Yakitori (grilled chicken) (焼き鳥)
Yakitori is a food consisting of several bite-size chunks (from one to five or so) of meat (mainly chicken) that are seasoned and grilled on skewers. This article describes yakitori (grilled chicken) in Japanese cuisine.
The characters 'yakitori' can be found in the menu of dishes that were served by 篠澤佐五右衛門良重, an official liaison (warimoto) in Iwamurata in Saku County, Shinano Province, to 青山因幡守, castellan of Komoro-jo Castle in 1648. This yakitori, whose type of meat, cooking method, seasonings used, and so on are not described in the literature, is highly likely different from the current form. This yakitori might have been crane meat and eaten by tono-sama (a person with higher rank), since the literature includes a description of 'Tsuruniku no suimono" (clear soup of crane meat).
Although this literature of the dish is owned by the offspring 篠澤明剛, it is currently open to the public at the Saku City Mochizuki Museum of History and Folklore.
Grilling, which does not require cooking utensils such as a pan or pot for heating, had been done since ancient times. In a sense, it is a convenient way for eating game caught in fields and mountains. However, a large chicken takes time to roast if it is whole, and is difficult to eat because of bones. Hence, to serve the food at restaurants, the cooking method presumably changed to the one in which meat is cut into small chunks, which are then skewered.
In Japan today, yakitori is mostly served at special restaurants called yakitori-ya (grilled chicken restaurant). Many yakitori-ya restaurants are considered as a kind of common people's izakaya bar. At yakitori-ya restaurants, various parts of chickens are served along with various kinds of grilled chicken. For some yakitori, green onions, onions, shiitake mushrooms, ginkgo nuts, garlic and so on are also used. The term "yakitori" is also used for small birds such as sparrow that are grilled on skewers without cutting.
Other than at yakitori-ya restaurants, yakitori is often sold at the delicatessen section of supermarkets or at butchers, so that it can be eaten at home. In this case, yakitori may be ungrilled, vacuum-packed, or frozen, if it is not already grilled.
Grilled skewered food
The type that uses pig's ribs or intestines instead of chicken is called "yakiton" (grilled pork) in many areas.
In some areas, however, the whole grilled skewered meat dish including yakiton is sometimes called 'yakitori.'
Depending on the area or the person, "yakitori" also includes grilled skewered plant-derived ingredients such as ginkgo nuts, garlic, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, or asparagus so on, or those ingredients wrapped with pork or bacon. For details, refer to the section under Regional differences in yakitori.
There are mainly two kinds of yakitori in terms of seasoning: "shio" (literally, salt) that uses only salt, and "tare" (literally, sauce) that is grilled with a salty-sweet sauce that is adjusted with soy sauce, mirin (sweet cooking rice wine), sake, sugar, and so on. At a yakitori-ya restaurant, when a customer places an order, he or she is usually asked about the type of seasoning, shio or tare. However, some menus are available only as shio or tare. Yakitori that is grilled over charcoal fire has a nice flavor and texture, and is therefore considered to be delicious.
Depending on one's preference, cayenne pepper powder, shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red cayenne pepper and other aromatic spices), sansho (Japanese pepper) powder, wasabi (Japanese horseradish), and pepper are used as a spice to eat yakitori with.
Types of yakitori
Yakitori-ya restaurants often use unique terms in their menus.
Ones that use chicken
Shoniku or kashiwa: dark meat or breast
Seseri: meat around the neck
Sasami (white meat, breast meat)
Tebasaki (chicken wing tip)
Tulip: The term comes from the appearance of a drumette, when its meat at the base is cut all around and the meat is then pulled up like a tulip.
Bonjiri, bonchiri, bonbochi, sankaku, or hippu: rump meat
Kawa or torikawa (skin)
Hatsu or herutsu: heart
Zuri, sunazuri, or sunagimo: gizzard
Aka, reba, or kimo: liver
Mame or mamegimo: spleen
Reba: liver that bloated like foie gras
Tsukune: Minced meat formed into a ball or stick shape. This may be eaten with the yolk of an egg.
Negima: Alternately skewered green onion pieces and meat (originally, tuna). Although 'ma' in "negima" means maguro (tuna), the term "negima" came to be used for calling the negima that uses chicken instead of tuna.
Matsuba (clavicle): Clavicle section at the base of white meat. The term "matsuba" comes from the resemblance of the clavicle, which consists of a V-shaped pair of the clavicles on both sides, to a pine needle.
