How to eat yakitori | Choose between shioyaki and tareyaki like a regular
Yakitori, skewered and grilled chicken, is a favorite of all ages! I’m a big fan myself, but I’ve noticed that I always seem to have the same few favorite pieces… “What a shame! How can I call myself a yakitori enthusiast?” And so, I’m here at a yakitori specialty restaurant, to brush up on the basics, revisit the classics, and branch out to the side menu. Let’s take a closer look at the smart way to enjoy yakitori!
Table of Contents
Upon entering the restaurant
After entering the restaurant and taking your seat, first, take a look through the menu. Specialty restaurants serve a wide variety of items beyond the classic skewers, such as tori sashi (chicken sashimi) and nabe (hot pots). Once you’ve decided on some starters, order together with a drink.
By the way, for yakitori, it’s recommended to go with shio (seasoned with salt) to enjoy the flavor of the meat itself. For fattier cuts, to enhance juiciness, tare (glazed with sauce) is recommended.
After ordering, pass out serving plates and chopsticks to each person. Take the initiative to help pass anything as necessary.
The true joy of sumibi (charcoal-grilled) yakitori
The restaurant I visited, Tori Jiro, serves in sumibi yakitori style, that is, with each piece grilled directly over charcoal. To get technical, the far infrared energy emitted by burning wood charcoal conveys heat directly to the outer surface of the meat, resulting in crispy skin with juicy, plump meat inside. The smoke from the charcoal fire also imparts a smoky fragrance, elegantly complementing the experience.
Now, let me introduce some yakitori dishes that are well worth trying on your next visit!
Learn about the variety of yakitori dishes
©くま社長 / PIXTA
Neck せせり seseri
Neck meat has plenty of fat, yet is light in flavor, and is notable for its pleasantly crunchy texture. Try this skewer topped with negi miso (spring onion and miso paste).
Upper Wing かしわ kashiwa
This meat is from the first segment of the wing. It is high in protein and low in calories, but offers a temptingly juicy texture. Best as shioyaki (simply seasoned with salt).
Cartilage なんこつ nankotsu
Crunchy and toothsome, this cartilage comes from either the point of the breastbone (yagen nankotsu) or from the knee joints (hiza nankotsu). Go with shioyaki (simply seasoned with salt).
Chicken Tender ササミ sasami
This muscle is located on the interior of the breast meat. With the least fat of any cut, it is light in flavor, and the perfect blank canvas for any number of seasonings. Try it as wasabi-jio (seasoned with salt and topped with wasabi).
Harami ハラミ harami
If you’ve tried yakiniku (Japanese barbecue), you may be familiar with beef harami, the inner skirt meat around the diaphragm. The yakitori version of harami is not diaphragm meat, but rather muscle from the abdominal wall. An entire chicken only provides about ten grams of this rare cut. It has more of a springy bite than even seseri (neck meat). Recommended as shioyaki (simply seasoned with salt).
Heart はつ hatsu
As pictured, three chicken hearts are served on a single skewer. This cut is relatively mild and features a pleasantly crunchy texture. Try this one as shioyaki (simply seasoned with salt).
Heart Valve はつもと hatsumoto
The blood vessels at the base of the heart are chewy, with each bite drawing out more succulent fat. Generally served with tare (sauce).
Tail ぼんじり bonjiri
This meat comes from the chicken tail, and is known for crisp skin and rich fat content. Recommended with tare (sauce).
Fatty Liver 白レバー shiro reba
The fattier portion of the liver is often compared to foie gras for its clean taste and smooth, creamy texture. Order as wasabi-jio (seasoned with salt and served with wasabi) to cut through the richness.
Meatball つくね tsukune
Minced chicken meat formed into a dumpling shape and grilled. Children and adults alike are sure to love these easily-approachable meatballs. Generally glazed with tare (sauce).
Thigh with Spring Onion ねぎま negima
Interchanging pieces of thigh meat and spring onion, skewered and grilled. The sweetness of the spring onion is a perfect complement to chicken thigh. Have it glazed with tare (sauce).
Skin 皮 kawa
Pieces of chicken skin, skewered and grilled. The melt-in-your-mouth fat and crispy skin are positively addicting. Tare (glazed with sauce) is a popular choice for this piece.
Yakitori restaurants also offer skewered and grilled dishes featuring ingredients other than chicken.
Mini Tomato ミニトマト mini tomato
Cooking tomatoes brings out their sweetness. A perfect palate cleanser between different yakitori items.
Shiitake しいたけ shiitake
Thick and juicy shiitake mushrooms are a perfect ingredient for skewer grilling. Other vegetable skewers include nasu (eggplant) and eringi (trumpet mushroom).
How to eat yakitori
Generally speaking, eating yakitori off the skewer is considered elegant and respectful of the cook. This also prevents juice from running out, resulting in the most succulent bite possible.
On the other hand, the meat at the base of the skewer may be difficult to eat, or perhaps you would like to share a skewer among multiple people. In such cases, feel free to remove the meat from the skewer. To do so, hold the meat steady in your chopsticks, and twist the skewer until it comes loose.
If you’d like to spice up the standard seasonings of tare (sauce) and shio (salt), try shaking on some shichimi (seven spice powder) to your taste.
When you’ve finished a piece, place the used skewer into the receptacle to keep things tidy.
So far, we’ve only learned about yakitori itself. Now let me recommend a few side dish items to try next time you visit a yakitori specialty restaurant.
Chicken Liver Sashimi 鶏レバ刺し tori reba sashi
Chicken liver served raw. The creamy, rich flavor pairs superbly with liquors such as nihonshu (sake) or shochu.
Green Soybeans 枝豆 edamame
An iconic Japanese side dish. Ideal to share with friends.
Crushed Cucumber たたききゅうり tataki kyuri
Cucumber crushed into chunks and seasoned with salt. Garnished with katsuobushi (smoked and dried skipjack tuna flakes).
Toasted Chicken Skin with Ponzu Sauce 炙り鶏皮ぽん酢 aburi torikawa ponzu
Toasted chicken skin served together with ponzu, a savory-and-sour citrus-infused soy sauce.
Japanese-style Fried Chicken 唐揚げ karaage
This Japanese-style fried chicken is generally served boneless and in bite-size chunks. Try dipping in mayonnaise and adding a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Two of the best beverages to pair with yakitori are draft beer (left) and highball (right). In Japan, “highball” almost always refers to whisky and soda. Imo shochu (distilled liquor made from sweet potatoes) and soda is also popular among this restaurant’s repeat clientele.
Are you ready to visit a yakitori restaurant now? I hope you’ll be inspired to try ordering some of the yakitori dishes and side menu item’s I’ve introduced.
* The published information is current as of September 2022. Prices and other details are subject to change.
At Tori Jiro, each skewer is carefully made by hand. This izakaya specializes in yakitori and other chicken dishes, and proudly serves Daisendori Chicken from Tottori Prefecture.