During the Edo era, which lasted from 1604 to 1868, yakitori became a delicacy made with the meat of pricey wild birds, like quails, ducks, and pigeons. Over time, the dish spread to the commoners, who ate sparrow meat and eventually chicken.
Yakitori literally means “grilled bird,” but you’ll find the term referring to variety of skewered, grilled meats and vegetables–although the proper generic term for skewered meats and vegetables is kushiyaki. However, since chicken is one of the most popular yakitori ingredients, the label is often appropriate.
Yakitori make great snack and appetizer foods and they can also constitute a light meal. You’ll find them for sale at festivals, in restaurants, in pubs, and in small food carts lining the streets. You can also purchase small indoor electric grills to make the dish yourself at home, although traditionally they’re grilled with charcoal. Pieces of meat and/or vegetables are slid on a thin bamboo stick and the food is places directly on the grill and rotated a few times. Traditionally, you can choose from shio (salt) alone on the food or tare sauce (a sauce made from soy sauce, sake, and sugar).
There are many varieties of chicken yakitori. Toriniku is the basic white chicken meat variety and mune is the dark meat choice, but you’ll also find types such as nankotsu (chicken cartilage–made soft), hatsu (chicken heart), shiro (chicken intestines), rebaa (chicken liver), and sunagimo (chicken gizzard). Chicken skin is torikawa, chicken tail is bonjiri, chicken wings is tebasaki, and chicken meatballs is tsukune.
The other common varieties of yakitori/kushiyaki include garlic (ninniku), enoki mushrooms (enokimaki), pork belly (butabara), Japanese scallion (ikada), ox tongue (gyuutan), fried tofu (atsuage tofu), green pepper (piman), and aspargus and bacon (asuparabeekon). You can have a yakitori with only one meat or vegetable or you can mix it up and sample a number of what’s available.
Have you ever eaten yakitori? Would you be willing to try something like chicken cartilage? Why or why not?
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Tags: Food, japan, lunches, yakitori