Kappa: gristle of chicken breast just below matsuba. The origin of the term is said to be workmen who used the term because the appearance of matsuba and kappa together resembles the face of kappa (water imp). It is also called "yagen" or "sankaku" because its Y-shape is similar to yagen, a tool for grinding herbal and natural medicines.
Kinkan or chochin: immature egg in the internals
Tosaka or kanmuri: cockscomb
Ones that use the meat of livestock
Buta or butabara: boned ribs of pork
Kashira: pork cheek meat
Tontoro or pitoro (P toro): marbled pork spanning from the cheek to the shoulder
Sagari or harami: cow's diaphragm
Hatsu or herutsu: heart
Shiro, shiromotsu, or darumu: pig's intestines
Hatsumoto, korikori, takenoko, fue, or senpoko: cow's or horse's thick blood vessels that lead to the heart
Tonsoku (pig's feet)
Reba: Pig's liver. It may be called "butareba" (pig's liver) to differentiate it from torireba (chicken's liver).
Ikada (raft) (yakitori): Skewered green onion (Japanese leeks) pieces. Two skewers may be used to prevent the green onion pieces from turning.
Shishitogarashi (sweet green pepper)
Atsuage (thick fried tofu)
Mushrooms (shiitake mushroom, enokitake mushroom [long thin white mushroom], eryngii mushroom, and so on)
Grilled whole sparrow or quail: Added to the menu at some restaurants.
Regional differences in yakitori
Even when the same name "yakitori" is used, seasonings, relishes, and parts or types of meat used vary depending on the area.
Muroran and Hakodate, and Oshima Subprefectural Office jurisdiction and Hiyama Subprefectural Office jurisdiction (Hokkaido)
In Muroran City and Hakodate City, and the Oshima Subprefectural Office jurisdiction and the Hiyama Subprefectural Office jurisdiction in Hokkaido, the term "yakitori" is often used to mean "yakiton" (grilled pork). For yakitori in Muroran City, onion pieces are used in place of green onion pieces for negima, and negima is eaten with mustard.
Bibai City (Hokkaido)
Chicken is used in Bibai City, Hokkaido, and many yakitori-ya restaurants there use only salt for seasoning. In terms of parts of meat, two kinds of yakitori are served: shoniku and motsu, which consists of kinkan, reba, hatsu, or sunagimo on a skewer, unlike other areas where they are separated. As in Muroran, onions are used instead of green onions. Another characteristic of yakitori in Bibai is that many yakitori-ya restaurants boil meat once before grilling it.
Imabari City (Ehime Prefecture)
A survey found that the number of yakitori-ya restaurants per capita in Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, is the second highest in Japan (the data of pre-merger Imabari City).
In Imabari, yakitori is often written in katakana (syllable based writing system of the Japanese language) as 'ヤキトリ.'
The most evident characteristic of yakitori in Imabari is the cooking method called "teppanyaki" (grilling on an iron plate). In this method, ingredients are not grilled over fire; instead, they are pressed down with a spatula-like utensil and fried on the iron plate. One of the assumed origins of this method is the use of excess iron plates from dockyards, which existed in a large number in Imabari City. Another theory is that this fast cooking method was perfect for impatient people.
Among connoisseurs, there is a certain course in ordering yakitori, as is often said to start with 'kawa' and finish with 'senzanki' (fried chicken).
Higashimatsuyama City (Saitama Prefecture)
Yakitori in Higashimatsuyama City uses pork. The major ones use head meat in particular, and generally, yakitori lightly grilled with salt is eaten with spicy misodare (miso-based marinade) that blends more than 10 kinds of spices.
Because both pork and chicken are used, yakitori is written in hiragana (Japanese syllabary characters) as 'やきとり' instead of '焼き鳥,' which signifies only chicken by the use of the Chinese character '鳥.'
Although there are many yakitori-ya restaurants near Higashimatsuyama Station, some restaurants close once yakitori is sold out. This is also the city which houses the first Yakitori Association (official name: Higashimatsuyama Yakitori Association) in Japan.
Nagato City (Yamaguchi Prefecture)
In Nagato City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the ratio of the number of yakitori-ya restaurants to population is high, because poultry farming is popular and high quality chicken had been distributed at relatively low prices in this city. There are also many grilled skewered pork, particularly boned ribs, called 'yakitori' (of pork rib), partly because pig farming is also thriving in some areas. Although white charcoal is generally used for grilling yakitori, yakitori-ya restaurants in Yamaguchi Prefecture use powerful black charcoal in a high ratio, which is rare nationally.
