meat consumption. Although rulers during the Edo Period didn’t ban chicken, most Japanese people didn’t cook it due to the cultural belief that it was a distasteful smell.
The food that people recognize at Yakitori today began appearing more during the Meiji Era of 1868 to 1912. By this time, the Japanese bred significantly more chicken to provide people with a food source. Street vendors cooked chicken over a grill and covered it with sweet and salty sauce before cutting it into pieces and placing it on a skewer. They reasoned that these two actions could mask the potentially offensive smell of cooking chicken.
How to Order Yakitori in a Restaurant
With the Edo Period and Meiji Era long in the past, people can order yakitori in a restaurant or prepare it at home themselves. For people visiting an authentic Japanese restaurant who don’t speak the language, simply pointing to a picture of yakitori on the menu and holding up fingers to denote the number desired will usually suffice. However, travelers to Japan may want to practice a few key phrases to ensure they can confidently state whether they would like yakitori with soy sauce or only with salt.
Understanding the Different Parts of Chicken Used to Prepare Yakitori
Some restaurants offer more choices in terms of the type of chicken meat placed on the skewer than others. The reason for this is that some use only a single body part of the chicken while others use all available body parts. For people who prefer eating several varieties of chicken meat, it’s important to know the names for the area of the body to order it properly. Here are the parts most commonly used to create yakitori:
- Kawa is the skin that the chef has grilled to the point of crispiness.
- Momo is thigh meat served typically seasoned with a generous portion of tare.
- Negima refers to breast or thigh meat typically accompanied by green onions.
- Sankaku is meat from the chicken’s tail. It is normally soft and crispy and grilled with plenty of salt.
- Sasami describes breast meat taken from as close to bone as possible. Chefs frequently mix sasami with beefsteak and wasabi as well as salt. Those who prefer a bolder taste can add tare.
- Seseri is meat taken from the neck area that chefs typically flavor with salt while grilling.
- Tebisaki describes the chicken wing. Restaurants may offer tebisaki with or without the skewer.
- Tsukune is a chicken meatball made from chicken meat, an egg mixture, and potato starch.
This list describes only the main options available when it comes to ordering yakitori at a restaurant. Since several more exist, adventurous diners may want to ask about them the next time they go out for lunch or dinner at a Japanese restaurant.
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