Kurume City (Fukuoka Prefecture)
In the whole northern part of Kyushu including Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture, a wide variety of yakitori is served, such as chicken, pork, beef, pork sagari, darumu, herutsu, senpoko, vegetables, and mushrooms.
Grilled skewered seafood (such as squid, scallop, and shishamo smelt [Spirinchus lanceolatus]) may also be served as 'yakitori.'
In the area centering around Fukuoka City, grilled pig feet may be served as a kind of yakitori. Salt is the main seasoning, and the cooking method that uses sauce is not seen very often.
In Kurume City, an organization called 'Japan's best yakitori association in Kurume' conducts activities such as exhibiting Kurume yakitori at a food festival called 'B-1 Grand Prix.'
The festival will be held in Kurume City in 2008.
Advance into overseas markets
Restaurants which serve yakitori as Japanese cuisine have been increasing overseas as well. Yakitori is not only added to the menu of izakaya bars; some regions even have yakitori-ya restaurants. For instance, several yakitori-ya restaurants have been operating since 1990s in Beijing City and Shanghai City, People's Republic of China. These restaurants include those that were opened by Japanese chain stores, and those that were opened by Chinese who learned how to grill yakitori and make sauces by working in Japan.
Yakitori-ya restaurant (takeout is also possible)
Akiyoshi (yakitori), Marche co., ltd., Daikichi System co,. ltd., Torihime, and FUNACHU co,. ltd.
Other than restaurants
Supermarket and convenience store
Box lunch shop (yakitori lunch box)
Canned food and retort food
Canned foods from HOTEI FOODS CORPORATION are well known. Tengu Kanzume (Tengu Canning), which is famous for Oden kan (a can filled with oden, a Japanese dish containing all kinds of ingredients cooked in a special broth of soy sauce, sugar, sake, etc.) at Akihabara, manufactures canned skewered yakitori, which is also available from vending machines.
Words derived from yakitori
In this field, "yakitori" means thermal failure of Athlon, a type of CPU from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. for computers, caused by insufficient cooling due to heatsink installation errors and so on. The thermal failure came to be called by this name because the Athlon CPU, particularly the ones manufactured in the process for the core having the code name of Thunderbird, caused frequent failure of this type (burned bird = burned Thunderbird core = thermal failure). Later CPUs from AMD have gone through improvements such as the implementation of thermal protection functions, and have rarely caused such failure since.
In the technical terms of photography, "yakitori" means having 'vertical lines' such as fences or thin poles of streetlights included in the background of a person in a photograph. This is because the photograph looks as if the person is on a skewer.
"Yakitori" in aviation is a slang mainly used by pilots of passenger planes with turbo fan jets, and means the bird strike (birds plunge into a jet engine during takeoff). "Yakitori" also refers to such birds themselves. This slang seemed to be created as the birds are ripped apart by the compressor and scorched black in the combustion chamber. A bird strike in the worst case could be a significant factor for a plane crush.
In mah-jong, a winning combination of tiles is compared to a flying bird. From this comparison, yakitori (grilled chicken), implicitly meaning a bird that cannot fly, means the penalty that is given to a player who could not win at all. Refer also to the section under Yakitori in the mah-jong rule article.
Ayano KITAMI is known as 'yakidoru' (yakitori idol) and has released a song 'Happy! Yakitori no Uta' that uses her own lyrics and is officially approved of as a campaign song by National Yakitori Association.
A rumor has it that the idea of 'VTEC,' a variable valve mechanism developed by Honda Motor Co., Ltd., hit the engineer when the engineer was looking at yakitori being grilled and observed that some skewered ingredients rotated and others did not (e.g., green onion pieces turned but meat did not).
Recently, yakitori-related events which compete for the longest single yakitori have been held across Japan. A private organization called 'National Yakitori Association,' which aims at improving the image of yakitori, has defined the rules of "Sekacho [The Longest Yakitori Stick In The World] competition rules"; for example, only one skewer shall be used, and the measurement shall be taken on an unbroken section after grilling. Currently, ones that follow these rules are certified as "world record" (this is not certified by Guinness World Records). The current world record is 23 m 42 cm recorded in Nagato City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on October 26, 2008.